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My First Royal Wedding: Prince William and Kate Middleton
I was one of the estimated 2 billion people across the world who arose early the morning of April 29th, 2011 to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. From the time their engagement was announced on November 16th, 2010, the world waited excitedly for their official union to take place at Westminster Abbey in London.
After nearly a decade of on-and-off dating, and a six-month engagement - during which time Kate proudly wore the sapphire and diamond engagement ring that had belonged to William's mother, Princess Diana - it was finally time to watch this beautiful young couple exchange vows. I had been excited for weeks, watching countless Royal Wedding documentaries and specials and following entertainment shows that had exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of wedding preparations.
In this Disney generation that a lot of us have grown up in, many little girls dream of being a princess someday. It's become part of our culture - as young girls, we see Cinderella, Belle, Sleeping Beauty and the other princesses meet their handsome prince charming, fall in love and live happily ever after. As we get older, we realize life doesn't normally work that way, but once in awhile it does, and either way, it's still nice to dream, right? For Kate Middleton it did work out that way; a girl with a normal, middle class family and no aristocratic background met a prince and fell in love, and on April 29th, hopefully began what will be her happily ever after.
For me, that was part of the excitement - the fact that Kate was just a regular girl - but the other part was the Princes themselves, William and Harry. I'm right in between them age-wise (William was born in 1982, I was born in '83, and Harry was born in '84), I feel like I grew up with them in a way. My Grama and Mum have a keen interest in the Royal Family, some of which they passed on to me, and from a young age, I took an interest in what the Princes were doing, especially after the death of their mother in 1997. I had admired Diana for all her humanitarian work, but watching those two heartbroken young boys taking part in her funeral hit me on a more personal level, because I lost my father at a young age. It was the first time I was able to really relate to them, and they became more human instead of just distant royalty.
It was with many of these things on my mind that I happily got out of bed before the sun that Friday morning to watch people arriving at Westminster Abbey. Among the nearly 2,000 people were royalty and politicians from all over the world, and celebrities like Elton John and his husband David Furnish, and David and Victoria Beckham.
Arrivals and the Royal Wedding itself
The excitement really began when Prince William and Prince Harry were shown heading for Westminster Abbey. The brothers seem so easy going and down to earth; they infuse the monarchy with a modern feel that it desperately needs. They broke with tradition and talked to people on their way into the Abbey. The Queen, wearing a lovely sunny yellow suit and hat, and her husband Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, were the last to arrive before Kate.
When Kate got into her car at the Goring Hotel, and we got our first glimpse of her, the whole thing became much more real. When she stepped out at Westminster Abbey, she took my breath away, she was so beautiful. The simple and elegant gown, designed by Sarah Burton from the house of Alexander McQueen, was accompanied by a Cartier diamond halo tiara, her 'something borrowed' from Queen Elizabeth, who had received the tiara on her eighteenth birthday from her mother. Kate looked every bit the modern princess bride, between her dress with its long lace sleeves, the train measuring just under three metres, her modest jewelry (the earrings were her "something new" from her parents), and her small bouquet of lily of the valley, hyacinth, sweet William and myrtle.
Kate looked so serene as she glided down the aisle on the arm of her father, Michael Middleton, with her sister/maid of honour Pippa walking behind her with four young bridesmaids and two young page boys.
Watching Prince William and Prince Harry at the front of the Abbey
had me smiling uncontrollably. Following protocol, William had his back
turned to the aisle so that he wouldn't see Kate until the last minute,
but Harry, in his typical cheeky form, couldn't help but turn around
and steal a glimpse of her coming down the aisle. When he turned back
around, he said to William (the microphones didn't pick this up, but
luckily I read lips) "wait until you see her". I thought that was the
sweetest thing in the world.
When Kate finally arrived at the front of the Abbey, after a four-minute-long walk down the aisle, William beamed when he saw her. He said (thank you again, lip reading skills), "you look beautiful", and that's when the water works really started for me. It was such a sweet, spontaneous thing, something I wouldn't have expected at a royal wedding, but that fit with the modern feel. The pair looked calm and collected, only slightly nervous, but who wouldn't be, knowing that millions of people were watching you exchange vows?
The music that played through the ceremony was a combination of hymns sung by the Choir of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal Choir, as well as a full orchestra. It added so much to the ceremony, and made it that much more beautiful and enjoyable. The vows were simple and traditional, William placed a ring of Welsh gold on Kate's finger (he opted not to wear a ring himself), the many bishops of Westminster Abbey took turns speaking, as did Kate's brother James Middleton, and the bride and groom, along with family went to a back room where there were no cameras to sign the official wedding documents before leaving the church.
Prince William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
The couple looked so happy and in love as they left the church. I had to wonder how Kate felt going into the church as Kate Middleton, and coming out as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wife to the future King of England and the Commonwealth realms. Even though Kate isn't technically called princess, I know she will be Princess Kate or Princess Catherine in the hearts of many. A modern-day princess living a modern-day fairytale.
This was evidenced by the million or so people who lined the streets of London and watched as William and Catherine made their way to Buckingham Palace in a red, gold and black open carriage. Once there, the couple went out on the balcony to have the now-traditional wedding kiss. This was one of my favorite moments of the day, not only because we got an unprecedented two kisses from the couple, but because when Kate stepped out on the balcony, you could see her say "oh wow", and I thought it was so cute. It must have been overwhelming to see a million people crowding in front of the palace and knowing it was just for them, but she smiled and waved the entire time, looking radiant and happy alongside William.
Comparisons to Prince Charles and Princess Diana and other royal couples
In the weeks leading up to the wedding, there were many comparisons made between the wedding of William and Kate, and that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana - then known as Lady Diana. There were some similarities I suppose, but there was one huge difference that made all the similarities seem minuscule - William and Kate are in love; Charles and Diana were not. Diana and Charles had an arranged marriage of sorts, and married after only meeting each other 13 times. They weren't in love, and by all accounts, made each other miserable over the years. The saving grace of their marriage was the birth of William, then Harry two years later. William and Kate are in love - they've been together for years, have lived together a good portion of that time, and Kate knows what's expected of her. William waited so long to propose to her because he wanted to be sure she knew what she was getting into, and he wanted to be sure things would be right. Most likely, he didn't want a repeat of his parents' marriage, and the marriages of many of his royal family members.
People speculate whether their marriage will work out because there have been so many failed royal marriages. I don't think it's fair to speculate, and quite frankly, it's also ridiculous to do so because it doesn't matter whether you're royal or not, marriages fail all the time these days. A lot of people in marriages makes mistakes, but when the royals do it, it's made public for the whole world to pick apart. They're happy and in love, they're a young, modern couple who have obviously thought this through carefully and know what they're getting into, so we need to just let them be happy.
Hope for the future of the monarchy
I think the Royal Wedding was a welcome distraction for many people. So often these days, people focus and dwell on the abundance of negative things in the world - wars, hard economic times, poverty and disease - and sometimes forget that there's still happy news out there. For many people, getting to watch this young, happy couple seal their love was like a bright, shining beacon of hope reminding us that the world isn't all bad.
I think it also gives people hope for the monarchy, which is often seen as old-fashioned and out of touch. With William and Catherine being in the spotlight now more than ever, along with Prince Harry and the other young royals, many of whom do good charitable works, and actually have jobs (William is a search and rescue helicopter pilot in Wales, and both he and Harry have continued their mother's legacy of charitable work), I think it helps to give the monarchy a more modern appeal. Knowing that someday William and Catherine will be King and Queen of England and the Commonwealth gives many people hope that the monarchy will be refreshed and can be seen as more than an antiquated governing body.