I was at the wedding

April 29, 2011

I was at the wedding. It’s only slowly beginning to sink in. I was at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the wedding a million people flocked to central London to see, and millions more across the globe tuned in to watch on television.

And I was there. In Westminster Abbey. As one of Kate’s family said to me as we queued for the loos in a big guestly jumble: “The word surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.”

As bureau chief for Reuters in London, I was one of a handful of reporters given a seat in the Abbey. Like many people we couldn’t see much. But that didn’t matter. We could hear it, smell it, see close up the light filtering through the stained glass windows, and catch the faint roar of the crowd and the pealing of the bells whenever the organist or orchestra stopped.

The music was glorious – resounding fanfares, soaring orchestral pieces, an angelic choir. All of it gave me goosepimples, particularly singing Cwm Rhondda, which I know as Bread of Heaven and others know as Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer. The song was the last hymn sung at Princess Diana’s funeral and is a rousing tune well suited for large groups of singers.

The atmosphere was wonderfully convivial. Smartly dressed guests admired each other’s outfits – hats adorned with all manner of twirls, swirls, feathers and fluff; sharply creased suits, and elegant waistcoats – and chatted excitedly in groups with people they had never met before about the impending nuptials.

It was warm in the abbey, despite the huge, vaulted grey-stone ceilings, and when you looked up you were greeted with the sight of rows of twinkling chandeliers and clouds of green leaves from the trees dotted throughout the abbey. They gave the church an indoor garden sort of feel, helped by the heady scent of lilies of the valley wafting through the air. The flowers were planted in containers at the base of the trees.

Our corner of the church – fittingly, Poets’ Corner, where a statue of Shakespeare watched over us and we sat over the grave of Charles Dickens – proved popular with the foreign dignitaries sitting near us as no one else had a screen showing what was going on outside the abbey before the bride and groom arrived. The lack of a window into the events on The Mall added to the sense the abbey was somehow an otherworldly space, and the guests cocooned in a special place.

Once the royal family did start to arrive, the mood changed abruptly and this became a much more formal affair. The vow-taking seemed strangely impersonal and informal to me, perhaps because it is rare that I go to a highly structured church wedding service. But you couldn’t escape the sense of magic at being present at such a historic occasion. All of the reporters dressed up: some of the men wore tails, all of the women wore hats. We took pictures of each other as we waited outside the abbey grounds.

I know many people couldn’t give two hoots about the royal wedding, and that many people believe strongly we should not have a monarchy at all. But as a journalist, it was impossible not to feel both immensely privileged and extremely excited to be part of such a momentous event.

I am writing this with the creamy, thick-papered order of service sitting on my desk (I wrote my first story for Reuters at a friend’s garden party, eating coronation chicken, with views of the Houses of Parliament in the background). My black netted hat is lying next to it, still in the dress I wore to the abbey. These, along with my printed words, will doubtless form the props for stories I will tell of this wedding to my children and grandchildren for years to come. And I’ll probably have the same big smile on my face.

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