'It cheers everyone up'

Britain reacts with enthusiasm to news of the impending wedding

'It cheers everyone up'

Paul Hackett/Reuters

After eight long years, the wait is finally over. This week, Clarence House announced that, after months of speculation and years of on-and-off dating, Prince William will marry his long-time girlfriend, Kate Middleton, in 2011. And in Britain, the reactions were, for the most part, ecstatic. Prince Charles told the press he was “thrilled, obviously,” as the couple, who are both 28, had been “practising for long enough.” Charles’s mother, the Queen, said she was “absolutely delighted” about the news. Camilla, duchess of Cornwall, leaving the Wicked Young Writers’ Award ceremony, joked that the news was “wicked!”

On the bustling streets of central London, the air was abuzz with news of the biggest—and happiest—royal event in three decades. The British media, which has been awash for months in stories of deep budget cuts and economic gloom, leapt on the story with gusto. “Engaged!” and “Will gives Kate Di’s ring” blazed tabloid headlines on the newsstands as commuters rushed to grab copies and pore over the emerging details on the tube ride home.

Writer and celebrity commentator Kiki King was in the Sky TV newsroom when news of the engagement broke. “It was terribly exciting, they yanked the schedule and for the whole day there was no running order, everyone was going crazy,” she said. Middleton, in her estimation, will make an excellent future queen consort. “Diana was groomed to be a king’s wife, but in a way she was totally unprepared,” King said. “Kate, on the other hand, is very poised, very glamorous, but she’s also much cleverer than Diana. She’s gone through media training and has a protection staff, and most importantly you get the sense that she genuinely enjoys being Prince William’s girlfriend, and because of that, will take well to the role of being his wife.”

King adds that while much has been made of the fact that Middleton will be the first non-aristocrat to marry a future king in 350 years, “she’s still a middle-class girl who went to a very nice boarding school, which is pretty posh by any standard.”

Other Londoners said they were touched by the announcement, and that a royal wedding will be something to look forward to in the coming winter months. “I think it’s sweet,” said Melissa Carson, a Canadian consultant living in London’s Belsize Park neighbourhood. “They’re just the right age, not too young, not too old. Frankly, it’s a welcome distraction for those of us who don’t follow sports.” Domenique George, a London financial analyst who recently got engaged himself, said that his immediate reaction to the news was, “Well, it’s about time,” followed by, “I hope their wedding doesn’t clash with mine.” (Bookies have made Aug. 13 the odds-on favourite, given the royal family’s other social obligations, but “spring or summer” is as specific as the press release has been.)

Prime Minister David Cameron, perhaps glad of the distraction from his government’s draconian budget cuts, was particularly effusive, calling it “a great day for our country, a great day for the royal family, and obviously a great day for Prince William and for Kate.” He then went on to add, more seriously, that, “As well as this being a great moment for national celebration, I think we also have to remember that this is two young people who love each other who have made this announcement, who are looking forward to their wedding, and we must give them plenty of space to think about the future and what they are about to do.”

The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also said he thought the news was fantastic. “I’m very pleased for the pair of them and wish them every possible success and happiness. Everybody is pleased. In a weird way, [a royal wedding] cheers everyone up.”

But not everyone was cheered by the news of the impending nuptials. Awsa Bergstrom, a 32-year-old Norwegian-born Pilates instructor based in west London, said she was “disgusted” by the coverage. “Two people are getting married—so what?,” she said. “People are saying this will be good for national identity, but the truth is people here are struggling, the economy is about to break into pieces. If they want to do something for Britain, the royal family should save taxpayers money on security spending and fly them all down to Las Vegas.”

This seems unlikely. The couple is widely expected to wed at Westminster Abbey, in keeping with royal tradition.

The day of the announcement, William and Kate appeared at a news conference and later in a live sit-down interview. During the half-hour conversation, the couple seemed warm and comfortable with each other. Kate described William as “a loving boyfriend,” one who was “very supportive of me through good times and through the bad times.”

William said that while Kate should not be expected to fill his mother’s shoes, the enormity of marrying a future sovereign was something she was well prepared for. “Part of the reason I waited this long was to give her a chance to get to know what it’s like to be part of my family—and to back out if she wanted to,” he said. Kate laughed, but one got the sense her fiancé was only half joking.