After the undue pressures and expectations projected onto the nuptials of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, the union of Prince William and Kate Middleton is being treated with a certain calm restraint by both the bride and groom and the royal watchers who chronicle the couple’s every move. Still, the wedding is the social event of the year, if not the decade. Hugo Vickers, who has tracked the British royal family for decades, offers the ultimate TV guide to the ceremony. Read on for a few pointers on what to watch for on April 29.
HOW IS THE BRIDE ARRIVING? Kate is to travel by car to Westminster Abbey, accompanied by her father, who presumably will be wearing a morning coat, with tie. (For the few parental words delivered outside his Bucklebury home after the November engagement announcement, Mr. Middleton eschewed a tie.) Most recent brides—including both Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson—traveled by carriage, but Kate’s choice is in keeping with the couple’s wish to downplay the fairy-tale aspect of their wedding. At any rate, a Rolls-Royce from the Royal Mews—the Windsors’ garage and stable—will ensure that she arrives without feeling sick due to the rocking of the carriage.
HOW ABOUT THE PRINCE? Prince William and the royal family will also arrive by car. In 1981 Prince Charles traveled to St. Paul’s Cathedral in an open landau—a convertible carriage—with a vast Household Cavalry Escort. (The royals also arrived in landaus, although during 2002’s Golden Jubilee festivities a number of them were deposited at St. Paul’s in a large bus much like the ones that convey tourists around town.)
WHAT ABOUT THE ROYAL CARRIAGE? After the wedding, the couple will return to Buckingham Palace in the Glass Coach, built for the Lord Mayor of London in 1881 and purchased by the royal family for George V’s coronation in 1911. This is the same carriage used by Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson on the way to their weddings. Unlike the landau, the carriage is closed, but it affords a fabulous view of those seated inside.
HOW INVOLVED WILL THE MIDDLETONS BE? Prince William wants his new in-laws to play a larger part than is usual in the wedding. He differs from most of his predecessors in that he has had complete freedom in his choice of bride: Kate Middleton does not come from a royal house or even from the aristocracy—though an ingenious genealogist has found that she is William’s 15th cousin, and her ancestry can be traced back to the 1400s. The Middletons have even offered to share some of the costs—and hopefully this unusual gesture has gotten them more than the 30 invitations that were allotted to Earl Spencer for the wedding of his daughter Diana. The invitations are the responsibility of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, sometimes in consultation with the Foreign Office—as with Princess Alexandra’s 1963 wedding, to which Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia was to be invited. The Prince had seven wives; which of them would he bring? The invitation was eventually addressed to the Prince “and Madame”—and, after prolonged negotiations, was declined. There are more mundane considerations as well when dealing with those outside the inner circle: When the King of Tonga attended the wedding of Prince William’s parents, a special chair had to be constructed to contain his mighty frame; he was said to weigh 434 pounds.
WHAT WILL THE MEN WEAR? Normally at such weddings the men in the House of Windsor don full-dress uniform. Since Prince William is in the Royal Air Force, expect him to wear its uniform, complete with the riband and star of the Order of the Garter. In 1981 Prince Charles was in naval uniform, as was his father, the Duke of Edinburgh. Earl Spencer wanted to have a Royal Scots Greys uniform made for the day—he could not fit into his old one—though Diana said she did not want him in uniform. Earl Spencer appealed directly to the Queen, who said, “We must defer to Diana.” (He wore a gray morning suit.)
WHO’S THE BEST MAN? Up to now it has been a tradition in the House of Windsor for the groom to have two “supporters”—the royal equivalent of best men acting together. But Prince William only has one brother, and so has chosen Prince Harry to be his sole best man.
WILL WE BE ABLE TO SPOT THE REGIMENTAL BRUSHER-DOWN? In 1981 Sir John Johnston, Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, had a man waiting in a side chapel to attend to any uniforms that did not pass muster. Prince Andrew (one of Prince Charles’s supporters) arrived looking as though he had been rolling on the floor with a Labrador. He was taken aside and brushed down.
WHO SITS WHERE? The Queen and the royal family always sit on the right-hand side of the Abbey (as you face the altar), regardless of whether the royal being married is the bride or the groom; correspondingly, the Middleton family will be on the left. Look for the bride to execute an elegant curtsy to her soon-to-be grandmother-in-law.
WILL THE ROYAL FAMILY ENTER IN A PROCESSION OR MERELY AMBLE UP WESTMINSTER’S AISLE? The former is more dignified and theatrical but will likely be jettisoned in favor of the more informal approach that William and Kate seem to be favoring. At Charles and Diana’s wedding, the Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office wanted a gap between the ecclesiastical procession and the bride’s procession for effect, and virtually had to restrain Earl Spencer from heading up the aisle with his daughter, saying, “I’ll tell you when to move.” To this Diana replied, “Listen, you’ve been telling me that for the last four months. What you haven’t told me is, how do I look?” The Comptroller recovered quickly. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “You look wonderful! Off!” And off she went, for better or worse.
WHO’S DOING THE HONORS? The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, will marry the royal couple, though he won’t be giving the sermon—a responsibility handled by Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, a close friend of Prince Charles and his family.
WHAT ABOUT THE PAPERWORK? There will be two registers to sign behind the High Altar: the regular one and the royal-marriage register. Of course, members of the royal family also have to seek the Queen’s official permission—which is given “in Council,” at a meeting of the Privy Council, the Queen’s assembly of judges, clergy, and politicians—even if the engagement was announced on Twitter.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG? Anything is possible: Diana muddled Prince Charles’s many names, causing experts to wonder if she had married Charles or, inadvertently, his father. (To show his support, Prince Charles then deliberately muddled some words himself.) And at the rehearsal for the Queen’s wedding to Prince Philip in 1947, Prince Michael of Kent punched Prince William of Gloucester “in the kisser,” as one guest put it. (In defense of the two cousins: They were five and six years old, respectively.) Prince Michael “received a good talking-to from Granny [Queen Mary],” the guest continued, “who, with parasol in hand, was prepared for action should it occur again.” The wedding itself was free of such fisticuffs.