There are days when it’s a bit embarrassing to be British. Days when the British National Party come out with yet another xenophobic statement. Days when it seems that yes, we are completely hopeless at almost every sport that exists.
And then there are the days like today. Days I can surf through on a rushing wave of patriotism and pride in my country. Because sometimes, we really do ourselves proud.
Last night was the Last Night of the Proms. For the first time ever, it was conducted by a woman – Marin Alsop, of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra. In the run up to the event, many people chipped in with their views on this, and many of them were not supportive in the slightest – Vasily Petrenko claiming that orchestras ‘react better when they have a man in front of them’ and ‘a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things.’ Her nationality was also criticised – as though it were somehow scandalous that a non-Brit should be permitted to conduct the Last Night, as though that exact thing hasn’t happened many times before.
Not only did Alsop prove her naysayers wrong, but she did it with style and intelligence, using the traditional speech to praise the new attitude of inclusion in classical music. She received a phenomenal standing ovation at the end, proving that Britain is capable of not only accepting an American woman leading a rousing chorus of ‘Rule Britannia’, but positively welcoming of the idea.
That was not the only thing that brought the warm fuzzies about the evening. Once again, the Last Night was a demonstration of how open Britain has became. Flags that were being waved around the Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park included, among the Union Flags, French, Italian, German, Australian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, American, Swedish and Norwegian – and they’re just the ones I can remember off the top of my head without referring to photos.
There is a certain amount of irony inherent, of course, but it’s also proof of how inclusive a society modern Britain has become. So the British National Party can take its xenophobia and go quietly back down the hole it crawled out of. It’s right about one thing – being British is good. But the reason that it’s good is because we welcome other cultures into our midst. Long may it continue (even if we don’t rule the waves any more).