Cellist at Prince Harry’s wedding says Proms should drop Rule Britannia! | Proms


Patriotic song makes people ‘feel uncomfortable’, Sheku Kanneh-Mason tells Desert Island Discs

Sun 21 Jan 2024 13.00 CET

A British cellist who played at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has said Rule, Britannia! “makes people feel uncomfortable” and should not be sung at the Last Night of the Proms.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who became the first black person to win the BBC Young Musician award in 2016, performed as a soloist at the final concert of the annual two-month orchestral event last year – but said he did not stay to hear Rule, Britannia! being sung at the end of the night.

The patriotic song ignited controversy in 2020 when the Sunday Times reported that the BBC was discussing ditching Rule, Britannia! at that year’s Proms.

While many embraced the opportunity to discuss alternatives with more universal appeal, traditionalists expressed dismay at what was perceived to be an attack on British culture.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Kanneh-Mason said he did not think the song should be included in Last Night of the Proms, and that “so much wonderful music” could replace it.

“I think maybe some people don’t realise how uncomfortable a song like that can make a lot of people feel, even if it makes [the people singing it] feel good,” he said.

“I think that’s somehow a big misunderstanding about it.”

Kanneh-Mason suggested the song could be replaced with British folk music, adding: “There is so much wonderful British music, the wealth of folk music from this country is astonishing.

“There is so much that is worth celebrating and having as part of a big celebration at the end of a wonderful music festival.”

Responding to Kanneh-Mason’s comments, a BBC spokesperson said: “The Proms are built on longstanding traditions that were established by co-founder Sir Henry Wood, and which are loved by people around the world.

“One of these traditions is the last night festivities, other traditions include promoting new music, accessibility and opening up the world of classical music to as many people as possible.”

Kanneh-Mason, who was born and raised in Nottingham, appeared alongside his siblings on the ITV variety show Britain’s Got Talent in 2015.

His album Inspiration, which was reported in February 2018 to have been “the biggest-selling British debut of the year to date”, reached No 1 on the UK classical albums chart.

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