Friday September 22 2023 was an unusual day in Bordeaux. From the off there was a sense of occasion and with good reason: Bordeaux was hosti...

All about the day King Charles III visited Bordeaux and the one-off Great festival

Friday September 22 2023 was an unusual day in Bordeaux. From the off there was a sense of occasion and with good reason: Bordeaux was hosting King Charles III and Queen Camilla on the closing leg of the State visit which began two days earlier in Paris. One of the focal points of the day was the Great festival held on Place de la Bourse and, guess what, I was there to soak up the atmosphere!

To say the royal agenda in Bordeaux was dense would be an understatement. In a little under six hours they managed to meet and greet local dignitaries at the City Hall (and planted a tree alongside Bordeaux mayor Pierre Hurmic), salute the Marines on board HMS Iron Duke, ventured to Martillac to view the organic working methods of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte… and while Charles visited the experimental urban forest development in Floirac, Camilla split to see how the good people at Le Pain de l’Amitié are providing food for those in need. 

And, in the midst of all that, the Place de la Bourse had been converted into a pop-up festival to promote much of what the UK does well (as part of the Great Campaign) as well showcasing a number of Bordeaux initiatives and companies, all to the live soundtrack of hand-picked up-and-coming artists, both local and from the UK. 

Place de la Bourse in festival mode. Note the umbrella, it came in useful.

It is a little unclear precisely what the criteria for attendance were (we had all received personal invitations from the UK embassy in France) but it made for a delightful and sometime surprising cross-section of the Bordelais and expatriate population. Ahead of me in the queue to get in were some extremely tall and wide Union Bordeaux-Bègles rugby players. Male and female Girondins football players were there in their club tracksuit tops (along with coach David Guion). A little further I recognized the influential local artist Jofo. There were a number of people in uniform, sometimes sporting impressively bushy sideburns. Oh, and could that be the entire Fiji rugby team, whose World Cup base just happens to be in Lormont? Different cultural universes colliding. 

Once "inside" the Place de la Bourse, which is usually such a familiar open-access spot, it was incredible to see how the square had been momentarily transformed, framed by a number of tents housing UK and Bordeaux brands such as Paul Smith, Gilbert, and Baillardran, initiatives such as the inspiring Le Café Joyeux, a company which has conceived wine bottles made from paper, cheeses from a local épicerie, and stands promoting UK tourism, cultural and educational drives. (My favourite exhibit was a life-size (?) Shaun the Sheep... although spotting Paddington wandering around the event wasn't bad either...) 

A massive stage was the centrepiece of the event, although much of the crowd wasn’t really paying much attention to the artists who were performing (Tyrone Isaac Stuart and Rianne Downey), despite the valiant bilingual attempts of compere Darren Tulett (the TV presenter and football pundit). And then the music stopped… 


For, the time had come, a tram sporting diminutive Union flags pulled up to the Place de la Bourse stop and there was a collective sense of hushed anticipation as the Royal delegation alighted and moved its way along the red carpet which had been laid out over the square’s cobblestones (a wise move given that the intermittent showers had made for a slippery surface!). UK foreign secretary James Cleverly rushed past me virtually unrecognized, that is how focused everyone was on Charles and Camilla… or mainly, to be honest, on Charles, who took time to make his way through the crowd, stopping to chat with one or two lucky onlookers, including one person stood right next to me, giving me plenty of time to take some once-in-a-lifetime closeup shots! In the meantime the PA had picked up again, making for the strange combination of a royal walkabout to the sound of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. 

As the party made its way around part of the pop-up marketplace, local solo artist I Am Stramgram began a short set, battling with technical issues and general indifference but providing a memorable performance that closed with an interesting reinterpretation of the Beatles’ Yesterday. I managed to catch up with him afterwards and we agreed that it was a fairly surreal experience for him but that it would go down as an unusual and virtually unique line on his musical CV! 

I Am Stramgram, providing the Royal walkabout soundtrack.

By now, the Royal party had made its way to the main stage and UK Ambassador to France Menna Rawlings made a well-received speech (name-checking the local family she had stayed with when she attended courses at the Alliance Française in the city) before handing over to Pierre Hurmic, who good-humouredly saluted the King and Queen, underlining how Charles’s environmental concerns were a long-standing constant. The crowd then eagerly awaited a few words from the King himself. He edged towards the mic, silently mouthed something or other (I’m not great at lipreading but I think it might have been "Wasn’t I Am Stramgram great, sorry he’s ended up standing next to James Cleverly") and gave a wave. That was a momentary anticlimax but he was soon forgiven, he did have a plane to catch, after all. 

And then came what was arguably the unexpected (and possibly unplanned) high point. As the Royal party reached ground level once again, the entire Fiji rugby team congregated nearby, Darren Tulett was told to switch off the PA music, and the players broke into a traditional Fijian folk song. In perfect harmony. It was beautiful and inspired. Everyone had goosebumps. 

As Charles and Camilla moved on to their next engagements, another surprise was in store. Over to another corner of the square, the band of the Royal Marines were settling into position, bringing singer-songwriter Caity Baser's set to a momentary close. Before you knew it they were parading up and down the square providing 15 minutes of world-class marching band music. From my vantage point it was possible to enjoy the ensemble while also being able to focus on individual instruments and parts as they walked back and forth. Can I mention goosebumps again? 

Ladies and gentlemen, it's only the Royal Marines band. In Bordeaux!

The festivities had not yet come to a close but most attendees had already left, making for a strange, other-worldly atmosphere when Bilbao King Fu took to the stage. They had a handful of people in front of the stage, and a few enthusiastic punters stationed to the wrong side of the barriers way over on the other side of the square. It must have been a strange experience for them but they delivered. 

As the crowd had dwindled I was easily able to locate my Consulate acquaintance who I was able to personally thank for the invitation to attend this unique and memorable event. Other than all of the above, I don’t think I will ever again be able to say that over the course of a single afternoon I was able to openly chat to real, live Girondins footballers about recent results and prospects for the season; personally thank local music mogul Eric Roux for the Ouvre La Voix festival and the fantastic concerts he puts on at Rock School Barbey; talk to renowned wine author Jane Anson about Twitter (X) algorithms only to be interrupted by the sound of two Rafale fighter jets flying overhead; observe Fiji rugby players enthusiastically tucking into complimentary Tyrrells crips… and, yikes, I even got my very own selfie with Darren Tulett! Oh, and I also happened to see the King and Queen of my home nations. It really was quite an afternoon… Thanks to everyone who was part of it and made this incredible event happen!

Girondins, crisps and Darren Tulett, what a combination.

P.S. This unique day had started off with a live early-morning radio interview on France Bleu Gironde, talking about the Royal Visit and some of the background and its political context. You can view it here: 


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Not long ago at the remarkable Emmaüs charity outlet in Parempuyre, I picked up a couple of out-of-print books by the historian Pierre Décam...

Wartime Bordeaux meets the city in 2023

Not long ago at the remarkable Emmaüs charity outlet in Parempuyre, I picked up a couple of out-of-print books by the historian Pierre Décamps (1912-2004): 1940-1944, la Gironde en Images (published by SODIM in 1977) and Bordeaux sous l’occupation (Ouest France, 1983). Both feature some incredible photographs documenting Bordeaux during the Second World War. I set off in search of the same locations in order to merge the 1940s and the 2020s in single shots. The accompanying captions are adaptations of the information shared by Pierre Décamps in the books, all original photos were credited to the Bordeaux Centre Jean Moulin collection.

The disturbing sight of the swastika flying outside the Gironde préfecture on Cours du Chapeau-Rouge, which housed the German army central command centre. The contrast with the massage parlour which is now next door is striking.
These ladies seem to be enjoying their city-centre stroll past fortified shelters and blockhouses built by the Germans at the base of Pey-Berland tower…
During the Second World War, le Théâtre Français (now CGR Bordeaux Le Français cinema) was a cinema which was reserved for German army soldiers, hence the "Soldaten Kino" sign (Soldiers' Cinema).
"French [citizens]... Listen every day to the voice of the Reich". German Information Service sign in front of the Jardin Public terrace.
Place de la Bourse: the British bombardment on the night of December 8-9, 1940 certainly left its mark. 
The caption provided by Pierre Décamps states that "This German billboard, installed on Place de la [1918] Victoire in Bordeaux, indicates the victorious march of the German armies in Russia and the location of the battlefields where the Soviet armies were annihilated in 1941."

It’s all about the bronze: removal, on December 6, 1941, of the bronze statue of former president Sadi Carnot, erected on Place Jean-Jaurès. 

Next to the now empty plinth, the sign reads "By working in Germany, you'll be an ambassador for French quality".

French citizens enrolling to work for Germany show up at the "Bureau de placement", 103, rue Sainte-Catherine.
August 28th 1944, a group of "Maquisard" Resistants from the Blaye area pictured on Rue Esprit-des-Lois in Bordeaux (the road that runs alongside the Grand Théâtre opera house), just as the city was being liberated. 
August 28th 1944, Bordeaux students celebrating the city’s liberation. At the head of the procession, the sign proclaims "À poil les Fritzous, vive les étudiants" (which could be conservatively translated as "the Germans have been disrobed, long live the students"). 
Members of the FFI (Forces françaises de l’intérieur) are celebrated by a crowd of happy onlookers on Place Gambetta. 
Dancing in the street: the effigy of a German soldier hangs outside the headquarters of the General Student Association on Cours Pasteur. You can sense the joy in this picture, and no, we're not necessarily talking about the adult shop over to the right! 

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