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LONDON -- Prince William and Kate Middleton's big day has arrived, and for Londoners immersed in 24/7 royal-wedding fever, it's hard not to get caught up in the buzz.
Yet the ever-denser crush of foreign tourists around Westminster, coupled with the frenzied attention from international -- particularly U.S. -- news media, has some of Britain's typically understated natives wondering what all the big fuss is about.
"At the end of the day, it's just two people getting married. I think they should celebrate it more than the world," said 25-year-old sales manager Ali Ahmad as he sat at a cafe in south London eating lunch. "But it's the other way round. The world is celebrating it more than them."
Two billion people were expected to tune in Friday to catch the wedding of Princess Diana's oldest son and second-in-line to the throne, which was scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. Toledo time. About 20 million of those viewers are predicted to come from inside Britain, indicating that a massive percentage of those watching the wedding will hail from outside the country.
While Prince William's status as Britain's future king makes his marriage one of the country's most significant royal events in decades, the intensity of international interest in the nuptials has been a source of some speculation and bemusement in London. After all, even if he does become king, the British monarch Friday is essentially a ceremonial figure and exercises no real political power.
It also could be years before Prince William actually takes the throne, as his now-62-year-old father, Prince Charles, is next in line for the position.
"He's not the next monarch," affirmed Brian Connell, who chairs a partnership of businesses in London's West End that's organizing events around the wedding. "He's going to be a prince and a husband for a long time until he has to think about becoming head of state."
Mr. Connell said he welcomes the attention on London because it brings in tourism and lifts people's spirits, but he's also amazed at the volume of worldwide interest in Prince William and Ms. Middleton. Much of that interest seems to come from the United States, although there are plenty of other nations represented, he said.
Cindy McAllister, a New Orleans native married to a Brit, said it's "absolutely true" that Americans are more interested in Friday's wedding than the English themselves. She and her husband, Philip, live in southwest England, where they said most of their friends plan to do nothing at all to mark the wedding. In contrast, Mrs. McAllister's family and friends in America are far more excited by the royal nuptials, she said.
"It's because we don't have it and England is so many centuries older than America," Mrs. McAllister indicated. "It's history, it's fascinating, it's real. It's all the tradition, the pomp and circumstance of it all, and it's something we don't have."
Britain's former status as an imperial power is another reason the monarchy garners so much interest worldwide, said Stanislav Mundil, London correspondent for the Czech News Agency CTK.
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"I think British monarchy is considered to be THE monarchy," Mr. Mundil said. "It was an empire and it used to be a powerful country, and it still is a powerful country."
Prince William's connection to the much-beloved Princess Diana is another reason his wedding has caused such a global stir, said Donna Werner of New Fairfield, Conn. The 56-year-old homemaker traveled to London by herself to camp outside Westminster Abbey, where the wedding will take place.
"I always swore when Diana's sons get married I was going to be here too," she said. "I think everybody loves it because it's a true love story, and it all started with the public's love for William's mother."
Particularly appealing, especially for women, is the fairy-tale story of "prince marries commoner," said Teresa Cunningham of Butler, Mo., who resigned from her job as a nurse to come and see the wedding.
"I want to be a part of the magic," she said. "Everybody wants to be a princess in a fairy tale, and it's once in a lifetime you get to see that."
Of course, plenty of British people are excited about the wedding too and make up a significant portion of the early bird campers outside Westminster Abbey. For them, like other nationalities, the Princess Diana connection and fairy-tale factor are a big draw. Yet for some, particularly the older generation of Britons, Prince William and Ms. Middleton also represent a fresh, uplifting face to an antiquated institution they've lived with for years.
"It's a bit of a change for us," said Alan Wilson, a retiree from Essex in England, who was walking outside Buckingham Palace with his wife, Christine. "We're delighted to see the development of the younger generation. They're much more of the people really."
Even those Brits nay-saying the wedding will likely let their guard down Friday, Mr. McAllister said.
He attributed statements of disinterest to traditional English reserve.
"We won't let people know our true feelings. In a way we're embarrassed by our emotions," he said. "If you ask [Britons] outright if they're interested, I think the majority say no. However, when you see them on the day watching it, I think they are. It's a secret admiration."
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Many English natives claim they are not overly excited.