Shortly after Sarah Wheeler walks down the aisle with her fiancé Ben Whelan on April 29, the newlyweds will dig into a three-tier vanilla sponge cake, dance to Barry White's "You're My Everything" and pose for photographs at their wedding venue an 18th century watermill near Bath, in western England. At some point, they'll also pull down a projector so their 120 guests can catch snippets of a slightly larger spectacle taking place on the same day at London's Westminster Abbey: the royal wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William. "I'll screen it at the beginning of the reception when people are having drinks, but once we sit down, I want it taken away," says Wheeler, 31. "I don't want to look back on my wedding and not remember much about it because I was busy watching somebody else's."
From Bath to Bristol and Liverpool to London, English brides have a bone to pick with the future Mrs. William Windsor. Ever since Kate and her princely beau decided that they would tie the knot on April 29, 2011, hundreds of women with weddings booked on or around that date have had to come to terms with the same grim reality: they must share the spotlight on the most important day of their lives. "Talk about stealing your thunder," says Wheeler, who has already spent thousands of pounds on her venue and caterer. "It's not feasible to change things or reschedule at this point."
For mere commoners, the lavishness of the royal nuptials casts a long shadow, which can make even the whitest of wedding gowns look gray. "Everyone will be all about William and Kate's wedding," writes fellow April 29 bride with2bon on a forum on the website You and Your Wedding . "And don't even get me started on what her dress will be like!" With2bon has found a kindred spirit in 2ndtimeLuckyLucy, who is getting married the day after Kate and Will. "Thank God I'm not the only bride who thought that!" she writes. "At my 21st birthday party, all they talked about was Diana's funeral!"
But this is about more than bruised egos and being the center of attention. For brides and their guests, the royal wedding has practical consequences that impact everything from the availability of hotels and flights to the cost of wedding services and supplies. Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to declare Prince William's wedding day a national holiday will likely fuel a spike in prices for wedding services, says Kim Neville, director of the Pink Pumpkin, a sought-after London wedding-planning company. "It is quite tricky to find people who are willing to work and haven't tripled their prices as a result," she says. Flower growers, for example, routinely inflate prices around Valentine's Day and other holidays when demand soars. "Kate and William's wedding," Neville says, "will have a slight knock-on effect because they will be having so many flowers at their own ceremony."
And then there's the issue of hotels. London already plays host to about 500,000 tourists on any given day, and April is particularly busy. The London Marathon takes place on April 17 and many of its 1 million spectators could linger in the city to watch the wedding procession. The additional national holiday on April 29, coupled with Easter break on April 25 and another national (non-wedding-related) holiday on May 2, means Britons can take off three days of work and enjoy nearly 11 days of vacation encouraging even more people to pour into the capital. Well aware that Prince Charles' wedding to Diana attracted 600,000 tourists to London and nearby cities in 1980, Wheeler has kicked her preparations into overdrive. "We're going to have to get our invites out a hell of a lot quicker than we were going to so our guests can book the hotel for their stay," she says.
The big day is still five months away, but early figures suggest that Wheeler's on to something. Since Will and Kate's wedding date was announced, London hotels have experienced a huge surge in demand. Hotels.com reports that searches for rooms on and around April 29 have jumped 60% year-on-year, and discount-hotel website LateRooms.com says hotel bookings for the week of April 29 are three times higher than for the week before. London's most chichi hotels are also feeling the upswing. The Dorchester, where many well-heeled guests of the royals will likely stay, is almost fully booked that week.
Flights, too, are filling up fast making it tougher for foreign friends and family to join wedding celebrations in England. On You and Your Wedding's Web forum, Ali0809, a bride getting married the week before the royals, worries flight prices will rise enough to keep her brother and sister and their children grounded in Canada. "I'm absolutely gutted," she writes. "It'll be the first time we're all together in over 10 years! Now because of the royal wedding, flights are going to skyrocket and we don't know if it's going to be affordable."
Despite having to fight for the spotlight on her wedding day, Wheeler is confident she'll still look and feel like a princess. "My dress fits me perfectly," she says. "It's strapless with quite a large skirt in ivory, and I like to think it will rival Kate's." Sounds like it's Miss Middleton who should be worried.
With reporting by Hanna Jones / London