Jean Stewart, a 62-year-old retired restaurateur in Arbroath, a town of 20,000 on Scotland's rugged northeast coast, recently dispatched invitations for a ladies' tea party to watch the television coverage of the wedding of Prince William of Wales to Catherine Middleton on April 29. Cakes will be served, a prize for best "fancy hat" awarded and "gossiping will be mandatory." Alex Smith, 56, a gruff, lifelong fisherman and acquaintance of Stewart's, has no such activities in mind. "There's na a thing in the world I'd like to do less than watch that rubbish," he says in a booming Scottish brogue. "This country needs to get a grip."
Stewart and Smith may have widely divergent views of the entertainment value of the royal wedding, but they share the same attitude toward the monarchy itself. Stewart planned her outfit for the tea party weeks in advance and follows the romance of Wills and Kate in the tabloid press, but she isn't a royalist and has no strong feelings on the importance of the monarchy. Smith may think the ceremony to be ridiculous, but he harbors no desire to oust the royal household from power and is untroubled by the continuation of Queen Elizabeth II as the country's de jure head of state.
Smith and Stewart's views are typical in the U.K., where the royal wedding seems to be widely viewed as entertainment, or a nuisance, but rarely as a serious political event. In a recent poll of 2,000 British adults, 35% said they planned to watch the wedding on television; the same proportion intends to ignore proceedings, and the rest had no specific plans. A separate poll found that 79% of Brits including those who will watch the event were either "largely indifferent" or "couldn't care less" about the royal wedding. And although women were twice as likely as men to have made arrangements to watch the wedding, Stewart says many see it as nothing more than an excuse to throw a party.
"It's just a bit of frivolity and fun," Stewart explains. "I don't think anyone takes it seriously."
Well, some do. Republic, a 12,000-strong lobby group that advocates replacing the Queen with an elected head of state, has been pushing its agenda hard in the run-up to the wedding. The group wishes to see the Queen stripped of her remaining "prerogative powers," such as the need for parliamentary bills to have her formal assent before they become law, and her ability to disband the British Parliament and the legislatures of several Commonwealth countries, which her acting Governor General in Australia did in 1975.
"It's the best time for us because the wedding draws attention to the monarchy, and the truth is that people in Britain aren't in love with the monarchy. A majority don't hold strong feelings either way, and they can be convinced," says Graham Smith, the campaign manager for Republic.
Maybe, but Brits have a habit of hiding their passion behind a facade of indifference; in the buildup to the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebration in 2002, which marked 50 years of her reign, commentators speculated that the monarchy had lost touch with Brits following the death of Princess Diana in 1997, but then 1 million people showed up for the celebration. And whatever the polls say, London officials anticipate that hundreds of thousands will line the royal-wedding route in the capital; thousands of street parties have also been planned around the country.