Watch: King Charles jigs to Morecambe and Wise on surprise Northern Ireland visit

·6-min read
King Charles - Reuters
King Charles - Reuters

As Bring Me Sunshine blasted across the garden, the topiary danced, conical trees spun, and the King even did a little jig.

It was not your average ribbon cutting royal engagement, but His Majesty appeared to be in his element.

The King and Queen were in Newtownabbey, near Belfast, for the first stop on an unannounced two-day visit to Northern Ireland, their first joint visit outside London since the Coronation.

The couple officially opened a “whimsical” new Coronation garden, created very much with the monarch in mind.

Designed by award-winning gardener Diarmuid Gavin, it is described as a floral tapestry with classical architecture style, planted in a pollinator friendly and sustainable way to reflect some of the King’s great loves.

At its centre is an ornate three-floor pavilion topped by a crown and a spinning glitter ball, which the Queen said looked “just like the one of Strictly”. Bubbles floated up into the sky.

If not surreal enough, the garden’s signature feature is the dancing shrubbery that periodically performs to Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Bring Me Sunshine by Morecambe and Wise.

The Queen, wearing a green dress by Anna Valentine, said she thought she was hallucinating when the trees started moving as both she and her husband giggled.

“I thought I was seeing things,” Camilla said as she took a closer look at the flowerbed. “ Maybe there are two little Leprechauns under there.”

Having been serenaded by schoolchildren and cut the obligatory ribbon, the couple made their way through the garden before braving the central structure.

King and Queen - Phil Noble/Reuters
King and Queen - Phil Noble/Reuters

Once at the top, the King waved to the throng gathered below. “Slight anxiety,” he admitted, as he peered gingerly over the edge. The Queen, perhaps wisely, stayed a pace or two behind.

“It’s a bit vertiginous at that end,” she later admitted, ruefully.

It was a far cry from the couple’s last balcony moment, less than three weeks ago, when they waved joyfully from Buckingham Palace in their velvet robes and crowns. But it was very much back to the day job as they got on with the task at hand.

As the couple began to make their way back down from the viewing balcony, Bring Me Sunshine burst forth across the garden.

King and Queen - Phil Noble/Reuters
King and Queen - Phil Noble/Reuters
King and Queen - Chris Jackson/Getty Images
King and Queen - Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The King beamed. He appeared on stage with Morecambe and Wise during a special Royal Charity Show in aid of the Queen's Jubilee Appeal in 1977 and is rumoured to have been such a fan that he was even prepared to appear in one of their shows, before the idea was quashed by nervous palace aides.

Elsewhere, the Coronation was very much the theme as the royals were shown a bespoke Coronation robe created by local textile artist Angela Turkington and featuring embroidered squares made by 22 local primary schools.

Mr Gavin accompanied the royal visitors around the garden, introducing them to those who had worked around the clock to build it.

“They were wonderful,” he said. “I got to spend a little bit of time with them, we went into the quiet garden with the water dancing and they were asking me where the plants came from, the idea behind the design, and they couldn’t have been nicer.”

He added: “Sometimes in gardening we can be a bit po-faced but I wanted to create a little bit of magic.

“The King and the Queen were just great, they got how fun and ridiculous it was. The King told me Morecambe and Wise would have been delighted to have been associated with it.”

King Charles - Chris Jackson/REUTERS
King Charles - Chris Jackson/REUTERS

The King and Queen were told the garden marked the beginning of a new green initiative for Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.

While Camilla admitted the garden was not what she had expected, she described it as “absolutely lovely”.

There was an equally warm reception for the King’s equerry Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Thompson, who has earned himself something of a cult social media following.

“Johnny, Johnny!” a section of the crowd screamed as they tried to take pictures of him, much to his embarrassment and the amusement of the royal entourage.

The then Prince of Wales on stage with Morecambe and Wise during Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977 - PA
The then Prince of Wales on stage with Morecambe and Wise during Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977 - PA

The couple went on to Hillsborough Castle, Co Down, where they met pupils from a local primary school who took part in a competition to design coronation benches.

“Shall we give it a go?” The King said, before sitting down.

“It’s wonderful,” Camilla told six of the children as she surveyed the bench, decorated with a large crown, sceptre and orb, and an environmental theme of flowers and stags. “Did you all work on it together? Did you do the crown?”

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris hosted a brief private audience before they attended a garden party and planted a tree to mark the Coronation.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was among those in attendance.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill did not attend but said representatives from the party would be present at events during the couple’s two-day visit.

The Queen spent several minutes at the garden party speaking to DCI John Caldwell, who was shot multiple times by dissident republicans in Omagh, Co Tyrone, in February. The detective is understood to have had a private audience with the King earlier.

Meanwhile, Charles met the father of six-year-old Daithi MacGabhann, whose five-year wait for a heart transplant came to represent Northern Ireland’s political deadlock as Stormont failed to pass a new transplant law.

Coronation garden - Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Coronation garden - Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The King and Queen last visited the province in September 2022, just days after the death of Elizabeth II, as part of a tour of UK regions.

On receiving a message of condolence from the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the King said of the late Queen: “In the years since she began her long life of public service, my mother saw Northern Ireland pass through momentous and historic changes.

“Through all those years, she never ceased to pray for the best of times for this place and for its people, whose stories she knew, whose sorrows our Family had felt, and for whom she had a great affection and regard.”