(Full coverage of the British royal wedding here.)
The great day has arrived, although the bride and groom have yet to make an appearance. Since 8:15 a.m. local time, Westminster Abbey has been slowly filling up with the 1,900 people who have been invited to attend the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The ordinary guests — people like the Beckhams and Sir Elton John and a mass of people whose physiognomies display generations of good breeding — were the first to arrive. The more professional guests will be arriving any minute. Here is a quick rundown down of the news so far:
First of all, the weather: Paradigm English. Not great, but not as bad as had been predicted. Slate gray sky, cool but dry.
Big news of the morning so far: the new titles. Royal weddings mean you get a new title from the Queen. Prince William is now the Duke of Cambridge and Catherine (no more Kate) Middleton is Duchess of Cambridge. However she has not yet been given the title of Princess. Don't ask me why, very few of us are privy to the arcana of royal titling.
There is a hint of an answer to the question of the day: the DRESS. Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen, is reported to have been seen dashing into the Goring Hotel where the Duchess of Cambridge is staying before heading for the Abbey to tie the knot.
So far everything is going according to plan, as it has for several weeks. All the traditions of Big Royal Occasions have been observed starting with the rules of journalism going out the window. First, numbers in the billions get thrown around without any way to verify them. Two billion people will be watching — how can anyone know? The event is costing the British economy 6.9 billion pounds (more than $10 billion), and amount that is up about 5 billion in the last two weeks from initial estimates reported in the Daily Telegraph. Again, how can anyone know?
Second, sources: I've covered royal weddings, divorces and deaths and believe me there are virtually no sources for most stories. A handful of "royal observers" get spoonfed unattributable gossip that somehow leaks out to a handful of reporters, mostly at Britain's tabloids, and thus a narrative is constructed that other journalists with deadlines to meet quote without independently checking things out.
Finally, there is the continual use of the cliche that Britain is good at this sort of pomp and circumstance thing. "We do these things very well," Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated the cliche on Sky News this morning. Although this is one cliche that has an element of truth in it. They really are good at it — although it would be nice if they could apply the same kind of organizational precision to running London's transport system.
Another tradition being observed is there has to be controversy. This time around there are two and they have real news value. The complete diplomatic corps was invited to the event. But yesterday, Foreign Secretary William Hague withdrew the invitation of Syria's ambassador, Dr. Sami Khiyami. The Foreign Office issued a statement that said, "In the light of this week's attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces … the Foreign Secretary has decided that the presence of the Syrian ambassador at the royal wedding would be unacceptable and that he should not attend."
The other controversy is more important and demonstrates to the outside world just how political this allegedly apolitical, ceremonial monarchy actually is. While all three living Conservative prime ministers were invited to the event, neither of Labour's living prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were.
For security reasons, the guest list wasn't made available until a few days ago so there was no time for the snub to get legs as a news story. But the various excuses for the two men not being invited, they aren't Knights of the Garter (don't laugh, this stuff counts for something here), or that the marriage isn't a state occasion, it's a family event, don't wash. Not when there are 1,900 people in the Abbey. Not when the Queen met with each man once a week while they were Prime Minister — that's more than she will have spent with John Major or David Cameron. This is personal.
It's a shame that the ordinary rules of journalism don't apply here. It would be interesting to know who made the decision not to invite the pair. Was it the Queen? Prince Charles, looking for payback for what he saw as Blair's meddling when Diana died? Certainly the prime minister's office would have known in advance about the snub and could have and should have intervened. Or perhaps the snub originates with David Cameron, who is known to personally detest Brown?
Thoughts to ponder as we wait for the handsome couple to arrive.
The groom arrives following a short drive from Clarence House, where his father, Prince Charles, lives. He is resplendent in a red uniform — he's a Colonel in the Irish Guards after all, the blue sash of the Knights of the Garter slashes diagonally across his chest. I know all the speculation has been about his bride's dress but I want to know who his tailor is. It is a very sharply cut suit.
Is he nervous? The way he ran his hands through his rapidly thinning hair would say a little bit. The guests can gossip about this for the next 10 minutes before the next cohort of royal players arrive.
The gang is all here, the whole family. The Queen's arrival heralded by trumpets. Elizabeth the Second looks remarkably well-preserved for someone about to be 86: She is decked in her traditional pale lemon yellow coat dress with matching hat — no Philip Treacy airy-fairy stuff here, solid construction, like the Queen herself.
The bride has arrived. Wearing a dress by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen — the late fashion genius (I'm a metrosexual). It is ivory and white silk with a lace bodice, a train that seems to be no more than about 10 feet long. It is beautiful and looks magnificent set off against the long, long red carpet she is having to walk down.
What is she thinking? Step after step. Don't trip ... somewhere that has to be going through her mind.
The progress up the aisle, through the choir screen, past the choir arrayed on either side, to the altar, took the best part of five minutes. Then we got the overhead camera shot from the central tower of Westminster Abbey. From 100-plus feet up the shot is spectacular. The hymns begin. You can make a very strong argument that in the last two centuries church hymns have been this island's great contribution to religion. Whether Welsh Methodist tunes like "Bread of Heaven" or the complete works of Sir Hubert Parry. But they set the stage for this wedding thrillingly.
"Dearly Beloved," the Dean of Westminster, Very Reverend Dr. John Hall, begins.
"Ye have come together," the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, continues.
Catherine does not promise to love and obey, but to love and to cherish. They are a modern couple after all.
As they pray the camera goes to a wide shot and it is now clear that Archbishop Rowan is wearing the most sumptuous outfit of the day — there is a ton of spun gold in the cape billowing behind him — and the mitre is the outstanding hat of the day without doubt.
No mistakes but tight throats as the couple makes their vows.
Now, more hymns and the lesson
The random thoughts that creep into your brain as the hymns go on:
The nave is lined with trees. Why?
If you are a serious composer, like John Rutter, and someone says, "would you please compose a special hymn for the Royal Wedding?" why do you say "yes"? It is unlikely to be your best work and will be forgotten as soon as it is sung.
The camera cutaways to the couple give us at home a better glimpse of the pair than those in the abbey. A wink from William; Catherine seems relieved that the worst is over without a fluff.
Soon we will get the kiss and then we can all go to the block party (the kids outside my door are already getting hyper).
Hymns over, registry book signed, trumpets sound — a very Hollywood kind of fanfare — the procession begins.
The pair "make obeisance" to the Queen then carry on down the red carpet. The Duchess of Cambridge beams — well, brides are allowed. The Duke of Cambridge looks serious — well, he's a colonel after all and this is a serious business.
At the Abbey's west door a peal of bells and here they are:
Yes, the Brits do do this sort of thing well.
Madame your carriage awaits.
The rain has held off and the couple get into the 1902 state Landau, the top is down. Four white horses to carry them past the adoring crowds.
A cutaway to Hyde Park where tens of thousands have been watching on a huge outdoor television screen. It's like the Last Night of the Proms with confetti and champagne.
Oh — no kiss yet.
That will come on the balcony of Buckingham Palace sometime after the reception in about an hour and ten minutes from now.
William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the legends begin:
What did they say to each other as they sat through the hymns and lesson and sermon and more hymns? Doubtless in Hollywood, where films like "The Queen" and "The King's Speech" have had huge success imagining what these people say to each other, there are scriptwriters beavering away already on scripts that answer this question. However we have just been informed that William turned to his bride at the altar and said, "It's supposed to be a small, family wedding."
Understatement is the other thing the Brits are good at.
The couple's magic carriage ride is over. They have traveled the short distance to Buckingham Palace from the Abbey (you can walk it in about 12 minutes) and disappeared inside the building and now the rest of the guests are heading back to Buck House (as we Londoners call it) for a glass of fizz.
Right on schedule — at 25 past 1 local time — the kiss. THE KISS.
And what a damp squib, a nanosecond on the lips. No embrace. The block party, which has now shifted into my living room, are collectively disappointed.
But my disappointment is quickly dissipated by a Royal Wedding first: They have put a camera in the cockpit of the lead plane in the RAF flypast. For me this is the top moment of the day. The central plane in the first wave is an RAF Lancaster, the bomber that almost won World War II. (We all know the B-17 Flying Fortress did that.) But that is what royal events are all about: a bit of romance, a bit of militarism.
And that's the end. The day was fun but the snog was disappointing.
We haven't seen the last of them, maybe we'll see more another time. Just think, all things being equal, well into this century, long after I have passed on to my reward, people will be looking at William and Catherine: when they become parents, at his coronation, when they become grandparents. Life is short but the British monarchy is forever ... right?
Editor's note: In London the previous day ...