At the Proms, it's the love of one's country that dare not speak its name

On the Last Night of the Proms, some country-proud revellers found their patriotism hijacked by Remainers
On the Last Night of the Proms, some country-proud revellers found their patriotism hijacked by Remainers Credit: Dylan Martinez/Reyters

I love the Last Night of the Proms for its familiar music which lifts the heart, for the permission it gives to take uncomplicated joy in our country (other countries aren’t embarrassed about doing that, strangely), for its rousing choral camaraderie, but especially for its silliness. 

A much under-rated quality, silliness. The Guardian furrows its joyless brow and calls Rule, Britannia! a “jingoistic anthem”. Promenaders (and viewers at home) sing along lustily with tongue firmly in cheek.

It’s wonderfully silly, yet meaningful at the same time. And if you think silliness is beneath you, just look how seriousness is working out.

Shakespeare could have been writing about the Proms when Prospero observed: “The isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”

Giving delight and not hurting anyone has pretty much been the job description of the Last Night since the Proms were founded in 1895. However turbulent the political or personal weather, there was always Elgar inside the Albert Hall with his plangent immortal chords that resonated deep inside you.

The Last Night offered both escape and refuge from man’s inhumanity to man.

Well, not any more. On Saturday, the climax of the world’s greatest festival of classical music was hijacked by a bunch of arrogant, suspiciously well-organised Remainers.

I thought things were bad at previous Proms, but this year a group calling itself the EU Flag Mafia had launched an online crowd-funding appeal to produce 50,000 EU flags and hand them out at key events.

The Albert Hall was so full of the damn things that the Union Jack struggled to compete on its home ground.

A scuffle even broke out during Jerusalem, for heaven’s sake. Two Brexiteers tried and failed to raise their own banner in a hostile sea of blue-and-yellow berets.

How dare they? How dare they spoil this quintessentially British institution with their Brussels propaganda? Chosen deliberately, no doubt, precisely because it is a gentle celebration of national pride.

How dare they sing along with Land of Hope and Glory when they want to sell out the Mother of the Free to the likes of Luxembourg, a John Bercow of a country struggling to make up for its puny size with appalling rudeness to our Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, up on stage (ah, yes, I forgot, the music!), American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton gave the lushest, most gorgeous, Bournville-deep performance, from Verdi to Harold Arlen, before picking up an LGBT rainbow flag and waving it lustily during Rule, Britannia!.

Of course she did. Pride in being a “queer girl with a nose ring” is a cause for public celebration. Pride in being British not so much.

Once, homosexuality was the love that dare not speak its name; now it’s love of country.

There was one truly beautiful moment that moved me to tears. The choir sang Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of God Save the Queen.

Shorn of its pomposity and rugby-club tempo, the anthem became a haunting hymn to the person who is just about our only source of stability and sanity right now. “Long to reign over us.” Oh, please, let it be very long.

Next year, the BBC should ban the star-spangled beret twerps or confiscate their boorish flags, at the very least. By then, God and Boris willing, Brexit will have happened and the Last Night may be restored to its rightful harmony.

Now, how does that song go again? Ah, yes: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”

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