King Charles impresses Paris while the rest of France shrugs
The last time a King paid a state visit to Paris, there were 35,000 French soldiers lined up along his route to the Quai d’Orsay and a massive Union Jack flag was unfurled from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother, were cementing an alliance before war would once again put it to the test.
A large number of Parisians attended the event.
As soon as the loudspeakers hidden in the trees started playing God Save the King, it was as if the entire capital – what am I saying? the entire country! – sang the British national anthem,” gushed Wladimir d’Ormesson in Le Figaro.
One had the impression that every Parisian, and there were millions of them, wanted to greet the royal guests personally.”
Almost 85 years later, the atmosphere seemed quite different, at least on the surface.
During Wednesday’s procession down the Champs-Élysées, it would be unfair to say the cavalry escort outnumbered the cheering crowd.
Although most of those were tourists, it wouldn’t be far away.
When they reached half way down the avenue, the two heads of state retreated from their open-top limousine and returned to their seats, since there was no one to wave at.
There were a couple of devoted Windsor fans at every stop on the tour, according to French TV networks. Upon explaining how seeing people on TV differed from seeing them in person, they explained that it was different seeing them on TV.
However, no truthful account of the state visit can hide the fact that the people never showed up in Paris.
Stéphane Bern, a veteran royal watcher, told me before the visit began that there is no point in expecting cheering throngs.
“Times have changed,” he said. The number of state visits today is two-a-penny, and no one bothers to attend.”