Belfast crowd loved Last Night of the Proms but once again was deprived of Rule Britannia

On Saturday night, Katie Derham, hosting the Last Night of the Proms on BBC One, told millions of TV viewers:

Sunday, 9th September 2018, 9:04 pm
Updated Tuesday, 11th September 2018, 8:08 pm
Baritone Gerald Finley and conductor Sir Andrew Davis during the traditional renditional of Rule Britannia on Saturday. But it was not shown on the screen in Northern Ireland. Screengrab from BBC

“Well I hope you have all done your vocal warm ups. All the last night classics coming up: Jerusalem, Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory, Auld Lang Syne. We want you singing so loud, your neighbours come round to join in.”

Ms Derham added: “This party is going nationwide — us here, you there. And our friends out at Proms In The Park events all round the UK.”

I was among thousands of people in one of those events, at Titanic slipway, Belfast. It was fun as ever, with a crowd in high spirits despite the rain.

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There were plenty of Union flags being waved by the Belfast crowd, as is increasingly evident at the Northern Ireland event. The audience loved the traditional rendition of Land of Hope and Glory, but there was no Rule Britannia. Picture William Cherry Press Eye

But Ms Derham was wrong.

We did not have all the classics in Northern Ireland, such as Jerusalem or Rule Britannia. OK, Jerusalem could be said to be an informal English anthem so there is a case for its omission (even though it is an uplifting piece of music).

But why no Rule Britannia?

Mike Edgar of BBC NI said at one point during the programme: “Music is one of the few things that brings everybody together.”

Splendid Irish dancing: some of the cast of Titanic dance performing at this year's BBC Proms In The Park at the Titanic Slipways in Belfast on Saturday. Picture Press Eye

Is this interpreted in Northern Ireland as meaning that Rule Britannia is too controversial?

Localising the event works well. There was splendid Irish dancing and a rendition of ‘A Long Way To Tipperary’, shown UK-wide, which was fitting 100 years after the end of the Great War.

But Rule Britannia keeps being omitted from the Northern Ireland event.

It has been shown from London’s Albert Hall on screen to the NI audience at least once previously (there is online footage of a crowd in Hillsborough joining in, some with Union flags) but mostly it is left out.

Many people sneer at the patriotism of Last Night, and say it has little to do with the rest of the Proms. While the British flag is the most waved, there are many EU flags now (a display of defiance at Brexit) and other flags too.

But a curious thing has happened in Northern Ireland.

Some years ago the local crowd seemed too embarrassed to wave the Union flag, but not now.

Plenty did on Saturday in Belfast and audience members were waving it keenly for the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ highlight.

Yet, once again, a Northern Ireland crowd was deprived the joy of Rule Britannia. It is a musical tour de force.

Excellent though Midge Ure’s pop track Vienna is, particularly to my generation, it is no substitute for the Royal Naval classic.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor