Six hours before the 11 a.m. wedding of the prince and princess of Wales, half of London was contentedly standing about outside Buckingham Palace, and here is the secret to these royal events:
The crowd was fully enchanted with itself.
"Eeow, look at 'im," one would say, pointing to a young man in a "Jesus Saves" T-shirt, rainbow-colored imitation bear-fur hat and brilliant white running shorts.
They all came to see the royal family, especially the bride, but they also came to see each other and to be with each other. It is safe to say they wanted the royal family out on that balcony in a setting of happy tens of thousands waving Union Jacks and carrying on as the British alone seem to do.
By 5 a.m., the crowd nearest the Queen Victoria Memorial, directly outside the palace gate, was pretty much formed, and would change little for the next nine hours.
"They won't even be able to sit down," an American said. But they didn't especially want to sit down, as far as one could tell. If they got too weary they merely fainted, and nurses and the St. John ambulance volunteer corps trotted over and coped.
The spectators did not just stand there, during their long hours of waiting. A group of five or six would throw their arms about each other's shoulders as in a tight football huddle and joggle in place. This odd dance, it was learned, was imported from one of those outposts of empire, such as Tonga.
Only two songs were continually on the lips of these thousands. One was "Rule, Britannia," which is the one about how Britons over shall be slaves, never shall be slaves. It gave everyone the tingles.
A foreign observer might have wondered who was trying to enslave them in the first place, but the Brits sang throughout the morning that they positively refused to be slaves, and the more they sang it the more fervent they got.
The other great song was an American contribution, "Stars and Stripes Forever," only with new words: "Lady Di, Lady Di, Lady Di (chick-a-boom, chick-a-boom)." The lyric does not advance but merely repeats. Hypnotic, or endlessly infuriating, depending on your fondness for simple beauties of life.
A solemn steward in a black suit, obviously a butler of the very best sort, marched along the black-and-gold iron fence that protects the outer palace court. He was on the crowd side of the fence. He bore a great silver salver with two glasses and a bottle of champagne. Behind him came another man in black, carrying a jeroboam of wine, and behind him two yeomen of the guard. They marched along for a bit, paused at a palace gate and poured the wine. The two yeomen faced the crowd, raised their glass to all of us and drank a toast. Then they turned and did the same toward the palace. The crowd went bonkers.
After a bit a few scarlet-type guards came out and marched here and there.
"They're grenadiers," said an authoritative man from Worcestershire.
He was glad, like all Englishmen, to educate foreigners about recondite matters of Enlish pomp, and like many such, he was wrong. They were the Coldstream Guards.
Before anyone could weary of the guards, out came the Household Cavalry, dozens of magnificent black horses. They rode about in formation as if searching for something such as traitors. Very smart. One horse was not so dark as the rest, but was getting on toward mahogany.
"They could have dyed him," said a woman.
But the English will not even dock a dog's tail or crop a dog's ears -- you have not lived until you've seen great danes with floppy ears -- so they aren't likely to start dyeing their horses just to make them match.
This may seem vulgar, but one does wonder about the person who during the nine hours should wish to find a bathroom. The best course would be to try to get out of the crowd and head toward Park Lane or some adjacent street with hotels.
"There is, of course, no way for people to leave since they are not allowed to cross the street," it was pointed out to a unformed official.
One could, it was said, approach an officer and in an emergency be escorted to some of the well-disguised temporary lavatories discreetly hidden here and there in places nobody would notice, such as the stone traffic island on which two dozen reporters lounged about.
The master of the royal fireworks the night before (thousands remained, not going home, in order to have a good spot for viewing the wedding day festivities) had said, "Our plan in case of rain is to get wet."
The British plan, in many such instances of this rot, is to accept whatever must be accepted. If it rains, you get wet equally in London or Washington, perhaps even Moscow where planning is highly advanced, only in Washington a full set of implausible alternatives would solemnly be announced. And then you'd get wet. In England you get wet for the first.
A lad of 8 years, straying into the precincts of this newspaper's viewing areas, and thought not to be one of us though you never know, said he was Richard Russell of Surrey and that was his mother out there (an uneasy woman was peering around a stone pedestal surrounded by a vast bronze goddess waving palm branches and scythes), and he does not know what he will be when he grows up. Reporter, possibly. That's how they start life.
The crowd had been enchanted by a man who came out on the palace balcony to dust the red drapery. It is all but certain that the English devise bits of stage business like this. The cloth hangings of the balcony needed dusting just about as much as Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, but if a fellow is sent out there it delights all who see it.
After a pregnant pause following the fiery stallions, the city of Westminister trash truck rattled past at ceremonial speed. The crowd, straight-faced, applauded, gave three cheers and waved the flags.
Peter Elcock, Malcolm Landau, Toyia Howell and Kay Buggins were among the persons aged 15 and 16 (there were 278,000 more, as you learned if you got out a pencil for names) in what may be called the Ladi Di impromptu choir.Asked if they knew any additional great songs, they obliged with "Apple Juice, Apple Juice, Apple Juice" to the same tune of "Stars and Stripes." Later in the day, when the bridal couple returned from the cathedral, they broke into their novelty tune, "Princess Di, Princess Di, Princess Di" to the tune of guess what, and the crowd thought it a splendid change.
A classic pastime at these grand public ceremonials consists of a fellow climbing past the barricade and perching himself at the skirts of the monumental bronze goddess waving palms. The police always walk slowly over and politely ask him to climb down. The yough always looks wide-eyed with surprise. It never occurred to him that was not all right.
This provides the crowd with a slight diversion and gives the police a task to make them feel useful.
But by now the hours have passed agreeably and any women planning to faint have pretty much done it. The palace gates have swung back, and the queen is seen to be riding out toward the church. She is in no great hurry. She is preceded by guards on horses.
If there is any sound in this world better than that of horses' hooves, nobody has heard it. The crowd is in perfect agreement here. They like her robin's-egg blue dress and hat. They like her.
"God Save the Queen" starts up all over the place. The English do not require a conductor or even a key to sing in. They invariably start out too high and soon fnd themselves unable to go on. They should have started at least a fifth lower. How often one would have saved them, but they like their own musical disasters, and when they have to give up because of the high notes (which always surprise them) they just stop and start over at the beginning. Too high the second time. They are not called bulldogs for nothing.
As Churchill once said, and it is applicable to their singing of their national anthem, they shall never surrende. They shall go on to the last. One is stirred to the marrow.
They have finally hit the key of F, the only one they can finish it in.
There is a spell, with the royals all at church, when the crowd has nothing specific to focus on. This is the time for the young men to take off their shirts if, in fact, their recent body-building course with weights and an instruction booklet has slightly swollen their biceps.
There is also leisure to turn on portable radios, to keep up with the royal procession about to enter St. Paul's. As they filled the air with the groaning notes from the cathedral, the tone changed considerably. People still joked and wisecracked, but "Apple Juice, Apple Juice," stopped.
The air is full of music, of organs and trumpets and the piercing wall of boys' choirs:
"I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the hour of the Lord."
Things are were really moving along at St. Paul's. And here.
"Will you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
"I will," said the prince on a hundred radios beneath the trees and banners of the mall. "I will." "I will."
Oh, thank God. The crowd had hardly expected any such thing as than, and went to pieces as if each of them had won the Maryland lottery.
"I will," said Diana Spencer.
They were even more suprised at that and went even wilder.
The pale sun strengthened just a bit, and if there is anything to this business of picking up vibrations, the air surged with, well, love.
Later, back at the palace, the new couple came three times to the balcony. The princess was composed and controlled, a bit shy perhaps.
Charles took her hand.
The next time out she worked her thunb between his index and second fingers. The third time out she smiled more. Each time out, the little bridesmaids, that the poet Coleridge always insisted should be called bride-maids, appeared:
Sara Jane Gaselee, 10, daughter of the man who trains the prince's racehorses; Catherine Cameron, 6, and Clementine Hambro, 5, (great-granddaughter of Winston Churchill) were particular crowd-pleasers, being the youngest.
Two godsons of the prince, Edward Van Cutsem, 8, and Lord Nicholas Windsor, 11, were also much admired. Windsor is at precisely the right age to dawdle a bit -- the last to leave, and much given to peering about over the balcony on his own.
Peace be within they walls. Prosperity within thy palaces. Trumpets. Cheers. If you bellow loudly enough you won't cry. Look, the queen mum. Cheers. Flower garlands in girls' hair, veil thrown back from the bride's face. Black horses and white plumes.
Now let's see. Where the devil is that young Nicholas?