Patrick Doyle vividly recalls the very first time he met King Charles III, and to be fair, it might be hard to quickly forget such a hilarious and mortifying incident, with or without the presence of a future monarch.
In 1988, the Scottish composer’s opening night nerves were suddenly aggravated when he learned that the then Prince of Wales was attending the premiere of 12th Night at West London’s Riverside Studios. It was directed by Shakespeare veteran Kenneth Branagh and starred Frances Barber and the late Richard Briers as Viola and Malvolio; Doyle had composed the music.
“I played the piano and conducted a small orchestra on stage as part of the production,” the composer recounts. “There was a light on top of the piano that illuminated my music,” he continues, with growing horror, “and how the [house] the lights went down I started playing the piano. It was a very… sturdy piece. Halfway through, I couldn’t believe my eyes; I saw the lamp, slowly coming towards me. He fell off the piano! He brought out all the music, it was all about me.
Amid dead silence, Doyle jokes that he saw his entire life flash before his eyes as he frantically rearranged the hopelessly jumbled papers. “In desperation I yelled, really loud, ‘has anyone seen Page 1?'” As the place exploded, Doyle noted the current king in “bursts of laughter.”
“I thought, oh, my God, I survived,” he laughs. “After he came up to me backstage, and he was still laughing.”
A couple of years later, the King wrote personally to Doyle to express his admiration for the composer’s score for Henry V. He also asked him to write a new bespoke operatic piece, The Thistle and The Rose, to celebrate the 90th birthday of the queen mother. .
HM later invited him to Highgrove to discuss The Thistle and The Rose, in the days before sat nav. Doyle’s wife Lesley kindly offered to drive so she could read the map from the passenger seat, and then she waited in silence as the two met. When the King discovered that “Mrs. Doyle” was waiting in the car, she was adamant that he join them.
“So she comes in and we have another cup of tea,” smiles Doyle. “She really showed a very generous, honest and open personality.”
When Doyle received word that he had been invited to compose a coronation march for the king’s official ascension to the throne, he was humiliated.
“It was absolutely thrilling,” she says. “An incredible honour. It was also quite terrifying and intimidating,” she admits. “It’s the first coronation march in 70 years. This legacy of great composers who have gone before me – Elgar, Purcell, Walton – has been very daunting. I just had to put my head down and move on!
Though she admits it’s usually a struggle to keep going with her bigger pieces, the coronation march struck as a rare creative flash. As he lay sleepless in bed, mostly concerned with “what the heck” he was going to do, two trumpet tunes suddenly sounded, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Every note that was in my head then is in the piece,” he says. “It doesn’t always happen that way, and a lot comes from hard work.” When these mythical moments occur, he is eternally grateful. Similarly, one of his craziest marches for the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire film soundtrack was inspired by a five-piece touring band that broke into the French restaurant where Doyle was having dinner for a short exhibition.
Once the outline for the coronation march was established, he adds that his personal impressions of the king also influenced and shaped his approach. “It was written to commemorate his life, and is what I would call an overture march. It’s in four sections, and they’re very identifiable,” he says. Starting with the ceremonial pageantry, Doyle explains that the piece will drift towards a “strong Celtic influence” before moving into a fun and joyous third section. Finally: “the final section is very romantic, because I think he has a great love for art”. The approximately four-minute composition culminates in a triumphant finale and will play during the entrance of the Commonwealth procession.
Doyle is perhaps best known for his film scores, including now-iconic compositions for such classics as Bridget Jones’s Diary, Sense and Sensibility, Nanny McPhee, and Goblet of Fire. While the coronation presents a slightly different challenge, it will still have many cinematic qualities and the meticulously choreographed event will be seen by millions.
In any case, Doyle points out that many of his biggest scores also take place on a rather tight schedule. “I’m used to writing within a timeline,” he reasons. “There’s a time limit, but it doesn’t feel tight, and it has a life of its own. In a filmic sense, that was a connection.
In a few weeks, he will have the privilege of seeing his own march performed live at the coronation itself: Doyle has been invited to the ceremony at Westminster Abbey. “I’ll wear morning coat,” he says.
“It will be amazing to hear my music in the organ gallery, with the wonderful acoustics of that amazing old building,” he says.
“I am in a very privileged position to be called upon to do this. It’s a great honour.”
On May 6, the coronation of King Charles III takes place