The coronation concert at Windsor Castle on Sunday (7) featured the Bollywood star Sonam Kapoor, the Punjabi poet Daljit Nagra and several Asian women in bright pink outfits from the Bradford-based SongGeet choir.
The “wonderful Sonam Kapoor”, described as “one of Hindi cinema’s biggest stars”, introduced a virtual choir from 40 Commonwealth countries.
The two-hour concert, watched by millions in 100 countries across the world, was attended by 20,000 people, mostly charity workers and others chosen democratically by ballot.
King Charles and Queen Camilla were also there, waving union flags and occasionally making little dance moves, as did prime minister Rishi Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty, who frequently hove into camera shots as they were carefully placed behind Prince William and his family.
Neither was it an accident that Lady Patricia Scotland, the Commonwealth secretary-general, was also seated in the royal box on the King’s left-hand side.
Sonam, dressed in a floral white “Bardot gown” by Anamika Khanna and Emilia Wickstead gown, greeted her global audience with: “Namaste.”
She then spoke about the Commonwealth: “Our Commonwealth is a union. Together we are one-third of the world’s people. One-third of the world’s ocean. One-quarter of the world’s land. Each of our countries is unique, and each of our peoples special, but we choose to stand as one, learning from our history. Blessed by our diversity, driven by our values, and determined to build a more peaceful, sustainable, and prosperous future for everyone, where every voice is heard.”
She added: “Without further ado here’s welcoming the incredible voices from across the Commonwealth including the magical the Abisa High School choir from Lesotho, the Bahamas National Youth Choir, the Yippy Tuns Choir from Brunei, and watch out for the fabulous flamingo. Here singing Higher Love is the legendary Steve Winwood and the virtual Commonwealth choir.”
Why Sonam was picked by the concert committee as India’s sole representative is not entirely clear, but the actress now has a home in London with her businessman husband, Anand Ahuja, and their baby son. Recently, she interviewed the author Amish Tripathi, the director of the Nehru Centre in London, when he launched his latest novel, War of Lanka.
Last Sunday’s concert also heard a poem, We’re Lighting Up The Nation, written by the British Indian poet, Daljit Nagra, who is professor of creative writing at Brunel University.
He said he was honoured to have been asked to write the poem by BBC 1 and Buckingham Palace on behalf of the Royal Society of Literature, of which he is the chairman.
“My poem is about the nation coming together as various iconic sites around the United Kingdom are lit up,” explained Nagra. “It’s packed with references to British cultural moments.
For example, the opening line refers to John Donne’s great poem that opens ‘No man is an island’. I imagine he said this when he was the Dean of St Paul’s and speaking, as it were, to the nation.”
Read by the actor, James Nesbitt, the poem reflected the beauty of modern Britain:
No one’s an island when each is at home in the hope and glory! Born free – we’re a plucky bunch of every shade. From the bronze of the Celts across our Roman roads to Windrush and beyond, today, just now, the spectacular parades of light travelling from Windsor to iconic heartlands across the realm so the kingdom be unified. Imagine Edinburgh Castle near monuments for Scott and Burns, or imagine across the waters of Belfast our titanic dockyard and the blood-sweat, the toil that launched a thousand ships over there’s Blackpool for Punch & Judy, glad rags for the tango and foxtrot, and out for a pint of Newkie Brown by the Gateshead Bridge, that harp of the Toon, the Tyne – it’s all mine now all Yorkshire beams from the hall of seven-hilled Sheffield, now my heart’s with the famed anthem, the land of my fathers at Cardiff Millennium! Everywhere I look, from the golden miles of Leicester with their chicken masalas and jollof rice to an eco-haven amid the botanical gardens of Cambridge like the oasis at Eden with its rainforest under a dome, to our bold promise of the cliffs of Dover, everywhere I look, within our shores, I feel a new phase, new chapter must begin, just now, so let’s light up the nation like a smile!
When the concert choir sang Brighter Days by Emeli Sandé, under conductor Gareth Malone, the Asian women from SongGeet were prominent as the lead singers.
The diverse collection, made up of 300 members from 18 choirs across the country, had never performed before on stage. It included choirs representing refugees, the NHS, and LGBTQ+ and deaf signing groups, who had been coached by Malone.
The women in SongGeet – the choir began at the University of Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill – usually sing in Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Pashto and Bengali.
SongGeet’s leader, Madiha Ansari, who graduated from Bradford with a degree in clinical sciences in 2009 and now works as a theatre producer, said: “It’s such a privilege to be performing at the coronation. We’re proud to be representing not just our community but the region. This is a great opportunity for women, and it’s particularly poignant in the run up to Bradford City of Culture 2025.”
Prince William remembered the late Queen in an emotional speech: “As my grandmother said when she was crowned, coronations are a declaration of our hopes for the future. And I know she’s up there, fondly keeping an eye on us. And she would be a very proud mother.”
The 40-year-old heir to the throne pointed out: “My father’s first words on entering Westminster Abbey yesterday were a pledge of service. It was a pledge to continue to serve. Because for over 50 years, in every corner of the UK, across the Commonwealth and around the world, he has dedicated himself to serve others, both current and future generations, and those whose memory must not be neglected.
“Take the natural world. He warned us of the risks to our planet’s health long before it was an everyday issue. Or the Prince’s Trust. It has supported over a million young people, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, to realise their ambitions.
“And, perhaps most importantly of all, my father has always understood that people of all faiths, all backgrounds, and all communities, deserve to be celebrated and supported. Pa, we are all so proud of you.”