More than any other moment, it symbolized the turning of a page for the British monarchy, of a new generation of kings and queens who would, perhaps, stand somewhat closer to the people. After a majestic wedding in Westminster Abbey that comforted a nation in tough times and celebrated what it means to be British, the lofty royal family greeted the throngs outside the palace on a balcony shared by the beaming bride, the descendant of coal miners and daughter of run-of-the-mill Brits made good.
Although polls showed one in three here claiming no interest in the royal wedding, the spirit of the moment appeared to become infectious. An estimated crowd of 1 million lined the central London procession route between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, besting the outpouring of 600,000 for the 1981 wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer.
“I cannot tell you how proud I am today to be British, and how I felt when I heard them say, ‘I do,’ ” said Alice Morley, 18, draping herself in the Union Jack outside Buckingham Palace. “. . . And with Kate, who is one of us, a commoner, I feel closer to them, like anyone can be in that palace.”
Kate is not, in fact, a princess yet — at least not in official title. Instead, at the bequest of Queen Elizabeth II, the couple will now be known as Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The peculiarities of British titles kicked off a day that began with the pomp and circumstance of old royalty and ended with a bow to youth: disco dancing at the wedding reception in Buckingham Palace.
The BBC reported more than 5,500 traditional street parties across the nation, with the wedding seeming to generate a patriotic fervor and a toast to the quirky notion of Britishness. Britons held duck races. They attended “fancy-dress parties” where men wore women’s clothes. They gorged on pork pies in the park and drank bitter Pimm’s and lemonade. Why? Because that’s how the British have fun.
At a street party in east London punctuated by men in wedding dresses, Steve Edge, a 53-year-old owner of a design agency, said that “subconsciously everybody loves” the monarchy, an institution he called the “true brand of Englishness.”
You can see it, he said, “on days like today . . . with over a billion people watching” and his countrymen suddenly dropping their famed reserve. “The English can be very dour, not get too excited, but on special occasions they do it very well.”
Around the world, the wedding seemed to be helping the British build a new empire of love, with up to 2 billion estimated to be tuning in to Westminster Abbey.