The best things in Britain are free

17 July 2012

There are two ways of enjoying yourself. One way is to scrimp and save so you can afford a theatre ticket, a seat at a pop concert, or a visit to London Zoo. The other way is to have a fabulous time - for free.

The thought occurred to me during June's Diamond Jubilee festivities - all fun, hugely memorable and entirely free.

Now, dear Republicans, I know you will argue that they weren't free at all. That according to the most conservative estimates, the monarchy cost us taxpayers £40 million last year, equivalent to 66p per Briton.

Or it may have been as much as £202.4 million, more than £4 from each of us, if you add in all the costs and expenses of security, and royal visits and so on. So no, not entirely free - but what did we get in return?

We got a treat to remember forever.

A right royal time

Take the river pageant. If we’d stayed warm and dry at home, we could enjoy wall-to-wall TV coverage, some brilliant, some satisfyingly dreadful. If we’d gone out and braved the elements, frozen and drenched like Her Majesty, we could have watched the ships without caring that we had no idea what or who they all were.

Actually - please don't hate me - I had a riverbank view of the whole flotilla from a position inside the Mermaid Theatre as one of Graham Norton's guests on his Radio Two Show. But even without that extra joy, talking to people as we made our way homeward through the downpour, even shivering on the towpath we had a marvellous time, waving our patriotic banners and enjoying the historic spectacle.

The Diamond Jubilee concert was another fantastic treat, also free. I was there, hugely grateful that the rain stayed away, and loving the fact that suddenly a rainbow appeared over the heads of the million or so people jigging and waving on the Mall.

Everything was perfect - the production, the music, the lighting, everything. We were, jolly and exhilarated, waving our flags in time to Sir Tom Jones singing Delilah, and simply having fun. For free. With a goody bag containing a slice of ginger cake and a rain poncho each.

Money not well spent

Just for interest, I investigated what it would have cost me to go to one of Sir Tom's concerts (£35 for an unreserved standing ticket), or to go to a Sir Elton John concert (£60), or London Zoo (£22), or Mama Mia, the hit musical (seats from £20 to £64).

You don't get free ginger cake at any of those, or a rain poncho. And if you decide to have dinner first, you may be spending £100 each. Somehow the cost of the monarchy, £4 from each of us, seems an amazing bargain when you get a whole Diamond Jubilee celebration thrown in.

But although the Jubilee has come and gone, and we are unlikely to see its like again, there are still many places you can have a fabulous time for free.

Take museums, for example. My daughter Becca tells me the Science Museum in London has an amazing playground for all ages in its basement - she took a friend's two-year-old boy there recently and they both had a wonderful time, entirely free.

City parks on a sunny day can be a lovely experience, too. So can sitting beside a river or on a cliff top, watching the sunset. How glorious is that!

The best things in life are free, or so the saying goes. I would have to agree.

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