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Diary: Chine McDonald

28 June 2024


It’s a royal washout

IN MAY, my husband and I were invited to attend one of the royal garden parties at Buckingham Palace. For weeks beforehand, we had seen photos of guests at previous garden parties enjoying glorious sunshine.

As our day approached, we carefully put together our outfits — in my case, a bright-red dress with a pleated skirt, and a bright-red fascinator (acquired second-hand from Vinted) to match. Thereafter, nothing went to plan.

The night before our royal appointment, our younger child threw up at nursery, which meant a 48-hour ban. Our carefully orchestrated childcare plans to enable us to attend the garden party were therefore up in the air. My Nigerian family — already proud of my invitation — rallied round, my dad driving for two hours to watch over his poorly grandson, so we could go to the ball.

We arrived at Victoria Station, along with hundreds of others, all dressed to impress. But we might as well not have bothered, because the weather was appalling. It rained, and rained, and rained. As we made our way to the Palace, and joined the extremely long queues to get in, we tried to keep up the British sense of humour.

An hour or so after we had entered the garden party, it morphed into more of a Blitz spirit, as the rain turned torrential. Those who could took shelter in the tents where the tea and sandwiches were being served, but we were among the unlucky ones, and left without even a sniff of a scone. Luckily for us, though, the rain doesn’t show up in pictures, and we will for ever know that “We were there.”

Salve Regina

A FORTNIGHT earlier, I had been in the presence of royalty of a different kind. On a trip to France with a producer to record for an upcoming BBC World Service documentary I am presenting on Black Madonnas, we walked into the unassuming church in Orléans (having travelled an hour by train from Paris), and were captivated by Our Lady of Miracles.

The stunning statue is a 16th-century replacement of the original, which had been brought to Orleans by Syrians in the fifth century, and presides over its own chapel. Both this Black Madonna and her Christ-child are crowned, and, because it was Easter, were also wearing gleaming white coronation robes. Legend has it that this Queen of Heaven granted Joan of Arc victory against the English in 1429, after the saint had prayed to her daily.

This Black Madonna exceeded my expectations — as did the English-speaking skills of Fr Benoît, who told us in hushed tones of his church’s history and relationship to Our Lady. As we stood in the church that Tuesday morning, I was struck by the occasional entrance of (mainly black) women, who would kneel or prostrate themselves before the Black Madonna — like Joan of Arc, praying for their own miracles.

God parents

I COULDN’T help but ask the then Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, about a statue that has been much less revered, and the focus of much debate about the UK’s historic links to slavery: that of Edward Colston, which was toppled in 2020.

I was chairing a conversation with Mr Rees and Michael Wear — former faith adviser to Barack Obama, and director of the Washington, DC-based Center for Christianity and Public Life — at an event at St Margaret’s, opposite the Palace of Westminster. It was a collaboration between us at Theos and the Westminster Abbey Institute on the changing nature of religion and public life.

In the days leading up to the event, my main anxieties were (see above) about childcare. My husband was attending the event, too, so a lovely couple from church babysat for us: the first non-family members to follow my fairly rigid (some might say patronising) “Guide to Looking After My Children”.

All went to plan, which meant that Mark and I got to enjoy a post-event, three-course dinner in the grounds of Westminster Abbey. As we walked through the cloisters, I thought how grateful I was for a job that took me to exciting places; and marvelled at what was possible when people were willing to watch your kids.

Means to an end

I MAY have shed a little tear as I watched my six-year-old and his schoolfriends on stage at a local theatre. His school was putting on its first ever summer performance, with class songs, solo, and ensemble musical, dance, and drama performances.

After weeks of practising his songs — which meant the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman became my ever-present earworm — he finally arrived at the big day. With surprise performances from a visiting orchestra from the Caribbean, and an amazing tenor from the Midlands, the show exceeded expectations. The tears came as I looked round at a room full of parents, friends, and neighbours applauding the children with all the fervour of an audience at a sold-out Broadway show.

There had been a few hiccups along the way to this point, including an argument with the school about our not having filled out the right forms, and my husband locking himself out of the house.

Things don’t always go to plan; and yet there can be unexpected magic.

Chine McDonald is a writer, broadcaster, and director of Theos.

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