The view from inside the Abbey

May 1, 2011

There were probably more than a billion people who would’ve loved to have been inside Westminster Abbey to see Prince William marry Kate Middleton and to soak up the glamor of what was, for a day, the world’s biggest news story.

I was lucky enough to be assigned a position inside the abbey, but though I got to witness the spectacle through a camera lens, my experience was less about pomp and pageantry and more about perils and pratfalls.

With the congregation dolled up to the nines, even the photographers were expected to smarten up. Abbey staff told us to wear “a suit and tie or female equivalent”. Dressed accordingly in my smartest jacket and skirt, I felt the part – right up until I saw the ladders.

To get to my position, a rickety, three-story high balcony perched above the abbey’s main doorway, I would have to scale a series of steep, metal-rung ladders. I would have to scale them carrying a heavy camera bag behind me — wearing a skirt.

It was hard work, but myself and the six other photographers assigned to the spot worked like a team of Himalayan sherpas to ferry all our gear up the ladders. After 15 stressful minutes of hauling and holding on for dear life, I was safely at the top.

Not everyone made it first time. One photographer, a fit man in his early 30s, lost his footing and crashed to the foot of one of the ladders. I didn’t see it, but I heard his shout of “arrrggggh!” and the crash as a platform broke his fall. Thankfully, only his pride was hurt.

Meanwhile, as the watching world admired beautiful gowns, hats and fascinators of the women below, I found myself standing in what appeared to be one of the dustiest places in London. Every inch of the wobbly platform was caked in dust and our smart wedding suits quickly picked up most of it. If you heard any stifled sneezes during the ceremony, it was probably us.

The service was soon under way, and I went into work mode, blanking out the dust and vertiginous surroundings, as first William then Kate made their entrance.

Then it was over. Newly married, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge walked up the aisle hand-in-hand and out to face the waiting crowds and a new life as Britain’s future king and queen.

And I had to face the ladder again.

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