This column has been updated in the aftermath of the royal wedding.
Thousands of Union Jacks are still fluttering across the city. Gray security fencing and orange-jacketed policemen remain positioned around the capital. A half-ton maple and seven other trees lined the aisle to the altar of Westminster Abbey. In Hyde Park, an estimated 300,000 people broke into cheers when the bride alighted from a royal limousine with her father.
But it was the groom’s whisper when the bride arrived at the altar (“you look beautiful”) and the smiles they exchanged during their vows that captured hearts.
The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton went off without a hitch, before a Britain — and its royal family in particular — that wanted to get this one right. It is time for happily ever after
Three decades ago, millions watched as 20-year-old Lady Diana Spencer emerged from the Glass Coach in a voluminous ivory gown to marry Prince Charles. “Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made,” the archbishop of Canterbury intoned — and the world delighted in believing him.
But that fairy tale was not to be.
Is this one?
The dazzling smiles of William and Kate radiate on street corners, shining out from gilded plates, mugs, party masks and T-shirts. Retailers offer Union Jack party supplies. Some whose products can’t be branded William or Kate — and even PEZ dispensers and air-sickness bags have been branded William and Kate — are getting in on the action by labeling toiletries “royally gorgeous” and “cause for celebration.”
Britain should be good at fairy tales. It is the land of Shakespeare. Of knights and lore and tradition. But this is also the age of budget cuts and compromise, coalition politics. The empire has become the commonwealth, and the taint of class is divisive enough that the prime minister’s advisers considered sending him to the royal wedding in a suit rather than the formal wear that might remind voters of his pedigreed background.
After William and Kate’s engagement was announced in November, the public debated who should foot the bill (both families are contributing to ceremony costs, with taxpayers picking up security expenses, or the great majority of the tab), the scale of the event (technically not a state affair), the guest list (Two words: no Obama?). The bride-to-be’s status as a “commoner” stoked discussion and discomfort over classism. This wedding was scaled down from royal weddings past in that the royal family and the couple rode to the church in cars, not horse-drawn carriages.
And the ever-growing media coverage threatened to eclipse the event itself. On Thursday afternoon, journalists outnumbered campers outside Westminster Abbey. Customs workers this week asked arriving Americans who cited the royal wedding as the reason for their visit, “Are you here to cover it or to watch it?” Men wearing black T-shirts emblazoned “anti-royal reporter” circulated, doing man-on-the-street interviews.
For many, even those who didn’t plan to watch Friday, even those who aren’t British but merely fans of the monarchy, a royal wedding is still a national event in which to take pride.
And for some, the biggest source of pride may be that this is not a fairy tale at all but an ordinary courtship in extraordinary circumstances — effectively, two college sweethearts who dated for years, broke up, got back together, dated some more and finally decided to tie the knot.
In all the media coverage of William and Kate — and quite a lot has been said about how their story is not that of Charles and Diana; how Kate is older, better educated and more confident than the late princess of Wales was at the time of her marriage; how these two know what they are getting into — they have done just one public interview and determinedly conducted their courtship away from the media.
But last month, during a public appearance in Northern Ireland, an 11-year-old girl said to Kate, “You’re a very lucky lady. I’m so jealous!” Kate replied: “I am lucky. He’s a very nice man, and I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life with him.”
Autumn Brewington is The Post’s op-ed page editor. She blogs on the royal wedding at www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/royal-wedding-watch.