I’m writing this at 8.30am on April 29th 2011. Yep, it’s the royal wedding day, much anticipated in the British press ever since Charles and Diana’s son, prince William, popped the question to “Waity Katie” Catherine Middleton.
The joining in matrimony of William Windsor, scion of the British royal family and future king of Britain, to unemployed, middle class Kate, has had the press agog for months.
As the papers dissected the royal love affair and either applauded William for choosing an ‘ordinary girl’ to be his wife and future queen, or castigated Kate and her family for being pushy social climbers, the British people seemed to be fairly uninterested. “Not more about the royal wedding” people moaned. Or, “Be a good thing when this royal wedding’s over.”
But as the wedding day approached, the Brits started to do that thing they’ve done for centuries – they grudgingly, and then excitedly, started to get enthusiastic about royalty. British society knows royalty is a crazy concept. British people (I am one) understand that no-one deserves massive wealth, national cowtowing and curtsies just because they’re the son of some bloke who was the son of some other bloke. Hereditary privilege is not a value the Brits, these days, officially buy into.
And yet today, April 29th 2011, will see the British as a nation on holiday from work and partying their unofficially-royalist heads off. The roads around Westminster Abbey were crowded for days before the wedding with royal wedding viewers camping out on pavements just to catch a glimpse of the William and his bride, the future king and queen. Towns and villages across Britain have hung out red, white and blue Union flags and are hosting Royal Wedding parties for their residents. The event will be televised (and watched by 2 billion people say TV moguls – how would they know that?) All manner of tat – Kate and William T-towels, Kate and William dinner plates, Kate and William wedding plates – has been manufactured and sold to eager customers.
And the reason for the royal wedding fever, in my view, is that Britain needs a party.
The British in 2011 are like dieters reaching for comfort food. They know it doesn’t make any sense and they’ll probably regret it tomorrow but in the national context of trillions of pounds of debt, job insecurity and progressive loss of national identity they’re reaching for the wedding of Prince William and Princess Catherine as the dieter reaches for cake or chocolate. Any excuse for a party when times are hard. And in recent years, a sort of justification for monarchy has become popular. Britain has assessed the debacle of successive Labour governments’ rule, bankrupting Britain and leaving the nation with trillions of pounds of debt, along with Tony Blair’s highly unpopular decision to support George W. Bush in the Iraq war. And voices have been raised which say “If you think having a king or queen is bad, what would it be like having a British president? What if we were stuck with Tony Blair or the incompetent Gordon Brown?” in other words, British politicians are so unpopular that some Brits are turning back towards royalty. The popularity of the royal wedding partly reflects that desire for an alternative to corrupt politicians.
Of course there are the nay-sayers, moaning and vowing to turn their back on the TV and the royal wedding today. But that grumbling is having little effect on the rest of Britain. For the moment, the royalists have the stage and are determined to enjoy the wedding, Kate’s wedding dress, the other wedding outfits, the pomp and ceremony and the grand setting of Westminster Abbey. Most of all, Brits are determined to enjoy the party. There was an interesting exchange on BBC’s notoriously politically-correct Radio 4 news programme yesterday. Today presenter John Humphreys said dourly to ex-Labour minister Jack Straw something like this: “Well you won’t be watching Kate and William’s wedding will you? You’re no royalist.” Straw replied that actually he would be watching. “But surely you’re against the monarchy?” Humphreys exclaimed. Straw replied that No he wasn’t actually. Then Humphreys relaxed a bit and mentioned that he himself would be covering the royal wedding for the BBC.
No matter who you are in Britain today, you’re likely to have a look at the royal wedding. And decide that, if nothing else, it’s a good excuse for a party.