Melanie McDonagh

The Last Night of the Proms is still an exceptional British party

The Last Night of the Proms is still an exceptional British party
Text settings

Wouldn’t you just know it: there’s another row about Last Night of the Proms. Apparently the Scots in their open air Last Night weren’t given the opportunity to sing Jerusalem and Rule Britannia, whereas the Welsh and Northern Irish were. Which just adds to the popular perennial row about EU flags versus Union Jacks at the event.

It’s all a bit baffling if you were actually there. I was, and all my little prejudices about it were well and truly seen off. It was the most joyful affair. There were indeed people giving out free EU flags to the Prommers which may have accounted for the fact that the EU flags outnumbered the others but, you know, it’s a free country and there was nothing to stop Ukip or whoever handing out free Union Jacks; someone missed a trick.

My daughter just wanted a flag, any flag, and so vociferous were her complaints that the lady in front of us handed over her own Union flag which she brandished enthusiastically throughout. Indeed at the end she went one better and scooped up an enormous one, discarded by the owner, to drape over herself on the way home, though the effect was modified a bit when she picked up two of the free EU ones too.

But you know, there were national flags from all over the place on the night. The fabulous, jolly conductor, Sakari Oramo, was Finnish – his take on Finlandia was glorious (and quicker than normal) – and what with that, and the centenary of Finnish independence, there were Finnish flags everywhere but confusingly, lots of Swedish ones too. In fact everyone was flag waving, but it was nice flag waving. Plus letting off balloons.

The woman beside me, who was brandishing a German flag (with an EU one) was the most enthusiastic of the lot. 'How do you find all this, as a German?' I asked her tactfully. 'Yay!' she said, waving that bit harder. 'The Brits do this sort of thing so much better than the Germans. We just don’t have anything like it.' Indeed she was one of a party of 60 from Bremen; they looked like they were having a ball. (She stood up before anyone else for Jerusalem and Rule Britannia.)

This wasn’t an excluding event – but funny (Nina Stemme as Britannia was fun), inclusive in a non-irritating way, and irresistible. Last year I interviewed Marin Alsop, a previous Last Night conductor, about it and she, an American, said it was just the best fun. She was right; it was. The rows after the event don’t do justice to the best party night I’ve been to in ages.

Written byMelanie McDonagh

Melanie McDonagh is a leaderwriter for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

Topics in this articleArts Reviewsculture