Pro-EU protest planned for Last Night of the Proms

Traditional union jacks expected to be replaced by EU flags as activists launch crowdfunded show of defiance

It includes rousing performances of Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia and Jerusalem always accompanied by a sea of union jacks, but this year’s Last Night of the Proms is also expected to offer a pro-EU backlash against Brexit.

The Guardian understands activists will be outside the Royal Albert Hall in force on Saturday handing out thousands of EU flags, which they hope audience members will wave instead, or even along with, the traditional red, white and blue.

Volunteers will be handing out the flags after a successful Crowdfunder campaign raised £1,175 in order to fund the protest.

It began as a discussion between like-minded people on Facebook. The woman behind the campaign, who asked not to be named, said the idea was “to have a celebration of what the EU does for music”.

She added: “We want to have as many flags there as possible which will send a message out to the world that we’ve not forgotten about the EU.”

The group now has around two dozen volunteers promising to hand out the EU flags, which they hope audience members will take in with them.

The Last Night of the Proms is rightly seen as something of a party, a fun event that celebrates British classical music. But the traditional sight of thousands of Promenaders enthusiastically waving union jack flags, whether jingoistically or more innocently, may not be to all tastes this year, especially since the vast majority of classical musicians opposed leaving the EU.

In recent years the Last Night of the Proms has been made a more international event by organisers. This year’s star soloist will be the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, and the programme will include music by Borodin, Rossini, Donizetti and Offenbach.

But there will also be the traditional Fantasia on British Sea Songs, National Anthem, Auld Lang Syne and other British songs.

This year’s Last Night of the Proms could be a particularly sensitive event, bringing to mind 1990, the year that the conductor Mark Elder voiced concerns about traditional Proms selection in the year of the Gulf War and was promptly uninvited from taking charge of the concert.

A BBC spokeswoman said no changes to this year’s evening were taking place as a result of the Brexit vote.

The nationalism of the Last Night has been a subject of debate for decades. In 1969 the BBC controversially dropped Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia in the hope the event would have broader appeal to an estimated 40 million European television viewers.

An EU flag campaigner said she did not expect everybody to take one. “We’ll hand out as many as possible, we’ve got thousands. This is not really about the remain, leave debate, it is a celebration of what we’ve got now ... this is what the EU has done for music.

“I’ve been really surprised by the support. Someone contacted me asking to pledge £300 and I thought, wow, they really think this is worth doing.”

The Last Night has become an annual ritual but the former Proms director Sir Nicholas Kenyon, writing in the Guardian this week, said the season had always had a strongly international outlook.

He wrote: “The Last Night of the Proms goes around the world and represents us to the world. As we redefine our cultural identity in the wake of the Brexit vote, it’s vital that it shows us, like the rest of the Proms, as open, welcoming and innovative – and, above all, looking to the future of the artform.”


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Is Last Night of the Proms jingoistic or ironic? Tonight we’ll finally find out | Ian Jack
The vote for Brexit will give tonight’s festivities at the Royal Albert Hall a peculiarly charged air

Ian Jack

10, Sep, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Last Night of the Proms in the shadow of Brexit: 'I'll feel a bit conflicted'
Performers and music lovers say this year’s concert might have a different feel, and some are uneasy about the future

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

10, Sep, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
God save The Last Night of the Proms post-Brexit
It has always had an undercurrent of jingoism. But, says the former director, it’s time the union jack-wavers realised the truly international nature of the Proms

Nicholas Kenyon

07, Sep, 2016 @6:30 AM

Article image
Last Night of the Proms - behind the scenes
Photographer Teri Pengilly was given exclusive access to the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday to watch preparations for the biggest night in classical music’s calendar

Teri Pengilley and Imogen Tilden and Matt Fidler

13, Sep, 2016 @12:35 PM

Article image
EU flags at Last Night of the Proms anger Farage
Former Ukip leader accuses concertgoers who waved flags of being in denial after remain campaigners hand out thousands

Robert Booth

10, Sep, 2017 @3:53 PM

Article image
Campaigners hand out thousands of EU flags for Last Night of the Proms
Pro-EU group distributes crowdfunded flags to concertgoers for use during traditional union jack-waving performance

Ruth McKee

10, Sep, 2016 @1:41 PM

Article image
Elgar cannot be blamed for the ‘imperial triumphalism’ of Land of Hope and Glory | Letters
Letters: What he actually wrote was the ironic first of his six Pomp and Circumstance marches. The later addition of the ludicrous words, taking over the glorious tune, was not Elgar’s fault


12, Sep, 2016 @3:17 PM

Article image
BBC considers dropping Rule Britannia from Last Night of the Proms
Covid restrictions seen as chance to make change in wake of Black Lives Matter protests

Caroline Davies

23, Aug, 2020 @3:53 PM

Article image
Why, this year, Last Night of the Proms will be woke | Daniel Kidane
My composition premieres tonight. It’s a recognition that classical music needs more diversity, says composer Daniel Kidane

Daniel Kidane

14, Sep, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
Last Night of the Proms review – party falls flat as BBC miss chance to speak up
Despite desperate cheeriness from assorted guests and committed performances from all musicians, this event is about more than the music, and 2020’s concert failed to reflect current times

Flora Willson

13, Sep, 2020 @1:59 PM