A very royal wedding, complete with a love-storming of the palace

Forget republicanism – the closest Britain got to a revolution is people pushing down barricades and rushing to the palace

Whether it was history repeating itself as history, or farce repeating itself as farce, depends entirely on your point of view. The marriage of His Royal Highness Prince William to Catherine Middleton was washed down by that cocktail of fevered excitement and irate lack of interest that constitutes public opinion these days – so consider it a day when the country split into two, with each side accusing the other of madness. Much like a standard marital row, in fact.

But along with binge-drinking and misplaced self-regard, royal occasions are something at which Britain is undeniably world class, and anyone still poised for a republic is advised to put down their knitting needles.

As the cameras trained on the Queen's rather shabby net curtains, awaiting the couple's balcony kiss, one costumed wellwisher told the BBC the crowds had initially been held back. "But in the end," she explained, "the people just pushed the barricades down and rushed towards the palace." And that's as close to the French Revolution as we're going to get – a sort of love-storming of the Bastille.

It all read like a recipe for the perfect British day: worries about the weather, lots of mentions of Princess Di, and a chance to talk about the class system. Even the Germans obliged by having a pop at us, with Der Spiegel's London correspondent wondering "why this eccentric nation continues to worship the Windsors".

The answer, perhaps, is because there is no quality more English than the country's ability to suspend its disbelief again and again – be it in the buildup to a World Cup quarter-final, or when faced with the latest iteration of the House of Windsor story. People know that most of the royal family's recent marriages have been fairytales. Grimm.

But something allows the excitement to rebuild, and anyone who begrudged the gazillions who camped out to spend their day cheering and waving flags had a sobering televisual alternative: ITV2's back-to-back screening of The Only Way is Essex.

As for the marriage ceremony, it was watched by luminaries from the Beckhams to the Bercows to the alleged former head of the Bahraini torture service. To the left, the king of this; to the right, the queen of that. The last time Carole Middleton had to proceed down an aisle this intimidating she was pushing a trolley and uttering the dreaded words "I'm afraid we've run out of the chicken."

But for all the confected snobbery about Kate's origins, and her black sheep uncle Gary, the bourgeois preoccupations of the buildup could never have withstood the big guns of the occasion. In truth, there is scarcely a piece of British heritage so vulgar or outrageous that it cannot be somehow softened and folded into this most oddly enduring of myths.

During his apprenticeship on Savile Row, the late Alexander McQueen famously sewed "I AM A CUNT" into the lining of a suit jacket being made for Prince Charles. Yet today, the newest member of the House of Windsor was dressed by the house of McQueen, itself renewed dazzlingly by the succession of Sarah Burton.

At Westminster Abbey itself, two establishments fought for prominence. The Beckhams – who you'll recall sat on thrones at their own wedding – queued like hoi polloi to get in, while megastar Elton John travelled in steerage at the back of the nave, miles behind various ancient but unidentifiable aristos who haven't been playing with a full order of service since the old king was on the throne. The telly cameras immediately overrode their protocol function, and were far more interested in cutting to the celebs than any of the more recherché foreign dignitaries.

Thus it was possible to see that neither the Queen nor Victoria Beckham knows the words to Jerusalem off by heart, with both filmed relying intently on their order of service.

Incidentally, we must doff our plastic coronets to the choice of William Blake's brilliantly mad and mystical hymn of nostalgia for something that never really existed, but which does bring the neck hairs to attention on the big occasion. The only reading was from Romans. "Bless those who persecute you," intoned Kate's brother James, pausing to allow the reference to the press to sink in. "Bless and do not curse them."

Most overused phrase of the day? "A very modern love story", followed by telly commentators' dreary emphasis on the fact that William and Kate were "very down-to-earth people", as though all the nation wanted out of a monarchy were a former accessories buyer for Jigsaw and a groom spawned in the hellfires of the House of Windsor, but now merely keen to make his name as a mid-ranking air-sea rescue operative.

The day frequently couldn't make its mind up. On the one hand, loyal subjects were supposed to be impressed that minor royals had foregone horsedrawn carriages and were being shuttled in minibuses. On the other, they were expected to develop a sudden yet obsessive interest in state arcana – the provenance of gold altar plates, the engraving of a ceremonial bridle, the fact that the Green Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace opens into the White Drawing Room. We're all supposed to be semioticians now, so do feel encouraged to speculate on what Prince Harry calling himself "best man" as opposed to the more traditional "supporter" means for modern Britain, or what Samantha Cameron's failure to wear a hat means for your local Sure Start centre.

As for what's next, you need hardly ask. ITV's coverage of the wedding kicked off at 0600 hours, and it took all the way until 06.16 before sofa-based royal expert Eve Pollard had declared firmly: "We want an Olympics baby."

So there you have it. Royal uterus watch begins today.


Marina Hyde

The GuardianTramp

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