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Thursday
Apr282011

Royal wedding fever

I shall miss the Royal Wedding because I'll be in Brussels for a meeting.

When I get back tomorrow evening however I hope to join friends and family for the tail end of a party to mark the occasion.

How different it was 30 years ago when Charles married Diana. I was 22 and I had been living in London for less than a year.

For the first month I stayed in a hostel near Paddington. After that I moved to a flat in West Ealing. But it was so cold (there was no central heating) I didn't need persuading to move to a better flat in another area.

My new address was a short walk from Marble Arch and Hyde Park and an even shorter walk to the Edgware Road and the No 6 bus that, conveniently, took me to within a few yards of my office in Fleet Lane.

I mention this not because it's interesting (it's not!) but because the locations are central to my recollection of the 1981 royal wedding.

As its name suggests, Fleet Lane was close to Fleet Street, and as anyone with any knowledge of London will tell you, Fleet Street leads directly on to Ludgate Hill and at the top of Ludgate Hill is St Paul's Cathedral.

In the days preceding the wedding we therefore had a grandstand view as hundreds of visitors bagged their places on Ludgate Hill.

When we left the office for a lunchtime drink (or sandwich) there were bodies everywhere. We were literally tripping over them. It was an extraordinary sight and it was hard not to be impressed by the atmosphere and people's determination to get a front row seat, even if it was only sitting on the pavement.

The night before the wedding there was a free open air concert in Hyde Park and because I lived close to the park my flat became a magnet for friends (and friends of friends) who wanted to go.

It finished with a firework display set to music (except that no-one could hear the music because the fireworks were so loud). Afterwards we walked back to the flat and had a party that lasted well into the night.

Dawn was breaking when the last person left so I don't remember much about the wedding itself, which we watched on TV, but I do remember this. Away from the route of the procession the streets of London were almost totally deserted. If you weren't in the crowds lining the route between Buckingham Palace and St Paul's, you were almost certainly watching the event on television.

I know this because after the wedding ceremony we decided to walk to the Palace and join the crowds outside and I don't remember seeing anyone until we got to Constitution Hill where the roars told us that Charles and Di had returned from St Paul's and were on the balcony with other members of the royal family.

But what I remember most is the extraordinary atmosphere. Writing in the Daily Telegraph last week, Charles Moore commented:

Next week, the preacher at the wedding will be Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London. He knows the Royal family better than any other clergyman, dating back to his time at university with the Prince of Wales. Last month, he confirmed Miss Middleton. In 1981, when Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer, the young Chartres was chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, so he attended the wedding in St Paul’s. After the ceremony, he was walking down the street in his clerical clothes when he found himself surrounded by a gang of skinheads. Had he just been to the wedding, they asked him. Nervously, he admitted that he had. At this news, the skinheads all hugged him and sang the national anthem.

As a young journalist in Fleet Street at the time, I can testify that the skinheads authentically represented the national feeling. Then, as now, the country was undergoing financial austerity. There had been riots. But suddenly all the anger melted away. The vast crowds for the fireworks the night before the wedding were the friendliest I have ever seen. On the day itself, the delight was genuine. I think this will be true again next week.

I remember coming across a similar gang. They were punks rather than skinheads but their response to us was the same. On any other day we would have ignored one another. But on that day something (excitement, national pride?) drew us together. We left them waving and wreathed in smiles.

Moments like that I will never forget.

Will we look back on tomorrow's events with equally fond memories? I've no idea, but if you are in London tomorrow I hope you have as good a day as we did 30 years ago.

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Reader Comments (4)

Can't say I've noticed any snide comments about W & K except, of course, on the 'Today' programme which reports on the wedding with barely concealed disdain whilst having a hissy about Blair and Brown being left off the guest list :)

Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 15:23 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

Radio 4 should know better. Blair and Brown are not Knights of the Garter and therefore would not be invited. The original statutes required that to become a KOG you would have to be a Knight of the realm.

Sir John Major is a KOG and is attending the Royal Wedding.

Friday, April 29, 2011 at 10:24 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

JJ - I think that they actually do know better but it suits them to pretend not to in order to peddle their indignation....

BTW, I thought that Sarah Montague's contemptuous sighs whenever she had to do a piece on the RW this morning completely flew in the face of the spirit of the day - disgraceful.

Friday, April 29, 2011 at 16:52 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

I do agree with you Joyce. Whatever anyone's feelings are for the Royal Wedding, it has been spectacular to watch on television, and perhaps even better for those that could get there, for many millions a wonderful and memorable occasion.

I was working in Birmingham back in '77, Silver Jubilee year. The atmosphere was just electric; I shall never forget it, lots of sunshine and smiling faces.

Our Royal Family is a part of our culture, heritage and a part of who we are.

Friday, April 29, 2011 at 19:14 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

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