As the royal wedding approaches, I find myself thinking back to the other wedding 30 years ago that I helped cover as a young reporter in London and wondering from afar (in Iowa, where I now live) how the extravaganza on April 29 and, beyond that ritual, the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton will differ.
During the summer of 1981, all of England seemed to have wedding fever even my socialist pals. And as an intern working in the London bureau of an American newspaper, I was swept up in the excitement of covering a big story in great detail which is how I learned all about organza.
"So organza is the name of the designer?" was my clueless follow-up question during an interview with Lady so-and-so for a fashion story on what wedding guests would be wearing.
"No, dear, it's the name of the fabric," the lady responded, turning fabric into a four-syllable word.
Still, as a 22-year-old Yank who couldn't imagine marrying, let alone into that family, I wondered if 20-year-old Diana Spencer knew what she was getting into. So did the feminists who distributed sadly prescient buttons that read, "Don't Do It Di." Lady Di seemed so young and naive. Prince Charles made me shudder, especially with his "Whatever love is" response to a reporter's question about whether the couple was in love.
Flash forward to Kate the commoner, who at 29 is an older bride than Diana was and surely wiser and worldlier. And William a groom at 28, not 32 like Charles surely has learned a thing or two from the horror-story marriage that followed his parents' fairytale wedding. Am I the only one, this time around, who is less pumped about the wedding but more optimistic about the marriage? Not judging from conversations with British and American friends. (All female. The guys I know claim to not give a hoot.)
This is a couple who appear to have a relatively normal relationship, who've had rough patches over the years, who know that marriages can fail and, in the case of Kate's parents, succeed (or at least endure). "They're going into it with their eyes wide open," observes Peggi, my 50-something hairstylist.
At the very least, the son of the People's Princess seems more certain than his dad about whatever love is. "Just compare the engagement photos," says my 26-year-old stepdaughter Emma, a single career gal in Chicago. On the face of it, the cuddly Wills-and-Kate pose is chillingly like the Charles-and-Di pose, down to Diana's engagement ring that Kate now wears. But William and Kate look like they like each other, my stepdaughter thinks. William's arms are wrapped snuggly, even protectively, around Kate.
My British friends report that this wedding is drawing less attention there than the 1981 wedding but is widely welcomed as a happy story, especially given all the other gloomy news (wars, uprisings, natural disasters, nuclear peril, economic belt-tightening). After the Charles-and-Di disaster, we may be less likely to believe in weddings stage-managed by Buckingham Palace. But we still want a happily-ever-after outcome for this attractive couple, especially this duty-bound young man who, as a boy, loved and lost his mother.
Yet so much has changed since 1981. Today, the British monarchy seems like even more of an anachronism, notes my friend Merida, a London bureau friend now living in New York. And with all that's going on in the world, it's hard to imagine the press (or at least the "old media") committing the resources lavished on Charles and Diana's wedding. In 1981, thousands of Brits camped out along the wedding-procession route (prompting me to bunk in our bureau near Fleet Street the night before so I didn't have to fight the crowds during my morning commute).
Will they do the same this month on the "happy day," as Prime Minister David Cameron described it? Will many Brits again celebrate with neighborhood street parties? (My London friend Francine has been invited to an unusual bash a republican, i.e., antimonarchist, lunch with red-colored food and no telly watching allowed.) Will Americans get up in the wee hours of the morning on April 29, 2011 as many did on July 29, 1981 to watch the wedding live on TV or, now, the Internet? Will we stock up on commemorative tchotchkes?
I confess I want a little Wills-and-Kate plate. For years, a little Charles-and-Di plate has sat atop my bedroom dresser, beside a smaller plate marking Diana's 1997 death. What I don't think I want is a "Don't Do It Kate" button. So far, my London friends report there are none to be found.