Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Royal Wedding

Tomorrow, England's Prince William will marry his fiancee, Kate Middleton.

The wedding will take place in Westminster Abbey, the same place where his grandparents (Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip) exchanged vows in 1947.

There is nothing special to be taken from that observation, I suppose. Westminster Abbey has been the traditional site for coronations, funerals and weddings for centuries, but Prince William's wedding will be the first royal wedding at Westminster Abbey since William's uncle, Prince Andrew, married Sarah Ferguson there nearly 25 years ago.

William's parents, Charles and Diana, weren't married in Westminster Abbey. They were married in St. Paul's Cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous landmarks in London.

That is where Sir Winston Churchill's funeral was held. It is where Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee was held. It is where celebrations marking the end of the two World Wars were held.

And three–quarters of a billion people the world over watched on TV as William's parents' "wedding of the century," as it was called, was held there.

I really doubt that tomorrow's ceremony will draw the same kind of audience that Charles and Diana did — even though Westminster Abbey is bound to be more recognizable to most Americans than St. Paul's. Nothing against William and Kate. But Diana was always a shining star, a charismatic figure who brought a breath of fresh air to the stuffy atmosphere of Buckingham Palace.

The world simply fell in love with her when Charles introduced her as his bride to be. Charles was much older and had been a bachelor all his life. His relationships with prominent women were frequently in the news. Diana was young, beautiful, seemed a bit naive and fragile.

She was still an unknown, yet the world fell in love with her.

She turned out to be a lot tougher than she appeared on first impression, too, and I felt that she must have passed along much of that toughness to her sons. They certainly needed it to hold up so well under such public scrutiny when their mother died in the tragic car crash in Paris in 1997.

(Diana didn't seem so tough on that July day nearly 30 years ago when she and Charles were married. In fact, to me she appeared rather small and frail. She had just turned 20, and she was being thrust into the glare of a spotlight that, tragically, would be her undoing.

(I felt, when I watched that wedding, that Diana was clearly nervous. Perhaps that is why, when she was asked to repeat her fiancee's names — he has four of them — she reversed the second and third names. It is, to be sure, a "gilded goldfish bowl," as Richard Quest writes at

She grew up a lot in the time between the announcement of her engagement and the wedding. When she was first introduced to the public, she was a young kindergarten teacher. The world bore witness to her transformation.

William and his brother Harry have grown up before our eyes as well. ("That is the way monarchy works," Quest reminds us.) William was barely 15 when Diana died; Harry was not yet 13.

Now, William is nearly 29, and he is getting married, almost 30 years after his parents were married — in a place that is probably more recognizable to non–Britons than the place where Charles and Diana tied the knot.

And there is much speculation about William's future. Most people assume he will one day sit on the throne. What seems to be uncertain is when.

His grandmother, the queen, is in her mid–80s. Charles, who is next in line, is in his early 60s. Common sense says William, who is next after his father, will probably be king by the time he is in his 50s — if not sooner. I have heard some people suggest, though, that Elizabeth might change her mind, buck tradition and designate her grandson to succeed her when she dies, bypassing her son completely, and the Washington Post says a recent poll indicates nearly half of Britons would prefer to have William as king.

(I wonder how Charles would feel about the designation of "King Father.")

That, though, is definitely not how things work in a monarchy, as Quest no doubt would tell you, and even those Britons who would like to see William leapfrog Charles to the throne must know there is simply no way it is going to happen. I have the feeling, though, that, regardless of his prospects, William's wedding won't draw the same audience his mother's did — although I have heard predictions that it will match, if not exceed, it in viewership. I have my doubts about that, but it might have — if Diana had lived to participate in it.

That's kind of an odd thought, isn't it? I mean, it's sort of hard for me to imagine Diana in her 50s — and, technically, she wouldn't be. Not yet. In the mind's eye, Diana will always be the young, vibrant, beautiful woman she was in life — not entirely consistent with the image one tends to have of the mother of the groom.

But neither her marriage nor the wedding day were consistent, either.

And she will be there, if only when others compare Diana to Kate or Diana's wedding 30 years ago to the one that will take place tomorrow.

Like so many of the things in her life, Diana would not have coveted that — and I don't believe it is the kind of thing she would have wished on anyone else, least of all her daughter–in–law.

Now, I never met Diana so maybe I am not qualified to make that kind of judgment. My only contact with her was the same as it was for millions. I saw her on TV. I read about her in newspapers and magazines. From those things, I formed my opinion.

Still, based on that, I honestly believe that Diana would never have wanted to take any attention away from her son on his wedding day — even if she felt (as I'm sure she did — and as I believe she was entitled to feel) that she was deprived of the royal treatment that just about every bride gets.

(It's ironic, isn't it? On Diana's wedding day, she actually was joining a royal family, but when I watch footage of that wedding now, I get the sense that most of the royals regarded her as an outsider, an intruder — that they felt they had a much better time a dozen years earlier at Prince Charles' investiture when it was exclusively the royals with no pretenders or wannabes.)

On that day in 1981, Diana was more of a prop than anything else. I think anyone who watched it would tell you that occasion had all the pomp and circumstance one could imagine. Diana wore a beautiful dress, she carried herself regally, and the rank–and–file adored her (and continued to adore her until the day she died).

She just wasn't accepted by British upper crust. Never was, really. She was only grudgingly accepted — posthumously — by the queen.

Perhaps there are lessons in that for Kate.

If Diana had not died nearly 14 years ago, I am certain she would have been content to remain in the shadows tomorrow.

But I'm equally sure she would not hesitate to share with Kate her thoughts and experiences in dealing with the royal family and the paparazzi — after being asked.

It was never Diana's style to intrude.

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