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Published: 4/24/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

As Brits march toward wedding, some walk away

BY MACKENZIE CARPENTER
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
An estimated 600,000 fans of royalty and tourists are expected to come to central London for Friday’s wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. An estimated 600,000 fans of royalty and tourists are expected to come to central London for Friday’s wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
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LONDON — All last week, during one of the hottest springs in memory, one of the hottest tourist attractions could be found at the entrance to the Green Park Underground station — the meeting place for a “Royal Wedding” tour organized by the London Walks company.

See Spencer House, where Diana’s family lived for centuries! There’s Jigsaw, the chic shop where royal bride-to-be Kate Middleton was accessories’ buyer while waiting for Prince William to propose! Oh, look, St. James’ Palace, where the royal couple announced their engagement amid blinding flashbulbs! And let’s not forget Mahiki, the Polynesian-themed bar in Mayfair where, in 2007, Prince William drowned his sorrows over the couple’s second, more serious breakup with an $18,000 bar tab in one night.

“Kate handled herself beautifully during that very difficult time,” tour guide Sue Jackson said somberly, as a Canadian camera crew filmed the tour group.

“It was all pressure, pressure, pressure from the media and she kept her cool and did everything right.”

Nods all around.

Ms. Middleton, discreet yet sweet, seems to have done everything right. In the Queen’s formal consent to the marriage, issued Thursday by Clarence House — a pale pink house just visible on the London Walks tour behind a high wall — she was described as “Our Trusty and Well Beloved Catherine Elizabeth Middleton.”

With the wedding of Ms. Middleton and her prince just a few days away, Union flags have gone up along Regent Street and along the Mall (pronounced Mal, as in pal), where the newly married couple will ride back to Buckingham Palace in a carriage.

The walking tour guide pointed out a huge white tent for the international broadcast media sprawling by Canada Gate near Buckingham Palace — but the most startling sight on the Mall that day was of a camera crew from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show filming a young man in a pinstripe suit and bowler hat.

Over in St. James’ Park, near where the royal couple announced their engagement, an officially sanctioned Kate-and-Prince William memorabilia shop was unpacking its stuff, but the proprietress shooed away questions, declaring that “press work in the park is not permitted.”

Duly noted — but wait until Friday, lady.

An estimated 8,000 journalists are expected to swarm into central London for the big day, along with royalty fans and foreign tourists, an estimated 600,000 in all.

Meanwhile, Londoners have been jamming the highways to get out of Dodge before Friday, even as the country swelters through a heat wave. Two back-to-back four-day weekends mean there may be an exodus of as many as 2.45 million Britons out of the country for the Easter weekend, and 3.45 million are expected to go on vacation to avoid the royal wedding, which will be viewed by an estimated 2 billion on TV.

At the Green Park station, just before the London Walks tour began, at least one British citizen declared his antipathy.

“I’m not going to have anything to do with it,” said David Coombs of Essex, who commutes into London each day for his job shepherding tourists onto buses. “I might take a look on the telly, but I wouldn’t be down here for anything. I’m busy enough on weekdays with these people who are all crazy for the royals.”


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And therein lies the contradiction: Even as Americans and other foreigners work themselves into a frenzy over these royal nuptials, many Britons are greeting this event — and the monarchy itself — with an offhand shrug. Maybe it’s a British thing, this failure to express much enthusiasm over either the wedding or the Windsors, who have ruled this country since 1910, part of a long line of monarchs.

“It’s not that I don’t care. It’s a beautiful concept, this wedding,” said Annie Smith, a 28-year-old who works for an economic development company near Whitehall Gardens, close to where the wedding procession will take place. “But the press is making rather much of it, aren’t they? And I don’t see what it has to do with me. At the end of the day, the monarchy doesn’t call the shots.”

In a country riven by rising unemployment and massive spending cuts, the wedding’s cost — conservatively estimated at $80 million — has some recalling how, in 1981, Diana wore a wedding dress with 10,000 hand-sewn pearls in it. And some financial experts say it will cost upward of $50 billion when the lost productivity of Friday’s national holiday is figured in.

Palace officials say this celebration will be austere by comparison, noting that the royal family is footing most of the bill, and Ms. Middleton’s family is contributing $100,000. Still, security costs will be enormous, with road closures all along the 1.4-mile route and police promising “a ring of steel” around the area.

And, in fact, the BBC reported that an extra $594 million of revenue might be generated — emphasis on “might” — with extra tourists, sales of party food, and hotel packages and memorabilia. “But it will be years before we know for sure,” the television presenter intoned.


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Talk of monarchy as a tourism booster is “rubbish,” said Owen Jones, author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class and a strong supporter of a British republic.

“No one has ever come out with any hard numbers proving that,” he said, noting that while Windsor Castle is one of the U.K.’s top tourist attractions, Legoland Windsor — a castle made out of (you guessed it) Legos, is almost as popular.

Mr. Jones and other republicans actually see the wedding as a chance to raise awareness about republicanism, whereas in 1981, for Charles and Diana’s wedding, “I think there was a lot more deference toward the monarchy,” said Mr. Jones.

“Today that enthusiasm has eroded across all classes. I know people who are cutting back on their own weddings at a time of recession, and this is just seen as an ostentatious display of wealth.”

Ostentatious? Not necessarily. On Thursday, Ms. Middleton emerged in public in a simple, skimpy black dress to do some prewedding shopping just like everyone else, wearing shoes “first spotted on her four years ago,” according to a Daily Mail story under a headline that blared, “Enjoying Her Last Days of Freedom.”

Closer to home, some businesses have complained about the cost of another paid holiday on April 29, but Prime Minister David Cameron, a conservative and a fervent monarchist, recently told Britons to “get on, get out, and have fun.”


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Mr. Cameron loves jubilees and royal weddings — they’re exemplars of British spirit — and as a young man, he reportedly camped out on the Mall for Diana and Prince Charles’ 1981 wedding.

At a theater’s stage door near the walking tour’s route, Pete Butler, a 21-year old electrician on the production Dreamboat and Petticoat (think Grease, only British), was smoking a cigarette and pondering the fact that he’ll be working next Friday, within earshot of the procession route.

“It’s a one-off thing,” he said. “It’ll be exciting to hear all the noise, and it’s good for tourists. It keeps up the image, you know. We’d be a little less interesting without the royal family.”

Mark Wilkinson, the theater company’s manager, says not only is the wedding — and the monarchy — great for his business, it’s worth the taxpayers’ money: “I wouldn’t say I’m a royalist, but we Brits are steeped in history and it would be a shame to do away with the sovereign. Damaging, in fact, very traumatizing.”

Polls agree with him, generally showing support for the monarchy hovering around 70 percent, although the numbers ebb and flow — down to 65 percent only during the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles before going up again. Then, in 2009, after an expenses scandal involving members of Parliament, a poll of readers of The Guardian and Observer newspapers found support for abolishing the monarchy at 54 percent — but only 3 percent saw it as a top priority.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mackenzie Carpenter is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Mackenzie Carpenter at: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com.



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