Drawing upon Littler and Naidoo's ‘white past, multicultural present’ alignment, this article examines English newspaper coverage of two ‘British’ events held in 2012 (the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympic Games). In light of recent work on English nationalism, national identity and multiculturalism, this article argues that representations of Britain oscillated between lamentations for an English/British past – marred by decline – and a present that, while being portrayed as both confident and progressive, was beset by latent anxieties. In doing so, ‘past’ reflections of England/Britain were presented as a ‘safe’ and legitimate source of belonging that had subsequently been lost and undermined amidst the diversity of the ‘present’. As a result, feelings of discontent, anxiety and nostalgia were dialectically constructed alongside ‘traditional’ understandings of England/Britain. Indeed, this draws attention to the ways in which particular ‘versions’ of the past are engaged with and the impact that this can have on discussions related to multiculturalism and the multiethnic history of England/Britain.