LONDON — King Charles III, a man who waited almost 74 years to become king, will be crowned Saturday at Westminster Abbey with all the pomp and pageantry Britain can muster.
And it can muster a lot.
There will be crowns and diamonds, soaring music and, perhaps, a thunderous pledge of allegiance from Charles’ subjects around the country.
To top it off, 4,000 troops will march to Buckingham Palace in the post-ceremony procession, making it Britain’s biggest military parade in 70 years. Bringing up the rear will be the newly crowned king and queen in a 261-year-old carriage gilded from nose to tail in glittering gold.
“Even in a world where people are sated with on-demand entertainment, people will stop and stare,” said Michael Cole, a former BBC royal correspondent, “because it will be a spectacular procession and a ritual, a ceremony, unlike anything that occurs anywhere in the world.”
But like the best dramas, it’s a show with a message.
For 1,000 years and more, British monarchs have been crowned in grandiose ceremonies that confirm their right to rule. Although the king no longer has executive or political power, he remains the U.K.’s head of state and a symbol of national identity.
At a time when double-digit inflation is making everyone in the U.K. poorer and people who want to ditch the monarchy for a republic are preparing to protest with shouts of “not my king,” Charles is keen to show that he can still be a unifying force in a multicultural nation that is very different from the one that greeted his mother.
So this will be a shorter, less formal affair than the three-hour coronation for Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1953, Westminster Abbey was fitted with temporary stands to boost the seating capacity to more than 8,000, aristocrats wore crimson robes and coronets, and the coronation procession meandered 5 miles (8 kilometers) through central London so an estimated 3 million people could cheer for the glamorous 25-year-old queen.
Organizers have cut Charles’ service to less than two hours and sent out 2,300 invitations. Aristocrats have been told to avoid ceremonial dress and the procession will travel a shorter, direct route back to Buckingham Palace from the abbey.
This follows Charles’ instructions for a pared down ceremony as he seeks to create a smaller, less expensive royal machine for the 21st century.
Built around the theme “Called to Serve,” the coronation service will begin with one of the youngest members of the congregation — a Chapel Royal chorister — greeting the king. Charles will respond by saying, “In His name and after His example, I come not to be served but to serve.”
The moment is meant to underscore the importance of young people — and is a new addition in a service laden with the rituals through which power has been passed down to new monarchs throughout the centuries.
But it is not the only innovation.
Charles has scrapped the traditional moment at the end of the service when nobles were asked to kneel and pledge their loyalty to the king. Instead, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will invite everyone in the abbey and people watching on television to swear “true allegiance” to the monarch.
The pledge has sparked debate in Britain, with some observers suggesting it was a tone-deaf effort to demand public support for Charles. Welby responded by saying it wasn’t a command and people can decide for themselves whether to take part.
The public’s response to Charles, though, during the service and along the parade route, is key, said George Gross, a visiting research fellow at King’s College, London and an expert on coronations.
“None of this matters if the public don’t show up,’’ Gross said. ‘’If they don’t care, then the whole thing doesn’t really work. It is all about this interaction.’’
And today’s public is very different from the audience that saw Elizabeth crowned.
Almost 20% of the population now come from ethnic minority groups, compared with less than 1% in the 1950s. More than 300 languages are spoken in British schools, and less than half of the population describe themselves as Christian.
Although organizers say the coronation remains a “sacred Anglican service,” the ceremony will for the first time include the active participation of other faiths, including representatives of the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh traditions.