Yes, I watched the Royal Wedding and I have the gut reactions to prove it.
First, I don’t like Prince William. I’ve never had any particular thoughts about him except pleasure in the knowledge that he is six-foot-three. A king should be tall and Diana, for all her spiraling neuroses, at least injected height into Queen Victoria’s House of Dwarfsburg. I’ve also heard his soundbites from time to time but I never noticed anything unusual. This time I did. Maybe it was all the publicity for the movie The King’s Speech, but I realized that I, who grew up with a British accent in the house, could barely understand what this tall, balding boy was saying. I caught about every fifth word. He spoke in my native language, my mother tongue, but he made it sound like a staccato mumble on steroids that have passed their sell-by date.
In my experience, people with bad diction fall into three types. One is simply too low-class to have any conception of preciseness of any kind; life is just one big slur to them and muttered contempt is the only feeling they either hear or voice. The second is the congenitally careless person with indecipherable penmanship who is always late, forgets to put his car in park, and promises to meet you at Taco Bell without saying which one. I sense that William is a “skimmer,” the person who catches the latest wave and travels on it, who is so busy “moving with the times” that he “can’t be bothered” with this or that, and who is so “surface-y” that he feels threatened by the need to make measured, carefully considered observations. The solution is to run it all together fast, wave your hands, say “y’know” a lot, and start putting together the next glissando. Diana spoke beautifully and, unfortunately, we could understand every word she said, but peel away her touted compassion and what you get is shallowness, so she may have contributed more than height.
William is said to have a sense of humor, but it might actually be the mean streak of the immature. According to the lip-reader, he leaned across his bride and said to her father, “Just a small family affair.” Just in case Mr. Middleton did not know that he couldn’t possibly have paid for or commanded the Abbey bash, his son-in-law took pains to remind him. A mean streak never dies, so Kate had better be prepared to be on the receiving end of it sometime before she gets cancer of the arms from waving.
I was tense throughout the ceremony because I had a feeling that something was going to happen. Not a terrorist attack, but something far worse. Whether because of the ropey gold fourragères and burnished medallions of his uniform, or simply because of the sands of time, Prince Philip has started to look encrusted. His 90th birthday falls in June. Suppose . . . They must have had a contingency plan, but what? If he had remained upright in the Abbey it might have passed notice, but how would they get him back to the palace and onto the balcony? I thought of many things. Charles II’s comment on his niece’s boring husband: “’Tis well he snuffles, else the footmen would think him dead and carry him out.” The uncles of Marie Vetsera, Prince Rudolph’s partner in suicide, spiriting her corpse from Mayerling and propping it up between them in their coach. The guest who died on the Dick Cavett show . . .
The initial talk about Kate’s being a “commoner” is being gently stifled by the news that the Middletons are getting their own coat of arms. In earliest medieval times before titles were firmly established the real test of nobility was the possession of arms. It carried the title of “Esquire,” established the status of “gentleman,” and made its recipients “armigers,” who have been called the “untitled aristocracy of Britain.”
The Middletons’ new arms will be registered by Debrett’s Peerage and feature an acorn — an unwise thematic choice that recalls the old saw “From little acorns big oaks grow.” In our age of instant traditions (one kiss on the balcony in 1981, two in 2011) it could signal a trend of royalty marrying “ordinary people” until this too becomes an instant tradition. One for them and one for us — that’s democracy, man.
But how will the real ordinary people feel about bowing and curtseying to one of their own? Democracy, the great leveler, can destroy any mystique. As with religion, so with monarchy, we are hard-wired to bow down only to those who are better than we are. “Mere mortals,” as the phrase suggests, are invariably scorned, and Kate will be the first to run this gauntlet. I predict that William, or possibly even Charles, will end obeisance and perhaps, in memory of Diana, substitute the hug.
The future looks bright for other mere mortals. Democracy elevates by turning ordinary people into extraordinary ordinary people called celebrities. Someday heirs to the throne may choose brides from among the hottest movie actresses and models, until the position of royal consort goes from Fate to contest winner. The winner will, as the current cliché puts it, “suck up all the oxygen like a rock star,” but it won’t end there. With democracy in charge of Drooping the Color, eventually a real rock star wearing little but full-dress tattoos will appear on the balcony and her name will be Divine Right.
Among my positive gut reactions, I sensed a healthy difference between this wedding and that of 1981. Diana’s pillowy hoopskirt, ridiculously long train, and “shy Di” posturings stamped that whole era with a simpering romanticism that cast the monarchy in Barbara Cartland mode. This time around it gave off a hearty lustiness reminiscent of the Restoration, due in part to the unchaste Kate’s soignée sensuality and the simple lines of her sister Pippa’s dress, which emphasized what has to be the most gorgeous derrière in female history.
I also sensed that the cheering crowds were more proudly British than lovestruck, and for that I thank them. Americans were not all that delirious with joy over the death of Osama bin Laden. We just wanted to be as patriotic as the people we had seen on TV all weekend, and so for a brief gaudy hour we were.
– Florence King can be reached at P.O. Box 7113, Fredericksburg, VA 22404.