The coronation of King Charles happens this morning at Westminster Abbey

King Charles III, a man who waited almost 74 years to become King, will be crowned Saturday at Westminster Abbey with all the pomp and pageantry Britain can muster.

Shorter, less formal affair than the 3-hour coronation for his mother

The Coronation of King Charles

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Join Chief Correspondent Adrienne Arsenault for a CBC News Special covering the coronation of King Charles III.

King Charles III, a man who waited almost 74 years to become King, will be crowned Saturday at Westminster Abbey with all the pomp and pageantry Britain can muster.

And it can muster a lot.

There will be crowns and diamonds, soaring music and, perhaps, a thunderous pledge of allegiance from Charles's subjects around the country.

To top it off, 4,000 troops will march to Buckingham Palace in the post-ceremony procession, making it Britain's biggest military parade in 70 years. Bringing up the rear will be the newly crowned King and Queen in a 261-year-old carriage gilded from nose to tail in glittering gold.

Tens of thousands of people have amassed in central London in light rain, and loud cheers erupted among wellwishers lining The Mall, the grand avenue leading to the palace, as Charles and Camilla were seen waving from within their Bentley as their motorcade arrived at Buckingham Palace.

The couple were expected to depart from the palace in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach later this morning to Westminster Abbey, where they will be crowned.

Two police officers ride on white horses down a paved street. Many police officers on foot can be seen on the street. Flags hanging vertically from poles along the side of the road stretch into the distance. They are mostly Union Jacks.

Meanwhile at the abbey, many politicians and celebrities have arrived and taken their seats. Musicians have started warming up ahead of the ceremony, which is due to begin at 11 a.m. local time.

The anti-monarchy group Republic said several of its members, including chief executive Graham Smith, have been arrested near Trafalgar Square in central London as they prepared to protest the coronation.

'People will stop and stare'

"Even in a world where people are sated with on-demand entertainment, people will stop and stare," said Michael Cole, a former BBC royal correspondent, "because it will be a spectacular procession and a ritual, a ceremony, unlike anything that occurs anywhere in the world."

But like the best dramas, it's a show with a message.

For 1,000 years and more, British monarchs have been crowned in grandiose ceremonies that confirm their right to rule. Although the King no longer has executive or political power, he remains the U.K.'s head of state and a symbol of national identity.

A protester holds a sign.

At a time when double-digit inflation is making everyone in the U.K. poorer and people who want to ditch the monarchy for a republic are preparing to protest with shouts of "not my king," Charles is keen to show that he can still be a unifying force in a multicultural nation that is very different from the one that greeted his mother.

So this will be a shorter, less formal affair than the three-hour coronation for Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1953, Westminster Abbey was fitted with temporary stands to boost the seating capacity to more than 8,000, aristocrats wore crimson robes and coronets, and the coronation procession meandered eight kilometres through central London so an estimated three million people could cheer for the glamorous 25-year-old Queen.

Pared-down ceremony

Organizers have cut Charles's service to less than two hours and sent out 2,300 invitations. Aristocrats have been told to avoid ceremonial dress and the procession will travel a shorter, direct route back to Buckingham Palace from the abbey. This follows Charles's instructions for a pared-down ceremony as he seeks to create a smaller, less expensive royal machine for the 21st century.

Built around the theme "Called to Serve," the coronation service will begin with one of the youngest members of the congregation — a Chapel Royal chorister — greeting the King. Charles will respond by saying, "In His name and after His example, I come not to be served but to serve."

A woman, adorned with three Canada flags, stands outside on a paved street in front of a large "Abolish the Monarchy" banner as others look on.

The moment is meant to underscore the importance of young people — and is a new addition in a service laden with the rituals through which power has been passed down to new monarchs throughout the centuries.

But it is not the only innovation.

Charles has scrapped the traditional moment at the end of the service when nobles were asked to kneel and pledge their loyalty to the king. Instead, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will invite everyone in the abbey and people watching on television to swear "true allegiance" to the monarch.

The pledge has sparked debate in Britain, with some observers suggesting it was a tone-deaf effort to demand public support for Charles. Welby responded by saying it wasn't a command and people can decide for themselves whether to take part.

Will the public show up?

The public's response to Charles, though, during the service and along the parade route, is key, said George Gross, a visiting research fellow at King's College, London and an expert on coronations.

"None of this matters if the public don't show up,'' Gross said. ''If they don't care, then the whole thing doesn't really work. It is all about this interaction.''

And today's public is very different from the audience that saw Elizabeth crowned.

Police officers

Almost 20 per cent of the population now come from ethnic minority groups, compared with less than one per cent in the 1950s. More than 300 languages are spoken in British schools, and less than half of the population describe themselves as Christian.

Although organizers say the coronation remains a "sacred Anglican service," the ceremony will for the first time include the active participation of other faiths, including representatives of the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh traditions.

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