Hamilton flags up anthem problem – it's too short

The F1 driver wants to bask in his glory on the podium for longer. But is his outburst justified?

It seems as if the Joseph Haydn penned refrain of "Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles" has replaced Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" (think: "Dah! Du na nah nu nuh nu nu neh nah!) as the soundtrack to Formula 1 over the past couple of years, with the German Sebastian Vettel cruising effortlessly past the chequered flag in practically every race. But it would appear to have got to rival driver Lewis Hamilton more than most, whose German Grand Prix win on Sunday has been followed by a most unusual request.

"I would urge the UK to make our national anthem longer," Hamilton told BBC radio, making clear his discontent that his international F1 rivals, with their more protracted anthems, get to enjoy unjustly lengthier periods of adoration than he does.

"When you're growing up and you see Olympians standing on the podium and you see the old great drivers, you dream of yourself being up there and having the national anthem playing," he said.

"When I stand up there and Felipe [Massa] has won, it's 10 minutes long, and when I'm standing there it lasts half a minute."

He is exaggerating slightly. The solitary verse of "God Save the Queen" played at the Nurburgring on Sunday lasted 44.4 seconds, only 10 seconds shorter than the "Deutschlandlied" that would have celebrated a Vettell victory. The Brazilian Massa's "Hino Nacional Brasileiro", on the other hand, goes on for a full one minute 53 seconds. Hamilton's gentle outburst is far from the first time "God Save the King/Queen" has come in for criticism, but lengthening it might not be the most straightforward process.

Even the simple option, merely to play two verses, is fraught with diplomatic peril. First of all there is no definitive version of the lyrics. The most commonly accepted version, of which the earliest known appearance was in 1745, features three verses, the second of which compels the God-approved monarch to "Scatter her enemies / And make them fall / Confound their politics / Frustrate their knavish tricks". Even the far from right-on Prince Charles criticised this as "politically incorrect".

Similarly, one of the conclusions of Gordon Brown's review of British citizenship last year was that a rather controversial verse, calling for the crushing of the "Rebellious Scots", be dropped, given that it is, after all, Scotland's de facto anthem too.

Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general who led the review, was referring to the verse written in tribute to Marshal George Wade, the commander-in-chief of George II's Hanoverian forces in 1745, which states: "Lord grant that Marshal Wade / May by thy mighty aid / Victory bring. / May he sedition hush / And like a torrent rush / Rebellious Scots to crush / God Save the King."

As of now, neither the Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet Office or the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are entirely clear on whose patch the tricky issue of anthem reform sits. Like many aspects of British constitutional life, its official status derives from custom and use, not from Royal Proclamation or Act of Parliament. One solution would be a specific English national anthem, as the Scottish and Welsh employ.

A 2007 House of Commons Early Day Motion requested just this, and an amendment tabled by MP Evan Harris requested that the replacement "should have a bit more oomph than 'God Save the Queen' and should also not involve God".

At the Commonwealth Games, English gold medals are presented to the popular hymn "Jerusalem". "God Save the King" cemented itself into public consciousness during the mid-18th century struggle between the Hanoverians and the Jacobites, when both parties sang the song in deference to their own preferred monarch, becoming very much the first national anthem, a concept that was copied by the French and the Germans and in turn spread around the world. Though the song may have lost some popularity in the past 260-odd years, it is far from being the most vilified. In Peru, a campaign to change the national anthem has been gathering momentum.

The current one is an eight-verse poem documenting Peru's oppression at the hands of the brutal Spanish, and their eventual overthrow.

"For a long time, the oppressed Peruvian dragged the ominous chain," it begins. "Condemned to cruel servitude... he quietly whimpered."

Alas, by the time the beaches of Iberia are feeling the horror of the Peruvian cannon's roar, no one is really listening.

Around the world in anthems

Longest

Greece's "Hymn to Liberty" is in fact an 1823 poem written by Dionysios Solomos. It runs to 158 stanzas. Mercifully only the first three and last two are usually played.

Shortest

"Oh, Uganda Land of Beauty" runs to a meagre eight bars. All three verses are performed at international football matches.

Quietest

Spain's "La Marcha Real" has no words. Several attempts to introduce words have failed as many Spaniards more closely associate with their regions than the nation as a whole.

Oldest

The popularity of "God Save the King/ Queen" first established the notion of national anthems in the early 18th century. Japan's Kimigayo uses 9th century poetry.

Non-existent

Cyprus has no anthem, preferring to sing Greece's. Afghanistan went without between 1999 and 2002, when the Taliban banned music.

Shortest-lived

At Somaliland's independence on 26 June 1960, the nation's new wordless national anthem was played. Five days later the new nation merged with the former Italian Somaliland, to become Somalia, and the anthem was scrapped.

Most repeated

Northern Ireland also uses "God Save the Queen". Liechtenstein's "Oben am jungen Rhein" (Up Above the Young Rhine) is sung to the same tune.

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