The response in London to William and Kate’s nuptials is a tad less enthusiastic than American journalist Jennifer Howze expected
The weather turned gloriously springlike in London over the past two weeks, with sunlight the colour of Tate & Lyle’s golden syrup pouring through bay windows and showcasing the daffodils. The afternoon sun heats the brass Victorian doorknobs and knockers into ornamental skillets. The pubs overflow, patrons spilling onto their front sidewalks. The mood is buoyant – in short, if the weather holds it will be the perfect atmosphere for a royal wedding.
Yet despite the enthusiasm from the media, the natural optimism these ceremonies inspire (sometimes), and the collusion of Mother Nature herself, a very different conversation about the royal wedding is taking place here in London: How are you avoiding it?
Among my friends, Justin will be golfing on April 29. Claire’s taking the train to Brighton with her children. Philip’s heading to his country house in the Cotswolds. Lucy will be attending – but only because she’s producing live TV coverage.
Even friends who aren’t leaving town are approaching it in lacklustre fashion. “Attend a wedding-watching party?” one father from my daughter’s school mused, looking puzzled. “We have a TV here if the girls want to see it so badly.” Many Londoners say vaguely that they’ll do something. They don’t know what. They’ll decide on the day.
The second in line to the throne, the first son of the “people’s princess” is getting married –and it’s not even generating the heat of an iPhone launch or a store appearance by Kate Moss.
As a former New Yorker, on one level I get it. Just like summer in the Big Apple, when the tourists, suburbanites and out-of-towners descend, it’s the cue for the “real” Londoners to take a powder. Nobody wants to be stuck on the pavement behind a family of visitors staggering under the weight of their camera equipment and commemorative wedding tea towels.
Yet unlike summer, this isn’t an annual event. (One wonders if jokes about “next time I get married” are acceptable palace humor.) I expected a mild flurry of … well, not excitement exactly – you rarely get that here — but at least a frisson of anticipation among even my most reserved of British friends and colleagues. It’s a great excuse for a party, right?
But the British people’s relationship with their royals isn’t one of celebrity fandom like I’d imagined 30 years ago as a teenager in Texas, watching Charles and Diana wed. My mother and I sat in our robes in the darkened living room, commenting on the carriages, military uniforms and Diana’s big poufy dress. I was dazzled by the real live prince and princess. Here and now, most people’s attitude is one of apathy, with the occasional spark of anti-royalist emotion.
“The wedding is nice for them, but it’s nothing to do with me,” said my friend Nick. His “celebrations” will include hitting a couple of local parties and enjoying the free bubbly.
Rachel, an old-school journalist for a broadsheet newspaper, got exercised on the topic: Did I realise how vast the royal family’s wealth and land holdings are and the special rights they enjoy? Did I know how much was being spent by us, the taxpayers, to put on this little party?
“I don’t think the wedding itself is a load of bollocks if they love each other, but I can’t stand this manufactured national bonhomie around it,” said Angela, a property developer. The wedding has pushed front and center the symbolism of the royals, which grates. “To have as the head of state someone who has simply been born into the right family sends a horrible message. It’s everything that’s wrong with this country – deference and hidebound loyalty to the class system.”
Ah yes. While Catherine will turn into a princess on April 29th, her current “commoner” status is a topic of concern for a few royal watchers: can she possibly adjust to palace life? But in an era of Google entrepreneurs, to many Brits she’s stuck in the language of the past and borne into the palace on the back of the prince’s steed. Cute for 6-year-olds, but not exactly in line with the picture of a modern global power.
I’m neither royalist nor anti-royalist. While I recently become a British citizen – swearing my allegiance to country and, yes, Queen Elizabeth II – I don’t follow the season, read Hello! or keep up with the princes’ nightclub antics.
Even so, I perceive the benefits of maintaining the royal family. As an outsider, I know the Windsors are a heady symbol of the UK, and in reality the Queen especially seems to work tirelessly, cutting ribbons and shaking hands. While Brits debate the actual statistics, according to my anecdotal research, tourism also benefits. I’ve heard that hotels are booked solid and pull-out sofabeds are seeing high occupancy too. One friend described April as “when the family descends on the guest room.”
I can’t help getting a wee bit excited about a national holiday that calls for cake and Champagne. With another New Yorker, I’m throwing a party at her flat on a grand residential square. The dress code is “wedding,” hats included (note: the fashion elite tut at fascinators). There will be mini Yorkshire puddings to eat and two ex-Etonians organizing traditional British party games. The cultural read of this is that I am slightly too keen on the whole business.
Still, there’s been one aspect of the day that’s united everyone. When the palace announced the date, the buzz round the school gate, in restaurants, and at the office was all the same. The 29th was named an official bank holiday. It’s just one week after Good Friday and the four-day Easter weekend. So if you take three days’ holiday – from April 26 to 28 – you get 11 days off work.
In inviting the nation to celebrate with them, the royal family have – perhaps inadvertently – encouraged another great British institution: the bank holiday French leave.
Jennifer Howze, formerly the Times of London’s online lifestyle editor, is a writer and co-founder of the British Mummy Bloggers social network.