All photos Anne Larkin/Catalyst
Nearly 150 people from Sarasota and the surrounding area woke up before sunrise on the morning of April 29 and made their way to the Ritz-Carlton for a live-stream of the wedding ceremony between Prince William, son of beloved Lady Di, and Catherine Middleton, his commoner girlfriend of nine years — complete with scones and a faux-royal guard. It’s been a long twenty years since the last grand royal wedding in Britain and the world has been thirsting for the magnificent traditional pomp. Hundreds of high-ranking guests, from dukes and duchesses to Elton John and the Beckhams, jammed into Westminster Abbey to peer over one another’s towering hats toward the couple — he in the red jacket of the Irish Guard, she in an elegant and much-anticipated gown. Thousands more crowded the streets of London, staking out spots for days so they’d be able to steal a glimpse of the newlyweds or the sweet old queen in her giant Bentley. Nearly 2.5 million more watched the ceremony over the Internet, rousing themselves out of their beds to gawk at the saturation of tradition.
The Sarasota Ritz decked out a dining room in royal fashion — gilt plates in front of every guest, waiters supplying a constant stream of fresh orange juice and much-needed coffee to accompany the array of perfect little British pastries, complete with clotted cream and lemon curd.
“This is remarkable,” said Michael Bugler, a transplanted Brit, of the hundred plus American wearing hats and fawning over the royal family at 4:00 a.m. “There’s so many mad people!” added his wife Shannon. And there were—hundreds of Sarasotans have apparently been hoarding splendid hats in their closets, just waiting for royal nuptials. Ostrich feathers, color coordinated with dresses of course, reached up toward the sparkling chandeliers dangling from the ceiling and voluptuous bows draped across perfectly curled hair. One particularly crafty woman had made a hat herself, a proper little cap out of lace and flowers and the humblest of materials — a paper plate.
The 1,900 people lucky enough to get an invitation to the actual wedding were given a 22-page etiquette guide along with the invite — one of the suggestions being that all ladies don hats. The room filled with titters when the prime minister’s wife showed up bare-headed, with shocked whispers of scandal tossed across every table. “She’s just not a fussy person,” one woman posited. As the wedding was not officially a state event, the guest list was at the discretion of the royal family. Certain beloved pop stars and (according to one morning show host) even ex-girlfriends and boyfriends of the betrothed were included while ex-prime ministers and the Obamas were left out.
Those that made the list were dressed exquisitely, knowing full well that their dress would be not only seen by the world, but scrutinized by all. The expected and recommended hats were indeed present — a tiny little hat the size of a bar of soap perched upon Victoria Beckham’s forehead, a Seuss-like towering pink mass of curlicues atop a sister of a royal edged its way into half the shots of the couple kneeling at the front of the chapel, the queen herself sported a solid yellow hat to compliment her lemon dress, and Camilla — for whom this must have been a somewhat awkward day with the many Princess Diana references — wore a colossal white hat, floating about her head like a great mass of cumulus clouds. The memory of Lady Diana, deceased mother of the groom, was ever present on the wedding day, with her and Charles’ union having been the last grand royal wedding and she being such an iconic figure. “He had a great mum,” Bugler said. “There’ll always be that comparison.”
Ooohs and ahhs of delight throughout the ceremony seemed to indicate that this wedding lived up to Diana’s, one British reporter even choking up a little on air. “When you have something like this, it really brings a nation together,” Bugler said, perhaps wistful for his homeland. “Even the diehard republicans like the spectacle of it.” As do Americans, going crazy for the pageantry despite our anti-monarchical tradition.
“I saw Diana get married, I think I saw Queen Elizabeth get married too — am I telling my age?” giggled Leigh Bass. “I just love it. I took the day off and I was going to stay home in my jammies … but then I saw this event and had to go. This is once in a lifetime. This is history!” Anglophiles and romantics alike can’t resist the splendor of a royal wedding — the usual sweetness of matrimony multiplied by a million with the grand ceremony steeped in ancient national tradition.
“In a way, every wedding is a royal wedding,” said one of the bishops chosen to speak during the ceremony. Except … not. Most weddings don’t shut down a nation for a day and cost somewhere between $16 and $64 million, a wide estimate provided by ABC. There’s been much speculation about the cost of the wedding, especially in light of the dire economic situation in Britain. A great percentage of the cost came from security — which would be funded by taxpayer money — but many argue that this will be offset by the billions of pounds that will pour in with wedding-generated tourism.
The cakes, one a traditional fruitcake, recreated in the kitchen of the Ritz for attendees, and one of the groom’s choosing, reportedly a chocolate cookie cake, are said to have cost near $80,000 for the two, an indubitably steep price for pastry. But perhaps the future king and queen of England deserve this opulent celebration … and we all surely love watching them eat their thousand-dollar slices of cake.
Information from ABC and The Guardian.