Proud to be British: the Royal Wedding April 29th 2011


A sea of celebration: the British people are high in spirits and celebrating in style on this jubilant day. Pictured: the Mall, between Westminster and Buckingham Palace

I was born and raised in a country home in the North of England where Queen Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, later to become the Queen Mother, enjoyed a cup of tea at the 23rd February 1939 ceremony with her husband George VI when they opened the tennis courts and sports pavilion opposite. I feel contented to be watching today’s Royal Wedding from a house that has royal connections and has since become part of Britain’s national heritage.

To set the scene, as I sit here with my cup of English Rose tea and biscuits, it is now 8:30am and the doors of Westminster Abbey have just opened for guests to enter the opulent venue. 1900 guests at that: 1000 of these guests are friends and family of HRH Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton, including the usual sprinkling of celebrities like Elton John, the Beckhams, Ben Fogle and many more; the dignitaries, royals and ambassadors from around the world make up the remaining 900 guests. Prince William jokes “We’re supposed to be having a small family affair.”

One million guests line the route that the blushing bride will take at precisely 10:51am – the supporting crowd will cheer Kate every step of the way on her journey to becoming a royal princess: it’s actually quite spine-tingling to watch: I think we all secretly enjoy a good old-fashioned fairytale wedding and I have been described by my friends as being a ‘’closet royalist’’ and though I see the advantages of a Republic, Britain would not be the same without its monarchy. It’s a part of who we are. The crowds are repeatedly chanting ‘we want Will!” and the Mall is said to contain an additional half a million street guests, now totalling one and a half million….and that’s just on site. Hundreds of street parties are taking place across the United Kingdom today, not to mention the park gatherings such as Hyde Park where flags are being flown with great zest and energy. Online, #proudtobebritish is trending on twitter like never before. Everyone’s talking about it.

Reporting directly at the event is my colleague, mentor and life-long friend Anita Atkinson, Deputy Lieutenant to the Queen herself. Anita holds the world record of owning the most royal memorabilia and has camped outside the west door of Westminster Abbey since Wednesday evening. Up most of the night, she contacted me at 2am this morning to say “I’ve also been joined by the Channel 4 crew to record more of my documentary to be screened on Monday at 7:10pm, except I am wearing some really daft thing on my head. It’s cold and I didn’t bring a hat! Also a couple of tidily gentlemen who are guests at the wedding popped by in dinner jackets drinking posh whisky.” She has made all of today’s front pages including ‘This is London’, London’s Evening Standard, England’s Northern Echo and that’s just on a national level; internationally, she is featuring on ABC news, and was just interviewed by an Australian radio station too. I chuckled when she told me she had to get changed in a telephone phone-box on Thursday: how symbolic!

Regal-coloured costumes are filling the Abbey now and I see a lot of pastel colours, emerald greens and vibrant-looking guests, the ladies of which are wearing giant fascinators and hats so large they are being carefully balanced like plates on their heads. The world has never seen such decadence in a country highly admired for its fashion, sophistication, culture and elegance. Today the world gets to see once again what Britain is about. It isn’t just about the wedding, but about the country’s tradition and the nation’s community spirit, which is growing by the second.

Guests catching my eye include it-girl Tara Palmer Tomkinson, who enters the Abbey wearing a striking royal blue outfit – I have to be blatantly honest here: her headpiece looks like a cross between a blue flame and canoe on her forehead, yet it is attracting attention in a Lady Gaga kind of way. The Queen apparently does not approve of the fascinators worn by today’s guests and says they “look like liver birds”. It is just as well we have fresh young blood about to lead the royal family now, fashion icons in their own modern right.

Oh – and forget the perfectly placed lilies up the Abbey’s aisles – more impressive are the 20ft high trees that border the nave of the Abbey. This has never before been done on any occasion and I must say that it is quite reminiscent of an entire garden brought indoors, or even a Parisian boulevard!

10:15am and Prince William is leaving Clarence House in a Rolls Royce wearing his red Irish guard uniform with pristine white gloves: he looks and is a true prince in every sense of the word. Prince William commissioned all three of the royal armed forces to wear matching uniforms. Accompanied by his brother and best man is Prince Harry in a black and gold uniform. Patriotism is in the air like I have never experienced it before. The crowd are so excited. As William’s car turns into Whitehall a slight nervousness overcomes the Prince. The atmosphere is just extraordinary and Harry cracks a few jokes to calm his brother’s nerves: Wills’ bashful smile is re-emerging again and as he steps out of the car to enter the Abbey, we see the full outfit in its scarlet red glory, with a blue sash onto which his RAF wings are proudly attached: it is the highest ranked uniform.

10:32am – Mother of the bride, Carol Middleton arrives in a quintessentially British outfit – it is pale blue and apparently she had it re-designed about five times in a stressful run-up to this hour.

Everything is happening to the minute and has been so carefully choreographed.

10:42am – Prince Charles and Camilla arrive in their usual traditional dress

10:49am the Queen arrives wearing sunny yellow and enters the Abbey to the prominent sound of the Sovereign’s fanfare.

10:51am – Miss Kate Middleton embarks upon her last journey as a single woman accompanied by a somewhat nervous father Michael Middleton.  She waves excitedly to the crowd all the way to the Abbey doors. As she gets out of the car, the eyes of the entire world are upon Catherine Middleton who wears a Sarah Burton dress designed for the Alexander McQueen label in ivory and white satin. The lace was hand-made at Hampton Court Palace. Sarah Burton is ‘beside herself’ to be a part of this and says it is the “ultimate design moment.”

11.00am – Kate Middleton walks up the longest church aisle in Britain. Prince Harry looks over his shoulder to take a sneaky peak at the bride as she approaches and provides a running commentary to his brother. “Wait ’til you see her” he says. Wills meanwhile, saves the moment to look at her until she arrives right by his side. He looks at her with great love in his eyes and says ‘You look beautiful.” The ceremony is ofcourse so very public, yet intimate in style as they actually say their vows.

Throughout the whole ceremony, my favourite speech is one by the Bishop of London, who gives the couple some golden advice: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

Here are a few more of my favourite messages from the Bishop’s speech:-

“It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.”

“Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform so long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:

“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,
Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.””

I particularly like the prayer that the Prince and Princess Kate have composed together in preparation for this day:

“God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.
In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.
Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer.
We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Midday – after a wonderful and moving service, the newly-weds leave Westminster Abbey. The selected fairytale carriage in which they depart is the 1902 State Landau, specifically built for King Edward VII and intended to be used at his Coronation. The same carriage drove Princess Diana and Prince Charles after their wedding thirty years ago. The bells are ringing a full peal and will ring for 3 hours hereafter.

Though it has not yet been officially announced, I hear on the grapevine that Wills and Kate are rumoured to spend their honeymoon in the Scilly Isles.

13:05pm – a sea of people walk down the infamous Mall guided by Bobbies[1] on their horses. People run to get to the front of the crowds.

13:26pm – The newly-wed couple emerge from behind the French curtains of Buckingham palace and step outside onto the balcony. As the crowd cheers, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge aka Princess Kate smiles radiantly and gasps ‘’oh wow’’ as the roaring crowd greet her. Without much encouragement, the couple kiss…not just once, but twice: it is being labelled by us journalists as the ‘double kiss,’ and has already gone down in history. The second time round, William devotedly looks at his new wife and says “One more. One more kiss. Come on.” Kate bashfully nods and he kisses her again. The nation goes berserk with joy and even louder cheers. Now we all watch the fly-past including the infamous Lancaster bomber plane, spitfire and the hurricane. These are followed by the typhoons costing £90,000 per hour to fly. The timing has been set to great military precision and the crowds withstand the thundering sound of these emblematic planes, the kind of thunder that drums right through you.

15:38pm – A convertible Aston Martin emerges from Buckingham Palace with a learner-plate on the front and a “JU5t WED” number plate, with balloons and hearts at the back. William takes his new wife for a spin in the car, lent to him by Prince Charles to the delight of the crowd. It has just been revealed that the car was running on wine! Yes, you read correctly – the car has been modified to run on surplus wine: how’s that for a corker?!

16:23pm – David Cameron, Britain’s current prime minister comes to talk to the press and says “There is something about singing Jerusalem in Westminster Abbey with such an amazing orchestra and choir behind you: you feel like the roof is about to lift off… There is no better place to be than right here right now.” He adds “We are quite a reserved lot, the British, but when we go for it, we really go for it.”

I couldn’t agree more. And on that note, I must dash as I’m off to join the street parties….

[1] British term for policemen

© Gabriella White – The Culture Cave 2011. All rights reserved

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