Hello from Philadelphia where the excited natives are counting down the days until Charles III’s coronation. Anticipation fills the air and there is royal swag everywhere: the shops are overflowing with coronation-themed trinkets. There isn’t a single American in this city that isn’t tingling with excitement about Britain’s new king and his glorious crown.
I’m joking, of course: from what I can see from my little perch, the US is mostly ignoring the pageantry taking place across the Atlantic. It wasn’t like this for Queen Elizabeth II: her coronation reportedly “created a television broadcasting battleground” in the US and 85 million Americans watched recordings of the highlights. Queen Victoria’s coronation was also a transatlantic crowd-pleaser: according to a dispatch in The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, a prominent political magazine from the time, the US was infected by “Victoria Fever” and “Queen-mania” back in 1838. A writer, going by the initials ADF, spent a day in Philadelphia – the “birthplace of America” – and declared the city so smitten with the new Queen that it should be renamed “Victoria-delphia”. Everywhere you went, ADF said, there was Victoria-related merch. There were hairbrushes with her picture on, Victoria-themed soap and gloves – even Victoria riding whips. I have thoroughly examined every grocery store in my corner of Philadelphia and I can assure you that there isn’t a single Charles-themed riding whip to be found. There isn’t even a can of beans with his face on.
This isn’t to say that Americans have no interest in today’s royal family. Queen Elizabeth II, of course, was a much-loved figure and her death drew wall-to-wall coverage from American news networks. Speaking on MSNBC, analyst Richard Stengel mused that the obsession with the Queen’s death stemmed from “a weakness in the American character that still yearns for that era of hereditary privilege … the very thing that we escaped from.” (A weird take considering there is plenty of hereditary privilege in the US – just look at how most elite US universities give preference to “legacies”, students with a family connection to the university.)
Then, of course, there is the obsession with Harry and Meghan: 17.1 million Americans tuned into the 2021 Oprah interview with the pair – more viewers than the Primetime Emmys and the Golden Globes that year combined.
Still, it’s starting to look like the US’s interest in the royals may have reached its peak. There are signs that the US is tiring of Harry and Megs: the problem with tell-alls, after all, is that, eventually, there’s nothing left to say. As for King Charles … well, he’s hardly compelling viewing, is he? He has about as much charisma as a wilting lettuce. And he certainly hasn’t done much to try to charm the US. “Sorry, Americans, But King Charles May Hate Us,” New York magazine proclaimed last September. The US doesn’t hate King Charles back – it simply doesn’t care about him.
As a British person in the US, I’m a little conflicted about the stateside nonchalance towards Charles and his coronation. On one hand, I’m thrilled that living here means I’m not subjected to the inane non-stop coverage that everyone in the UK has to deal with. (Seriously, how are you all surviving?) On the other, it’s hard not to see American apathy towards Charles as yet another example of the devaluation of Brand Britain. Particularly as the coronation-related news making it across the Atlantic is incredibly embarrassing. Most notably, the cringey announcement that Britons, who are enduring a cost of living crisis, are being invited to swear a pledge of allegiance to the king – something which made it into all the American papers. “You’ve always said that it’s so embarrassing that we pledge allegiance to a flag,” my American wife said triumphantly when that hit the headlines. “Now you have to pledge allegiance to a king!”
I’ve lived in the US for about 12 years and it is saddening how much attitudes towards the UK have shifted in that time thanks to Brexit and a series of incompetent leaders. The death of Queen Elizabeth II and the coronation of Charles appears to have been the final nail in the coffin of our international brand.
• Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist