Royal Union Brings Out Indifference In Many Brits
Shortly after dawn on Friday morning — a full five hours before the show actually starts — Irene Bunn will plant herself in front of her TV, forget her worldly worries, and wait in joyous fascination for two people nearly a third her age to arrive at the altar and take their vows.
She's no drinker, but later in the day she'll make an exception and treat herself to a celebratory glass of wine.
Bunn, a twinkly-eyed, straight-talking woman in her eighties, shares none of the indifference, boredom, or outright cynicism that some of Britain's 62 million inhabitants express towards the Royal Wedding — now being billed by their tabloid newspapers as the greatest national celebration in 30 years.
She is looking forward with unalloyed, unapologetic enthusiasm to tuning into the big event — along with many millions of other viewers around the globe — and watching the second-in-line to the British throne, Prince William, take his college girlfriend, Catherine Middleton, as his wife and future queen.
"I love every minute of it. It's marvelous," says Bunn, standing in Sheffield's City Hall, taking a break from a morning tea dance. She has been fox-trotting in its ballroom since she was 14, when William's great-grandfather George VI was on the throne, and Hitler was busy trying to take over Europe.
Bunn relishes the "glitter and the beautiful clothes" that will be on display at the wedding. (Having lived through the war, she knows what it is not to have these pleasures.) She says she admires the royal couple; she thinks Kate is "lovely" and William "absolutely gorgeous."
The British often ridicule Prince Charles for his super-size ears. Bunn thinks he's "very nice" and "very handsome."
She has no time for any suggestion that the wedding is a waste of money at a time when the United Kingdom is facing massive public spending cuts.
"No, no, no, no. We've got to have a lift.... and this wedding'll lift everybody up," she says.
It is not hard to find people in Britain whose spirits will indeed be lifted by the royal wedding, especially among the older generation. Yet eager loyalists are in a minority.
Most Are Indifferent
A poll of Britons published this week by the Guardian newspaper found only 37 percent of respondents are feeling "genuinely interested and excited by the royal wedding." Forty-six percent are not.
Some people are actively repelled by the whole thing. There are websites marketing royal wedding sick bags, T-shirts bearing the word "Commoner" and coffee mugs carrying slogans calling for the abolition of the monarchy.
"There will be crabby people who will say 'Oh well, this is just a pointless wedding,'" predicts Jeremy Paxman, a prominent British TV presenter and author of books on the royal family and the English. "Of course, it's a pointless wedding! That's the whole point! There'll be people who say 'this [wedding] legitimizes an illegitimate institution'. In a precise, political theory sense, it IS an illegitimate institution, or an indefensible institution, certainly. However, it works and that's the greatest thing in its favor."
Hardline crabby folk do appear to be relatively few. It's far more common to meet Britons who are indifferent to their monarchy and also to the wedding, yet are not hostile to either — viewing the first as powerless and the second as harmless fun.
Certainly, a big crowd will gather in London Friday and heartily cheer William and Kate as they leave Westminster Abbey after the ceremony, and ride by carriage to Buckingham Palace for champagne and canopies. Young royals these days have the same glamour, if not more, as Hollywood's hottest talents.
Is The Monarchy Relevant?
The wedding will be a bright spot for an institution that has had a rough time during the 30 years since Charles made that same trip from the abbey to the palace with Diana Spencer, a bride who seemed so innocent and dazzling that the TV commentators could freely spout the word "fairy tale" without being accused of using cliches.
The poisonous and very public collapse of their marriage was damaging enough, but Diana's sudden death in a car crash in Paris in 1997 was much worse. It seemed to traumatize some Britons, leaving a legacy of wariness and distrust towards the monarchy that still lingers on among some people. Diana's shadow will inevitably loom large over Friday's events.
Support for the monarchy does seem to have recovered from the low that immediately followed Diana's death. This week's Guardian poll also found a large majority of respondents think the royal family is still relevant to public life. Twenty six percent said Britain would be better off without them. This is despite the antics of some the minor royals — or "The Spares" — as some unkindly call them.
Attitudes are, to some extent, shaped by geography. Britain is only the size of Oregon, yet it embraces a wide variety of peoples and includes several distinct nations — notably Scotland and Wales — which exist within the larger political framework of the United Kingdom, but see themselves as separate and have their own parliaments. The Scots appear far less interested in the wedding than the English.
So are some of the people tucked away in one of the more remote corners of the British Isles. In the far west of southern Britain lies Cornwall, a finger of windswept land jutting out into the Atlantic. The map states it is part of England. Yet those born and bred there for generations are considered Celts, like the Scots and Welsh, and view their peninsula as a homeland.
"We are not English," says Peter Robinson, vice chairman of Mousehole Male Voice choir. "The word in Cornish is 'we belong'. We belong in Cornwall."
Of the wedding, Robinson says: "I am very pleased for Prince William and Kate Middleton. I think they are a super young couple." He won't be watching, though. It clashes with a big choir competition.
None of this deters the British tabloid press. They're already having great fun. They fell hungrily on the Palace's decision not to include former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown on a guest list that carries the names of Elton John, David Beckham, and Rowan Atkinson of Mr Bean and Blackadder fame.
They've revelled in speculation about The Dress and the honeymoon — among the favorites: a Carribean island, the mountains of Kenya and the Queen's massive estate in Balmoral, Scotland.
There will be plenty more of this, even if half the readers really aren't all that interested. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.