As I get ready to travel to London to celebrate the coronation of HRH King Charles III, I find myself reminiscing about the time I spent in England almost 12 years ago to date, celebrating the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge .
The London Evening Standard exclaimed, “Bride and Joy.” The Sunday Times said, “You had to be there.” Suzy Menkes of The International Herald Tribune dubbed Kate Middleton the first royal bride of the digital age. The Daily Telegraph: “In 1981, the public were spectators. Yesterday they felt like guests.” As one of the eyewitnesses, all of the above rang true for me!
The Windsors have tied the knot yet again. But the wedding of this century has turned out to be very different from the one in 1981 when Prince Charles wed Lady Diana Spencer. On April 29, 2011, all eyes (and expectations) were on Kate. It was a party fit for a princess, Downton Abbey on steroids. As the site of history in the making, London was a media and tourist mecca. Every billboard and newspaper in sight featured Prince William and Kate. Tabloids were abuzz that the estimated wedding cost would exceed 30 million pounds (the Middleton family chipped in for their daughter’s wedding dress). Makeshift tents were set up along the procession route known as the Mall (a road that runs from Buckingham Palace, where the couple would travel by royal carriage). An estimated one million people crowded the streets to get a peek at the young royals. Harrods, the venerable Knightsbridge department store where you can buy everything from keys to pianos to coffins—and now Krispy Kreme donuts can be added to the list of treasures —got it right! Their Brompton Road windows displayed elaborate five-tiered wedding cakes designed by the likes of fragrance queen Jo Malone, British fashion designers Alice Temperley and Paul Smith, and the fine-china company Wedgwood. The windows were painted around the edges to make the displays seem like the interior of gold carriages right out of a London fairytale.
The Dress: For McQueen and Country
One of the most carefully guarded secrets did not disappoint. The wedding gown of Kate Middleton was designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Her wedding ensemble said “elegance” combined tradition: the diamond earrings, a gift from her parents, echoed Middleton’s new family crest, and the Cartier tiara was Prince William’s great-grandmother. Even the flowers in Kate’s bouquet were symbolic: lilies of the valley, because her mother had carried them in her wedding; sweet Williams, for obvious reasons; hyacinths for love; ivy for fidelity, and myrtle from a plant that Queen Victoria planted in 1845!
Puttin’ on the Ritz
During the ceremony, we watched at the Ritz Piccadilly, across Green Park from Buckingham Palace, with hats and gloves in place. The hotel hosted an elegant wedding brunch, complete with Champagne, traditional British canapés, and Eton mess, a dessert named after the boarding school the prince attended. With smartphones in hand, we were hopeful there would not be a breach of royal protocol. Seated to our left were guests who had attended the wedding ceremony. They were members of the Order of the Garter (the highest order of knighthood in England). On our right was bespoke tailor Geoffrey Golding, who holds a royal warrant from the queen. His marigold-colored uniforms were worn by horsemen in the parade and have become examples of military tailoring.
Discretion, Discretion, Discretion
The royals’ media operation was flawless, and not only in concealing all details regarding the dress of the century (even Vogue’s Anna Wintour was not in on the secret). At the Richard Ward Salon in Chelsea, where Kate gets her hair done (me too), stylists denied even knowing her!
All Things British
You’ve got to hand it to the Brits: they redefine the meaning of the word pageantry. At every turn, oversized Union Jacks lined the streets, and the wedding went off without a hitch, although the BBC reported that the bride was fashionably late (30 seconds to be exact)! Perhaps the only disappointment of the day was the royal title bestowed on the new Windsor, but protocol dictates that the late Queen Elizabeth cannot skip lineage. Diana became a princess because her husband was the heir to the throne. According to Debrett’s Correct Form, the bible of peerage, as far as titles are concerned, the Duchess of Cambridge is not half bad (especially since, as we kept being reminded, Kate was formerly a “commoner”).
Thoroughly Modern Middleton
Even though she must follow royal protocol and walk two steps behind her prince, this princess has made her own choices, and she has had plenty of help in doing so. By all accounts, Kate is grounded, even though her father was an airline officer and her mother a flight attendant. A life in the public eye demands discipline and organization. She has the charm and personality to follow her own destiny, so why the fascination with Kate? Perhaps it’s her common roots that many can relate to. She is a breath of fresh air.
The couple broke with royal tradition in more than one way. The bride wore blue jeans at her wedding rehearsal, and their exit in Prince Charles’s Aston Martin was icing on the cake. In lieu of wedding gifts, they asked for donations to their favorite charities, one of which dealt with teen bullying, something that Kate faced as a young girl. And even the site of the wedding was given a personal note, decked out with full-grown trees to resemble an English garden from her hometown in the village of Bucklebury. And in a touching personal note, spectators who visited the Abbey in the days before the nuptials were asked to pray for the young couple.
People’s Princess, Part Deux?
At 29, Kate was called the “Queen of Hats.” From feathers to those very English fascinators (small hats that attach to the front of the head), Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, has taken up where Princess Diana left off. Her fashion sense is refreshing: tasteful and classic, it has only grown with time. When the duchess smiles, her face lights up like a 100-watt light bulb. Along with her perfect posture, she carries herself with great ease and confidence. She has a style that Prince William noticed long ago. “Kate Middleton has a wonderful youthfulness about how she wears clothes and seems to equally enjoy putting on her jeans for evening out with her friends in London as much as she does a whimsical feathered hat for a wedding or a colorful long satin evening dress for a black-tie party,” said Vogue Style Director Alexander Kotur.
The wedding of William and Kate offered pomp and circumstance not witnessed in a long while. All involved played their roles to a T. It was a day that I have long remembered, with tulips and love in bloom. Kate and her prince became the future of the British monarchy. The morning after the wedding, a Sloane Street newsstand proprietor offered up his assessment of the queen-to-be: He said, “Catherine is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. She’s the great-granddaughter of a Cornish miner and is the most beautiful part of all.” “She’s one of us,” he told me. Fairytales really do come true.