Lord Mayor’s Coach review. Gerry, where did it all go wrong?

Our first citizen Lord Mayor Gerry Breen should get out the Ceremonial Coach in the City Centre and make his way like a regal progress through the streets of the City Centre. Gerry is a very affable guy and I would love to see him sheer up the citizenry with a bit of pagentry.
Classic cars

Ahead of this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show, we have privileged access to his magnificent ceremonial coach, the oldest such vehicle still in regular use.

For those who see their wheels as a status symbol, how about this cheeky little classic? It is insured for £1.6 million and its true value is described as “incalculable”. The Queen is conveyed in one that snootier types see as a more modern copy. And I’m among the first commoners to be given a spin, ever.

The only downer for boy racers is that while they might enjoy the naked bosoms painted on the doors – the period equivalent of go-faster stripes, perhaps – it was built in 1757 and is pulled by horses.

I refer to the Lord Mayor of London’s Coach, in which I’ve been granted a unique test drive before the show on Saturday November 13. I know police outriders will block roads for my progress through the City in this, the oldest ceremonial vehicle still in regular use, and all morning I’ve practiced my regal wave; but nothing quite prepares me for the sheer grandeur of a coach built to flaunt the growing power of Georgian London. It glints with more gold than a prize-fighter’s teeth, while simply easing it out of its home at the Museum of London takes enough toilers to man a satanic mill.

“We are lobbying Unesco to place the coach in its heritage list,” says director Jack Lohman as he nervously watches it edging into the street. “If the Rio Carnival is there, why not this?” He also wants it to appear in the Olympic Games opening ceremony but faces opposition from “cool Britannia” sorts in government who consider it “the wrong image”.

No one, however, could deny its magnificence. It was commissioned by 37 aldermen who contributed a then hefty £60 each. They recoiled at the indignity of the mayor travelling by horse or foot (what, one wonders, would they make of Boris riding for official business on a “bone-shaker”?). The purchase followed an attack by a fisherwoman on a Lord Mayor hurled from his horse.

By the 19th century it had to wait 20 years between repairs and grew rotten. Queen Victoria, never much of a good time girl, complained of “distressing oscillations” and more recent mayors of motion sickness. Its suspension has just undergone major modernisation and as the first to test drive the old girl since then I can report its ride to be gondola smooth. Certainly any oscillations are less distressing than that of a Tube train.

As we glide through the City, tourists gawp and snap while even taxi drivers stare in quiet admiration. Inside it is plusher than any Roller, reflecting how in ceremonial importance the Lord Mayor is second only to the Queen. The monarch even has to ask his permission to enter the City, while I’m only allowed to try his wheels by his special permission.

“I’ve been looking after it for 20 years and I went in it for the first time this week,” says Rob Payton, the museum’s head of conservation.

Thankfully I deliver it to the Guildhall without a prang, but back in the car park my own wheels suddenly seem a little less gleaming.

The Lord Mayor’s Show takes place in the City of London on Saturday, November 13 at 11am. Full details, including route and timetable, at the Lord Mayor’s Show website.