May 6, 2011 In order to go to a Royal Wedding, one must have several crucial things. An invitation is not necessarily at the top of this list, but a willingness to get up at 5 am and stand outside of a church for six hours certainly is. You must also have some sort of tacky wedding memorabilia (preferably a plastic flag with a picture of the bride and groom), a paper periscope for peering over crowd heads, and something resembling champagne (even if it’s just sparkling apple juice for the kids watching).
But first and foremost, (and, in my humble opinion, of the utmost importance), you must wear a hat. And it must be fabulous. Such was my past weekend, which was spent in sunny and ecstatic London with five other friends from Hamilton. Crazy ideas are something with which I am a bit of an expert, but I never imagined this one would turn out as well as we had planned. In December, I was at a holiday party thrown by some friends on campus. We all discussed our going-abroad plans, and how we should try to meet up at some point in the semester, since a good portion of us would be in Europe. The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton had just been announced, and I suggested we all go in April, to be there for it! Shockingly, everyone seemed willing, and Kelsey sent us an email in January confirming our hostel room and plane tickets. We were going to the Royal Wedding!!
Months went by and this spring date hung hazily in the near distance, close enough to be exciting, but not quite a reality. I went on my whirlwind spring break, found a hat in Prague, and came back to my life in Paris, which was delightfully warm, and just as I had left it. And so it was that on Thursday morning, I donned my hat, packed a bag full of gluten-free snacks and dresses, met Kylie at Gare du Nord to board the Eurostar (which goes under the English Channel to London and is pretty much the coolest train on the planet), and began our weekend of adventure. Even though our journey involved crossing borders and passport control, everyone else had a bit further to go. We met Caitlin, who has spent the past year in Dublin, Kelsey, who was in Italy for this semester, Lauren, from Scotland, and Rachel, from Spain. Everyone had flown or taken trains to meet up in our little, six-bunk hostel room on Cromwell road, and when we went to bed that night, the atmosphere was feverish.
The alarm went off the next morning at 5:30. We had decided that, if we were coming all the way to London for this crazy wedding idea, we might as well go all out. So we got dressed up (Lauren also wore a hat, though hers was a blue “fascinator”, which is like a chic, half-hat with netting that Kate Middleton loves to wear), boarded the Tube, and walked along crowded streets lined with Union Jacks to stand in front of Westminster Abbey. The next six hours were wonderful, chaotic, and incredibly surreal. We procured a “Blighty” periscope (in retrospect, Blighty was probably the name of the company that produced these, but from then on we continued to ask each other to “pass the Blighty” so we could see over the heads of those in front of us), and took turns ogling at the guests as they began to trickle in. We saw Elton John, Victoria and David Beckham (or at least, so did everyone but Kylie and I, who went exploring at the very moment the last two arrived and missed them!), and a whole slew of wonderfully dressed British socialites we did not know, but ooohed and ahhed at nonetheless.
Before I go any farther, I must pause for a moment, and dedicate a few gushing lines to my hat; it is simply too great not to recognize. I found it with the help of my friend Lucie, in a tiny, handmade hat shop in Prague, and instantly knew I had to have it. It is a black-and-white, wide brimmed bonnet with a jauntily-perched bow, and went perfectly with the black-and-white and dress I found in a French thrift store and wore along with it. It earned me several interviews, one in botched French with a local television station as I boarded the train, one with Yahoo news, and a third with Lauren for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in which we ended up featured! The women at immigration in Paris yelled at Kylie for not knowing where our hostel was, but applauded me with rueful grins and comments about how crazy I was to dress up. Hats, suffice it to say, are nothing short of magic.
A series of cars went by with tinted windows, but we knew from the applause and time schedule (which we had memorized by now) , that these must contain the royals. When the wedding itself started, we settled down on the cobblestones, legs tired, and ate lunch as we listened to the ceremony, which was broadcasted over loudspeakers along the entire parade route. We were amused at the thought that everyone else in the world (including our Hamilton friends back home, who got up at 5 to watch the ceremony on TV), could see the wedding, but we, almost 30 feet away, could not see a thing. Hearing it, however, turned out to be even more wonderful than being able to see it.
The couple exchanged their vows, and a deafening roar went up from the crowd. As the church bells began to ring, the wonderfully British commentator announced “we could hear that cheer from inside the church,” and we all cheered again. And as the lines of soldiers on horses processed by, followed by the royal carriages, filled with the newly-wedded William and Kate (whose dress was nothing short of magnificent), Prince Harry, looking ruddy and pleased, big-eared Charles and the despised Camilla, and finally the Queen, looking resplendent in yellow, I smiled, and stood on my toes, crushing the geranium bed beneath my feet to see the royals go by.
Out of everything that day: getting up at 5 am, drinking mimosas in front of Big Ben, making friends with wedding-crazed Brits, and seeing the Prince and Princess themselves, my favorite moment was something I could never have expected. I heard the words of that commentator and could not help but feel a part of the ceremony itself, as ridiculous as it may seem, and suddenly all of our crazy planning seemed not only sensible, but perfect. William and Kate had heard me, I realized, sitting on the cold cobblestones, eating cheddar and rice cakes in my ridiculous, wonderful hat. We would be a part of their wedding memory, just as they were a part of ours. And for a moment, I, too, felt royal.