Tuesday 26 April 2011

The royal filling in my wedding cake

The only thing that prevents me from spending Friday at a patriotic street party is the fact that I do not live on a street.

Otherwise I would undoubtedly be out there hanging bunting above the trestle tables in preparation for a hog roast and a lively debate with my Jewish and Muslim neighbours.

As it is, I shall have to be content with decking myself in Union flags and remaining glued to the television all day, as I have done for every royal wedding since Princess Anne’s in 1973.

The fact that nearly all these unions subsequently ended in divorce does not detract from my enthusiasm: hope springs eternal in the monarchist breast.

But what of the rest of the great British public? I accept that I was probably in a fanatical minority in making my 22-month-old son stand to attention in his cot for the 7a.m. airing of the national anthem on Radio 4 to mark the Queen’s birthday last week.

The media, as usual, are attempting to hedge their bets, on the one hand producing supplements and programmes about the happy couple and their day of days; and on the other predicting that no one is really interested and it will all turn out to be the most ghastly flop.

I wonder whether it was slapdash proofreading or subtle Murdochian republicanism that led to the main drag of Westminster Abbey being labelled “the naïve” rather than the nave in the little booklet that dropped out of The Times on Saturday morning?

Cynicism is as time-honoured as any British tradition. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle probably carried a gloomy editorial on the day before King Canute did his thing with the waves, forecasting that none of his courtiers would turn up.

Yet there were many predictions of public indifference before the Queen’s golden jubilee and the Queen Mother’s lying-in-state, and somehow vast crowds materialised. Surely they can’t all have been off-duty policemen incentivised from a secret palace slush fund?

I spent last Saturday at a joyous family wedding in Oxford, and I shall be off to the marriage of some friends next weekend. The royal event is but the sandwich filling in my personal wedding cake. This is just as it should be.

You see, I told you it was joyous

Because only one thing has really changed in the 144 years since Walter Bagehot coined his famous axiom that “A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and, as such, it rivets mankind.” Public interest in the weddings of princes, or indeed other celebrities, has not diminished, but marriage is now anything but universal.

If there is any argument to be made against the increasing grandeur of royal weddings during the twentieth century, it is that it helped to raise the bar for all of them. Walking down to the church then raising a glass with your witnesses in the local pub will no longer do.

But weddings need not cost thousands, or take years to arrange. The only really important thing is finding someone you feel that you could bear to face across the breakfast table in the twilight home 60 years hence.

As Shakespeare observed “Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle's compass come: love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.”

I have no hopes of living to see the accession of Prince William to the throne. Given that the Queen seems vastly fitter at 85 than her mother was at that age, I see little chance of even witnessing an octogenarian Prince Charles tottering to his coronation.

But I very much hope to see William and Catherine enjoying a happy marriage for as long I am around, and that many others may be encouraged to follow their example.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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