DUBAI/RIYADH: When King Charles III, the then Prince of Wales, visited the UAE for the first time in 1989, accompanied by Princess Diana, many people were desperate to catch a glimpse of the royal couple.
Much has changed in the world in the 34 years since then, but the general fascination with the British royal family has not. With the last coronation being 70 years ago, May 6 marks a new beginning for the UK since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 2022.
Many residents of Dubai will be tuning in to watch the coronations of King Charles and Queen Camilla. Rooted in tradition, pomp and pageantry, the event will be a uniquely British affair, though people will be watching worldwide.
Isobel Abulhoul, who was born in Cambridge, has lived in the UAE since 1968 and now calls Dubai home. She said she was just three years old when her parents bought a small black-and-white television so that they could watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. She plans to watch the first coronation to take place since then with some of her children and grandchildren.
Abulhoul has her own royal connection. In 2008, she established the much-loved Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in the UAE. Four years later, Queen Elizabeth awarded her the Order of the British Empire, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a citizen of the British Commonwealth. She received the award during a special ceremony from the future King Charles.
“What I would say about King Charles III is he has always been way ahead of his time in his care and concern about the environment. He brings a wealth of that experience to his role as the king."
She added that she is looking forward to the ceremonial aspect of the coronation, even though Charles has decided to scale it down to some degree in recognition of the ways in which the world has changed since his mother was crowned.
A number of challenges lie ahead for the UK during the reign of the new monarch. The country is dealing with high inflation, ongoing Brexit woes, and some major political debates. Some even call into question the very future of the monarchy in the modern world.
Nadia Taha, a communications manager in Dubai who was born to a Palestinian father and an English mother, grew up near Manchester. She feels that watching the coronation while baking scones will help her feel closer to her family in England.
“I know we’re going to be constantly on WhatsApp, commenting on what’s happening,” she told Arab News. “I must say I'm looking forward to the outfits and hats — I’m a big fan. It’s just nice to connect with them over something we have in common.”
Tracy Alisa Jones, a UK expat who works as a nurse in the Kingdom, plans to watch the coronation on social media and attend the live showing at the British Embassy in Riyadh.
“I am very sad our queen has passed but excited to welcome a new king. It is time for a new perspective on the monarchy. It is also wonderful to have William as the prince of Wales, my home nation,” she said.
Jones looks forward to a future filled with positive changes for young people through the embrace of new ideas.
“It opens the path for a more tolerant monarchy, (and) younger ideas with deeper impact for ordinary people. King Charles is the founder of The Prince’s Trust, which has helped thousands of young people. The coronation is a bright spark in what has been a gloomy few years.”
Speaking to Arab News, Mohsin Tutla, British citizen and chairman of the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation, said: “King Charles has won the hearts of the Muslim community and that of my own. Being in Saudi Arabia, I would not be there to see the coronation, but I would join the ceremonial events organized by the British Consulate and British Embassy and watch the coronation along with other British citizens living in Saudi Arabia.”
Tutla added that were he in the UK, he would be celebrating in the traditional British way by walking down the streets waving the Union Jack flag.
“King Charles has always had strong support for the Muslim community of the UK. He has joined the opening of masjids (and inaugurated) the largest Hajj exhibition in the western world, which was presented at the British Museum in conjunction with the Saudi government in London in 2012,” he said.
There is also interest among people from other countries. Iman Coccellato, a fashion designer from France who recently moved to Dubai, told Arab News that he would be watching the coronation.
“It is an important moment in history, regardless of one’s personal feelings toward Charles and Camilla,” he said. “Although England is no longer a part of Europe (after the UK left the EU), it still holds a special place in our hearts.”
From a professional perspective, he regards the ceremony as a significant and symbolic cultural moment for which the royal couple and their guests will be dressed to the nines, and he believes the outfits they wear “can have a significant impact on fashion trends and set the tone for future style choices.”
Expat celebrations will not be limited to watching the coronation on television in their homes; some restaurants, bars and other venues popular with expatriates will be hosting coronation parties.
Among them is the luxurious ocean liner-turned-floating hotel, the Queen Elizabeth II. Now docked at Port Rashid in Dubai, it has a special connection with King Charles III, who was reportedly its first “passenger,” as a 20-year-old prince, during its maiden voyage in 1969.
To mark the momentous occasion of the coronation, the QE2, as it is known, is offering special packages for the three-day coronation weekend that include afternoon teas, a gala ball, overnight stays, and heritage tours of the ship. On coronation day itself, two special luncheons will take place in spacious rooms fitted with large TVs on which the event will be screened live.
“We’re hugely excited because we didn’t expect the interest — it was phenomenal,” the QE2’s general manager, Irish hotelier Ferghal Purcell, told Arab News.
In September last year, the QE2 hosted special events marking the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, during which 3,200 people attended and signed the venue’s books of condolence.
“Sadly, in October we were the center point in the UAE for the condolences of her majesty. So it’s been a little surreal for us. Here we are, within the year, planning for the coronation of King Charles III.”
Purcell said some of the QE2’s coronation events sold out quickly after they were announced this month, and about 1,000 guests are expected to attend.
“In my opinion,” he said. “There won’t be any place else outside of the UK that will celebrate it like we’re going to celebrate it.”