Monica Wright, 32, is a proud Londoner, but she is not sticking around later this month to wave the Union Jack for Prince William and Kate Middleton. Instead, like a growing number of Britons, Wright has booked passage out of the country—to her in-laws’ house in Majorca, Spain, where she plans to spend the big day sipping red wine by the swimming pool. “I hear a whole bunch of Barbour-wearing royalists are invading my city for the weekend,” she laughs. “If they want to put up bunting and drink tea from themed mugs, they’re entitled to do it—but personally, I’d rather have a holiday.”
She’s in good company. One survey earlier this year found that almost one-third of Britons were planning a trip away for the week of the royal wedding. While this estimate seems a bit high, Bob Atkinson, a travel expert at travelsupermarket.com, recently put the number at closer to two million holidaymakers for the royal wedding weekend alone. “That week is hugely busy,” said one sales representative at TrailFinders travel agency on High Street Kensington in west London. “People who are looking for flights are having a hard time finding anything. It’s been booked up for months.”
The reason is not simply royal wedding fatigue. Although many Londoners are happy to skip a weekend of threatened tube strikes, tourist crowds and drunken pub renditions of God Save the Queen, the deeper reason comes down to one simple anomaly: four bank holidays in 11 days. When Friday, April 29 was added to the existing list of holidays—including Easter and the early summer holiday marked this year on May 2—working Britons have been presented with the irresistible option of taking off just three days of work in exchange for a nearly two-week vacation. “It’s just a great deal,” says William Perkins, a 30-year-old Boston-born financier. He and his new wife have planned a road trip through France and Spain, looking at the scenery, eating in nice restaurants and tasting good wine—anything, he says, but watching the ceremony on television. “I just got through my own wedding a couple of months ago, so I’m all wedding-ed out.”
While London hotels are reporting a surge in tourist bookings for the weekend of the 29th, overall the migration of Britons out is trumping the number of wedding gawkers pouring in. That’s in stark contrast to the royal past. In 1977 an estimated 10 million people took part in street parties celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Similar numbers turned out four years later for Lady Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles. But according to Chris Gittins, executive director of Streets Alive, the national charity that promotes street parties, that number is expected to be cut in half, if not more, this time around.
To date, Gittins has helped facilitate only about 4,000 road closure applications for street parties, and his organization estimates somewhere between one and two million people are planning to take to the streets. “If the engagement had been announced in the spring and taken place in the summer, it would have been entirely different,” he said. Gittins said his organization is advising citizens to postpone their parties to later in the year, or perhaps all the way to next year’s Diamond Jubilee. “People are generally more fond of the Queen anyway,” he points out.
Fiona McGlinchey, a 27-year-old finance worker, is still debating between a trip to Barcelona or Istanbul. McGlinchey admitted she did have a moment’s pause when she heard a friend was organizing a royal wedding party in an east London church. “The plan is to dress up and sit in pews and watch a projection of the ceremony and then the whole thing turns into a nightclub after,” she said, adding, “It does sound like fun. But ultimately not enough fun to warrant staying in London.”