Described as the biggest reality TV event in broadcast history, the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton – about to be the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – on April 29th, 2011 was watched by an estimated 2 billion people around the globe.
And what can you add to what was shown in detail by a TV crew of about 500 using 100 cameras, many in Westminster Abbey, capturing all of the action - including at least a thousand hats in fascinating detail. Oh, and some of the hats actually WERE fascinators, those bobbing artificial feather like structures that look all frivolous, and yet announce ‘this is the head of a VIP’ to the world.
Modern day hats are playfully ‘perched’ - either tilted atop the forehead, Victoria Beckham and Princess Beatrice style, or adopt the sliding off to the side look, expertly modelled by Zara Phillips, the Princess Royal’s daughter. Still, you can always wear one conventionally snug and central to the crown of your head, as did the grandmother of the groom, HRH Queen Elizabeth II. In her yellow wide brimmed hat, trimmed with silk roses, The Queen looked cool and classy. Not bad for an octogenarian!
Before we leave hats I must mention the Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife – because she didn’t wear one, and it seems this is a social gaffe. As there were about 1900 guests, and guessing half of them were women, all but one of whom wore a hat – I’m thinking a thousand is about right. And if this seems irrelevant, can I just say – church weddings, like Royal Ascot, are all about the hats!
Oh yes – and the bride. Kate Middleton comes from Bucklebury, a ‘Midsomer Murders’ type small English village in the Home Counties. Back in Bucklebury, during wedding celebrations on the village green filmed by the BBC, there was a duck race – and all the ducks were called William. Blue William won! We knew, because he was wearing a blue ribbon round his neck, and he waddled across the green faster than the other ducks. There were morris dancers – men with bells on their ankles, as well as a picnic lunch. And two local women were apoplectic with excitement watching Kate getting married, on a big screen erected on the Green.
‘She’s holding on to her father’s hand so tightly!’ shrieked one of them, twice. As she presumably knew both Kate and her father, you could pardon her excitement.
‘I’m speechless!’ shouted her friend, which wasn’t actually true.
So this was a wedding for the people, and of one of the people. Pippa Middleton, Kate’s pretty younger sister, as her Maid of Honour, added to this sense of ordinariness. She was one of us! The fact that her parents are sharing the expense of the wedding with The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh perhaps gives a lie to the notion that Catherine Middleton is an ‘ordinary’ girl. She is a privately educated, upper middle class young woman. However she met her prince at university, and she is not a member of the aristocracy. Most importantly – this was no arranged marriage, but that of two people who chose each other, and who seem to be in love.
Forget Romeo and Juliet – after the wedding and back at ma and pa’s place, well, palace - thousands of people marched down the Mall, decked in Union Jack flags, to witness ‘The Balcony Scene’. This takes place at Buckingham Palace, when a newly married royal couple traditionally waves to the crowd, and is persuaded to have a little kiss. Well, two, in this case. They really are in love, then!
‘We are really interested to know what is going on behind those windows and behind those curtains’ said BBC commentator Huw Edwards, as the Queen then hosted a lunch time party for 650 guests. Still, it’s hard to know what to talk about when you’re broadcasting all day and waiting for something else to happen. So Huw told us to expect a ‘bit of a surprise’ at 3.30pm, when the newlyweds were to return to Clarence House, their London home, in preparation for an evening reception.
This kept the TV’s turned on then, and we had yet to see William drive Kate back to Clarence House in his father’s Aston Martin – a beautiful vintage car as driven by James Bond. This one was bedecked with balloons, an ‘L’ plate – more usually displayed by British learner drivers – and with the back number plate spelling out JUST WED.
And no, not JUST WILLIAM - that would be silly!
This was possibly the most fun part of the day’s ceremonies – informal, and what modern day couples do every day. A man drives his wife from A to B. Admittedly it’s not usually from one palace to another, but they seemed relaxed and happy, and everyone was delighted to wish them well.
Royal Wedding Of A Lifetime
Prince William & Kate: The Royal Romance [DVD] UK
Eileen O'Sullivan recommends these DVDs from Amazon. She watched the Royal Wedding on British TV.