The Inevitable Blog About the Royal Wedding

If you live in a developed country and last week you were not on a wilderness backpacking adventure, a religious retreat, or a coma ward, you probably know that Prince William got married on Friday.

As soon as the engagement was announced American readers asked me to write about it. But with two people I don’t know getting married, what could I possibly have to say? Somebody suggested I could report on the media hype here, but there was hardly any then, and wasn’t much more until the final couple of days before the event.  At the announcement of the engagement, newspapers said cynically that the wedding was timed to cheer up a nation in the midst of funding cuts and rising unemployment, and pretty much left the subject there, though they did publish more than usual about Kate Middleton’s wardrobe, spurring sales of any dress she wore.

Readers asked what my friends and neighbors thought about the upcoming wedding, and pretty much everyone I know seemed to think the same thing: isn’t it great that we get a day off? Parliament voted to make the wedding day a public holiday, what the British call a bank holiday and Americans usually call a Monday holiday. (Both terms come from long-ago legislation designating official public holidays.)

One tiny bridesmaid who found the crowds a bit overpowering. Is it my imagination or...

Whether the newspapers were right about the politicians merely wanting to give us bread and circuses I couldn’t say, but the Prime Minister certainly did encourage us to celebrate in Britain’s traditional way: street parties. It’s not as long-established a tradition as many here, where every other village seems to have an antler dance or a fair that dates back eight hundred years or so. Still, ever since the armistice that ended the first world war Britons have marked important occasions, especially royal events such as weddings or jubilees (anniversaries of the monarch’s accession to the throne), with street parties.

The last round of these celebrated Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, that is, the 50th anniversary of her reign. You close the street to traffic, set up tables so it looks as though one long table runs for yards and yards along the centre stripe of the road, and then you and the neighbors load up the tables with food. Sounds good. So for Prince William’s wedding day, the government wanted to see us out there partying in the streets, too, except that by giving people the day off they actually reduced the number of street parties: people weren’t here to celebrate because they were off on vacation (UK: holiday).

Good Friday and Easter Monday are bank holidays already, as is May Day (our Labour Day). But Easter seldom occurs as late as it did this year (April 24), so the three holidays came in a cluster. Throw in the extra Friday off for the Royal Wedding and people with Monday-to-Friday jobs realized they could go off to France or Spain for eleven days and only use up three days of annual leave (US: three vacation days), so millions of them left.

But I don’t have that excuse; I was right here, and I did want to see the wedding. A reader asked whether I would go up to London to see the wedding procession. (Insert here the obligatory not-really-funny joke about my invitation to the wedding having been lost in the post; lots of people tell that one and don’t we split our sides laughing?) I suppose I could have gone and waved the flag with everybody else, but even with so many people leaving the country altogether, there would be a million or so lining the streets, the half million without stupid hats trying to see over the stupid hats of the other half million, and I hate crowds. I’d just as soon watch it on television.

...or does that photo remind you of Raphaels' famous cherubs?

In the last few days before the wedding, all but the most die-hard Republicans—which here means those who want to abolish the monarchy—did get caught up in events. The couple managed to keep a lot of the arrangements secret, which generated as much interest as the details that couldn’t be hidden such as the live trees, some of them 20 feet tall, that workers manhandled into the Abbey. For those who said the royal wedding was a waste of public money there were Royal Wedding commemorative sick bags, while some royalty fans went to extremes; you may have seen photos on the internet of Bristol plumber Baz Franks, who spent 6 hours at the dentist and paid £1000 to get Prince William and Kate Middleton tattoos on his front teeth.

As coverage ramped up, the press devoted significant airtime to who was and wasn’t invited. Ex-prime ministers Blair and Brown of the Labour Party were not invited, but Tory ex-prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major were. The day before the wedding the invitation to the ambassador from Syria was withdrawn for diplomatic reasons.

Costs were considered: the families of the bride and groom may have paid for the wedding, but the public had to pay for the security. Part of the decision to hold the wedding at Westminster Abbey was to keep down costs, as St Paul’s is farther away and security cost tens of thousands of pounds per mile. Security was easier on the route to the Abbey anyway, because almost every building the royals passed is government owned. For days before the wedding, police officers checked the route, looking into storm drains and opening up the boxes housing Walk/Don’t Walk buttons to make sure no one had planted bombs there. But the money saved by shortening the procession route was spent again when Parliament made the day a public holiday; police, guards, snipers, and presumably even sniffer dogs get double time for holiday work.

Things had changed since Charles and Diana’s wedding: Prince Harry was called a best man rather than a supporter (supporter is the usual term at royal weddings), and the bride wore a dress that made her look like a grownup; I might go so far as to say the bride wore the magnificent dress this time, while in Diana’s case, the dress was so overwhelming it seemed to wear the bride. William and Kate were formal without being stiff; they looked like they were trying not to break out laughing at the altar. You could see they actually like each other. And thank goodness that in 2011 we could forego the embarrassment of medical inspection to prove virginity. Thirty years ago, a doctor had to peer up Princess Diana’s dress to verify that all was intact, as if she were an expensive animal to be checked out by a vet before the purchase was binding.

So I enjoyed the wedding coverage and all the associated stories—the verger who was caught on camera turning cartwheels up the nave of the Abbey after the service, the little bridesmaid unhappy with the noise, and the reactions around the country. In London, the mayor gave the couple a tandem bicycle, Morris Men danced in Kate’s hometown, and in Abingdon in Oxfordshire the town council threw currant buns off a roof to crowds below, as it has done to celebrate royal weddings all the way back to 1761. (That’s when George III married Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, which you may already have known, but which I had to look up.)

After the wedding I stopped in at our village street party, but didn’t stay, as it turned out to be a sad little affair, mainly for children, held in the car park (US: parking lot) of the Royal British Legion building. So I can’t offer you photos of a real live British traditional street party, but you can several such photos here.

Nationwide over 5500 requests were made for permits to close the streets, including one for a party hosted by the Prime Minister. Presumably you didn’t have to have a permit for a party on the first Armistice Day, but today there’s a fair bit of paperwork. A former mayor of Guildford, unhappy with the bureaucracy, told me that along with their applications for street closure, Guildfordians had to include risk assessments (outlining everything that could go wrong and what they would do if the worst did happen) as well as proof of insurance. Perhaps there would have been more parties in Guildford if residents hadn’t been required to apply for street closure a month in advance and do heavy-duty paperwork. Up in London, the Prime Minister presumably had someone to do the paperwork for him, but at least Guildford residents were spared the usual application fee of £104 (about $170); the Borough Council waived such sums to encourage the national celebration.

By now the tons of rubbish have been swept away from local streets as well as from London thoroughfares—where the main problem along the procession route was horse dung, from what I’ve read—the eleven-day holiday period is over and it’s back to business as usual. The concerns about security, protocol, ceremony, and wardrobe can be packed away until next time, though I do wonder—do you think William will wear that snazzy red Irish Guards uniform when he and Kate go out on their tandem?

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14 Comments

Filed under Culture, Current events

14 responses to “The Inevitable Blog About the Royal Wedding

  1. Rod Cuff

    Very enjoyable, Mary Ellen, and accurate to the last detail!

  2. A comment on May Day… May Day celebrations have long been a feature of English village life. Dancing round the maypole long precedes labo(u)r movements. But, last century it became the symbolic day of workers’ rights. Instead of maypoles, the Soviets celebrated with huge military displays in Red Square. And socialists here took it up too. Callaghan’s Labour government made it a holiday in 1978, publically associating it with the maypole business but we all knew they were sniggering up their sleeves at having got a day celebrating workers’ rights past the Tory opposition, knowing that if the Conservatives got in they couldn’t take a holiday away from voters however much they disliked it.
    It’s taken the Tories 23 years to dream up a solution. They are telling us that it is bad for the economy to have two holidays in the beautiful May weather and it would extend the tourist season if we moved the May Day holiday to chilly, rainy October and called it United Kingdom day. Those on the left are up in arms because it’s an insult to workers. Those on the right are delighted at an excuse for nationalistic flag waving, especially as the idea is to move it to 21st Oct, Trafalgar Day, the day we properly stuffed the French and Spanish. Those in the tourist trade think extending the season is a great idea. The rest of us want a day off work when the weather’s nice. We already have three bank holidays with rubbish weather: Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day; why would we want another one?

  3. 33 years. Never could count.

    • Naw, you can count, I don’t doubt it. Since I missed writing about May Day this time, I thought I might get around to it next year, if I’m still a-blogging then; maybe I’ll just reprint your comment, though, instead!

  4. You can tattoo your teeth? Ah, the things I learn from your blog. 🙂

    • That’s what I thought! But it’s actually paint, stencilled and then embellished. All done by the dentist, and it lasts 3 months, with proper toothbrushing.

  5. Blair

    ME,
    Very enjoyable, both your blog and the wedding. I remember watching Diana’s wedding, and it was grand, but somehow sad. This one seemed to be a true celebration, in a time where one is most needed, not only overthere but here as well. On a different note one of my daughter’s friends’ mom was actually at the wedding in W. Abbey. I’ll have to ask her what it was like and get back to you.

    • Cool! And ask her where she was sitting. The newspapers printed maps of which group would be where (and Diana’s relatives were on the brides’ side, far away from the royal family…)

  6. Malcolm

    I’m glad I didn’t spend too much time watching it because you say it all so much better, MEF. I joined in at the moment they returned from signing the register, so, basically, the ride home and the balcony bit. Colourful, immaculately choreographed … lord knows how many hundred cameras the Beeb had deployed. No matter where they were along the route it seemed the directors had a choice of at least three angles.
    I think that little 3yr-old bridesmaid covered her ears when the Lancaster bomber flew over, flanked by a Spitfire and a Hurricane. We used to do the same thing, and at about the same age, as her when those machines flew in anger.

    • You flatter me, sir! And of course you’re right about the bridesmaid and the military fly-over (sounds like the name of a dodgy pub or an even dodgier book). I still have hours of coverage on disk because I thought if I were to write about it I might have to go back and look; sure enough, she’s unhappy with the bombers, not just the roar of the crowd. YOu’d think I would have remembered that–speaking of them flying in anger–since I said to my Other Half at the time “I hope that’s the last time that little girl has to hear planes like that”. Though we hear military planes rather frequently, near as we are to Aldershot.

  7. Hi Mary Ellen,
    Good recap of the wedding. And I absolutely adored your link to the antler dancers. I thought morris dancers were the bees knees, but thousand year old antlers and a medieval hobby horse? The little boy on the triangle was adorable too.
    Thanks for the Brit view of the wedding. We did have fun with it on our side of the pond. It made work day on Friday hilarious as we kept looking at all the hats on the internet!
    I’m hoping they change the rules of succession now so that if Wills and Kate have a girl, she will be the next in line for the throne after William. What do you think?

    • Ooh, that’s a big question, because it presumes that the monarchy should continue. That’s a topic that I hope to write about in an upcoming post. But assuming we have a royal family at all, I think queens are as good as kings and would be happy to see the rules of succession change.

      The Abbott Bromley Horn Dance makes a good spectacle! I should do a whole piece on Morris dancing and related traditions. One thing is sure; I don’t lack for subjects to treat. (Next time I can’t think of anything to say, I’ll remember I said that…)

  8. Cheryl

    Do you think the antler dancers is where Princess Beatrice got the idea for her hat?
    I think the American translation of “street party” is “block party”…often done as part of a July 4th celebration.

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