I must admit, I will never tire of updates about Britain’s Royal Family. In the past week alone, the Queen celebrated her 90th birthday, Prince George hung out with the Obamas, Will, Kate, and Harry announced the launch of their Heads Together campaign – an effort to end the stigma around mental health, a young lad endorsed Harry for King. A week before, we got little peaks into the royal tour of India and Bhutan, and just today, the most wonderful video featuring Queen Elizabeth and Harry is making waves on social media.
Today, Will and Kate are celebrating their FIVE-year anniversary! I’m feeling inspired to take a walk down memory lane – or, should I say, down the very crowded streets of London, on this day in 2011 – their wedding day.
As someone who has always had a great deal of admiration for Britain’s Royal Family, and who had been “Team Kate” for years, I was elated when Will and Kate became engaged whilst I was studying abroad in Canterbury. I was even more excited when it was announced that I would still be in England on their wedding day!
Being there for the royal event of the year (decade?) remains one of the most absolutely magical and absolutely crazy experiences of my life. London was a crowded mess, I was running on practically no sleep, I stood alongside “wedding guests” for hours upon hours with barely any room to stretch my sore and tired legs, and yet, I wouldn’t change a single thing.
I made the last-minute, totally spontaneous decision to stand where I did – just outside of Buckingham Palace – that day as I hopped off of the coach (mind you, the day’s events had multiple locations throughout the city) and was able to see and experience so much more than I expected to. I still get chills when I reflect back on the day’s events.
Whether you’re a huge fan of the British Monarchy, or you cringe at every tabloid headline that screams, WILL & KATE!, there is no denying that their special day was magical and moving and I, for one, still have to remind myself that it wasn’t all just a dream.
Scroll on for more photos and for the post I wrote immediately following my experiences on Will and Kate’s wedding day! (Original post can be found here.)
You Are Invited
to experience, by way of this blog, the
Very Royal Wedding
Prince William & Catherine Middleton
which took place on
Friday, 29 April, 2011
Yes, followers, I made the decision to brave the insanity and take my chances in hopes of seeing something noteworthy during what will probably be considered the single most important day in Britain in the year 2011. I could not pass up the opportunity to be in London for the Royal Wedding.
I knew the city would be absolute madness. I knew I’d be able to see much more by watching streaming video online. I knew there’d be hours of standing, and a possibility of not seeing anything at all. But let me tell you something about England. Here, the atmosphere, no matter the occasion, is worth all of it. You know that feeling you get, deep down, when you’re at an amazing concert, or your favorite team’s game? That sort of rush and feeling of devotion and respect? That sense of feeling fortunate to be there, and awareness that it’s a moment in time you’ll likely never forget? Well, one thing I’ve come to notice about the British is that they allow themselves that kind of atmosphere a lot more often than we do, even on smaller-scale occasions. So, I knew that, above all else, I’d be able to experience the happiness, the hope, and the love in the air of London, and had to be there.
I got much more than I expected.
I arrived by coach around seven in the morning, and, having studied the wedding procession time and again for days, literally made my decision to go to Buckingham Palace as I left the coach station. I had no plan of action, simply a tiny hope that I’d made the right decision. When I arrived, I was shocked to find that, while there were many people filing in behind the gates propped up by security, I was only about two rows behind everyone else. Apparently, the major crowds were pushing closer and closer to Westminster Abbey, where the couple was wed. I was ecstatic. I had a perfect view of the balcony of Buckingham Palace, where the couple was scheduled to appear with the Royal family at 1:25 p.m. I didn’t really consider the fact that I had six hours until that time came.
Within the first five minutes of standing there, I was having a conversation with a lady from Kent, in a town only a few minutes away from Canterbury, who was there with her four children. She said that she’d never been to a royal event and had vowed to take her kids to the next one because of the connectedness she feels to the monarchy, having grown up with them all her life. Of course, the kids took turns lying down on a blanket, complaining about their tiredness, and eating all of the day’s worth of food while she gleamed at the view we had gotten, and stated over and over again how lucky we were to be there. She also suggested a few places I have to visit in Kent before leaving, and commented on how wonderful it is that I’m traveling as a young woman, and reiterated how “courageous” of an endeavor it is. I love hearing that.
Behind me stood a Scottish man in a kilt, from St. Andrews – the place where William and Kate met – along with two American ladies from California, who excitedly told me about their adventures at Notre Dame for football games when I told them I was from Indiana, and an elderly British woman from just outside of London, who has been outside the gates of Buckingham for several royal events over the years, and who gladly discussed her work in publishing with us. Much later, a girl from Canada ended up at my left side, and we were able to share laughs over the ridiculousness of the couple’s faces plastered on every flag, mug, and postcard, and take into account that Kate, having not grown up a royal, was probably thinking the same thing. Might I mention this girl is in London for a few more months after spending two years working at Associated Press, where she gave me connections for when I return to the states? Such luck!
People came prepared – breakfast sandwiches were eaten (I was offered many biscuits (cookies) to which I gladly accepted), cellphones with internet capabilities were brought in order to watch live footage from Westminster, chairs and blankets made waiting comfortable, and, of course, champagne and wine bottles were popped open before nine in the morning. It was a day to celebrate, after all. Why not start early? : )
At first, there was no sign of the sun whatsoever, and in my mind, I played through how difficult it would be to pop open my umbrella in the crowd that grew fuller and more congested by the second if it were to rain, picturing myself taking out someone’s eye, or the umbrella crushing and becoming worthless as the crowd surged forward upon seeing the couple.
But then it happened. The massive speakers surrounding the palace crackled to life and broadcasted the very songs being played at Westminster Abbey, where guests were beginning to arrive, and the sun’s rays bursted through the thick, white clouds. The crowd cheered, and waved their flags in appreciation.
Of course, we were in London here, so, when the speakers grew quiet, the sun disappeared again. But then the real excitement began. After watching several security officers, palace guards, the Royal Army, and police officers for nearly three hours, the wedding’s most important participants began making their way to the abbey, and passed us by in doing so.
First, we waved as William’s driver buzzed past to pick him up. The crowd stood on tiptoe, watching the open gate in front of the palace, growing silent in anticipation, and then cheering so loud, I’m sure it swept across the country, waking anyone who’d wanted to sleep in – the Queen’s car emerged and drove towards the abbey, Her Majesty impossible to not notice, clad in a bright yellow dress and hat, smiling, nodding, and waving to the thousands of onlookers as she passed. It took me a moment to realize I’d just seen the Queen of England, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
Soon thereafter, we were jumping up and down with excitement. From the procession map, it appeared all of the Royals would pass on the opposite side of the palace and we’d be able to catch a glimpse, but not a close-up. Unexpectedly, a car full of Kate’s bridesmaids, including her beautiful sister and Maid of Honor, Pippa, passed right in front of us, the little flower girls shyly waving in our direction.
Cameras were made ready once we realized Kate herself would pass by, too, and when she did, with her gorgeous smile, all in white, there were a thousand gasps, a second of complete silence with a few “beautiful,” “she’s stunning,” “look at her” comments made, broken with cheers and whistles for the bride on her way to the altar.
Within minutes, the speakers came to life again, and we listened as the Archbishop of Canterbury led the two in exchanging their vows. It was one of the most moving moments of my entire life, then, as a crowd of thousands upon thousands made not a sound, save for the occasional young child asking, “Are they married now, mummy?” When Prince William’s voice announced his promise to Kate, there was a roar that echoed around Buckingham Palace, which quickly grew silent in order to hear Kate make hers, and again, the cheers were overwhelming. During the silences of the ceremony, an announcer informed the crowd of what was happening, the signing of the certificate and such, and when the Archbishop announced that the two were officially married, the crowd cheered for what seemed like ages.
The national anthem was sung, tears were shed, and it became crystal clear that this was a wedding not for the Royal family, not for politicians and celebrities, this was a wedding for the people of England. At this point, the sun shone over London again, and we heard the commotion from the abbey, not needing the announcer to tell us when they had left the building, knowing simply by the cheers.
Now we were waiting for the entire wedding party and their guests to return to Buckingham Palace. The Royal Cavalry left to meet and lead the carriages and cars back to Buckingham, while van-loads full of wedding guests were driven quickly through the palace gates and led inside. News reporters filed in behind them, with their clipboards and cameras, and the security guards attempted to keep the crowd entertained. Royal guards marched in perfect sync out of the gates, and around the fountain, returning to line up just in front of the palace in order to greet the wedding party that followed soon behind.
Again, we were able to see all of the people you’ve been watching on the news for the past few months in real life. The bridesmaids, Kate’s parents, the Queen, and finally, the newlyweds themselves!
Once everyone was inside of the palace, it took about an hour for them to appear on the balcony. During this time, I was made quite frustrated, as there was suddenly a surge of people, thousands to be exact, that were led by police into the gap between the palace gates and the gates that held all of us who had been waiting since early morning back. They were able to run up to the gates and peer just inside, while I, and all those I’d met and uncomfortably spent seven hours standing with, waiting, looked at each other and booed in disappointment. However, when the gates that kept us from moving were finally taken down, I decided to stay put. At that point, the best spots up close had been taken, people were clearly squished and unable to move, while I had space to breathe, and a perfect view of the balcony that would be ruined if I’d inched any closer, since I stood on a little piece of higher ground. All of that frustration quickly blew away when the couple appeared on the balcony.
I can’t even describe the feeling I had at that moment, trust me, I’ve been thinking about the proper word. It was pretty magical to be there, in such a modern day crowd, yet such a centuries-old atmosphere that a girl like me probably experienced hundreds, even thousands of years ago in medieval Britain – witnessing the Royal Wedding, watching the future King and Queen of England wave to their celebrating country, and even seeing the current Queen and the rest of the family look back at us. We were all together, celebrating the same thing, all happy in that moment.
I joined in the, “Kiss, kiss, kiss!” chant and cheered when Will and Kate decided to do an encore smooch. I’m sure it’s been covered in the press everywhere, but Will’s parents’, Princess Di and Charles’, kiss on their wedding day was the first ever public display of affection by the Royal family, and because the British are not allowed to kiss at the altar in the Church of England, this was their first one as a married couple – so this moment was kind of a big deal! And, although I’ve seen many people kiss in my day, this was by far the most romantic and unforgettable.
After a few more moments of waving, the couple went inside, and the crowd dispersed and took over the city. I took a few minutes to stretch, sit down, and think about where I wanted to go since I had a few hours left in London. It was then I thought about what kind of feeling would come with having a wedding of this importance, knowing that even when it was over and you were inside, posing for the press and your wedding guests, that a thousand people continued to sit on your lawn and celebrate your big day, too.
After getting some strength back into my sore legs, I decided to wander about a bit. I ended up strolling through St. James’ park for awhile, and of course visited Westminster Abbey. From there, I stopped and admired Big Ben for the hundredth time, because you can’t really help it, and walked along the Thames.
I crossed over to Trafalgar Square, where there was a huge MSNBC tent, with reporters and a giant screen showing footage of the day that stopped hundreds of people in their tracks.
Helicopters continued to hover above the city, leading Will and Kate on their final drive through London.
Street parties were going on at every pub on every street, crazies were being interviewed for all of the TV stations, and many people were just relaxing on their day off in the beautiful parks of one of the most amazing cities in the whole world.
The sun finally came to stay, and it was in that position that casts the perfect glow, making everything golden and beautiful, as I began making my way towards the coach station.
It was the perfect winding down of a perfect wedding day.
During the ride back to Canterbury, I thought about how unlike me it is to be excited over something like a wedding, how unlike me it is to attempt large crowds and take part in something that’s become (as I’ve noted from several Facebook statuses over the last few weeks) annoying and overdone. Well, I can’t speak for Americans’ obsession with this wedding, other than the fascination that comes with being able to witness a day of royalty that is so very non-American. Click here fore a Brit’s take on the matter. Having been able to experience this while in England, I’ve a few reasons why this wedding was such a big deal:
- The British (or those whom I’ve met) have a respect, a love, and a faith in the Royal family that goes back centuries, something us Americans simply cannot fathom. In America, for example, we don’t know who our next President will be. There are vicious campaigns and a huge celebration for the inauguration, but only by those who supported the chosen candidate. Here, everyone knows that Prince William (or should I say, Duke) will one day be their King. And in times of great joy, as well as times of great despair, the people look to the Royal family, who do not hide in their castles and shrug off whatever is going on in the world, but make appearances, talk with people on the streets, begin organizations and campaigns, let them know that they, too, are feeling the same. The Royals serve in the same armies as everyone else, drive the same streets, celebrate birth and marriage, mourn death and divorce – and yet, because of the strong tradition of their having power to do well for the people of England, those people have hope in them. They always have, and they always will.
- The couple will one day be Britain’s King and Queen. Prince William was a given, and although he will need permission from the Queen for Kate to hold the title of Queen when he takes the throne, the country is certain she will grant it. Again, the love the British have for the Royal family is one thing, but the two already have made great names for themselves in their interests and goals that are not in the interest of social elites, but for everyone. They strive to ensure that they are no different than anyone else, but because they have the opportunity to be heard, promise to take it. Kate was bullied in school, and they are already working on tackling bullying as a major issue. Diana sent William to a “regular” school so that he’d make better, truer friends, and since the two were immersed and surrounded by people of middle class, they’re aware of the issues that need attention, and the Brits have faith that they will do good for the entire country as a couple very interested in standing up and making changes.
- Speaking of being non-royal, this was the first royal marriage that was not arranged (at least, in some way.) After several divorces and much unhappiness in the Royal family, Queen Elizabeth apparently encouraged Will to date whomever he wanted and make the choice on his own. He met Kate, a girl with a middle-class background, at university, and they were friends before dating. Will dated other girls before realizing he felt something more for her, and after a few years as a couple, they even went through a break up and reconciliation. They lived together before marriage. All of this is very real, a very common way of choosing ‘the one’, and very unlike Royal couples of the past. Oh, except for the fact that Kate was a girl like me, a girl like you, and got swept off of her feet by the future King of England. And let’s get down to the mushy, simple truth of the matter…
everyone loves a fairy tale.
P.S. – Here’s a little video I made right after the wedding, too!