Doing pomp and pageantry the British way - Irfan Husain - Monday 2nd May 2011

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EVEN though much of their power has ebbed away, nobody does pomp and pageantry like the Brits. Although I had announced that I would not be one of the two billion people who watched the royal wedding, I must confess to the occasional peek at the TV.
While I try and avoid weddings, I am a sucker for brass bands, the clip-clop of the magnificent horses of the Household Cavalry, and the glitter and pomp of the uniforms of their riders. So although the hats and assorted flummery of the wedding guests left me cold, I was gripped by the sheer spectacle of the cavalcade when the newly married couple left the church in their splendid horse-drawn carriage.
The descriptions of the bride`s outfit had me baffled. One commentator described her wedding dress as `champagne coloured`, while another said it was `ivory`. Whatever happened to plain old `white`? I suppose it`s much too prosaic a word to use while describing the wedding dress of a princess…
And I discovered there`s something called `Chantilly lace`. The newspapers have devoted many columns to extol the quality of this handmade lace. The other thing to puzzle me was a commentator`s description of Kate Middleton`s hairdo as “half up, half down.” What can this mean? Should I even care?
The Guardian`s main headline the day after the wedding was: “Sealed with a kiss — twice”. This was in reference to the two pecks exchanged by the couple on the balcony of Buckingham Palace before an adoring, almost swooning crowd. While being interviewed, many said they had been camping on the spot before the palace for several days to make sure they had a vantage position. Clearly people with time on their hands.
For me, the best thing about the wedding is that it is now over. While it was the biggest feel-good event in the country for a long time, and many retailers did a roaring business in flags and buntings, the fact is that the holiday cost the British economy a cool six billion pounds. When I trotted out this cheerful bit of information, the lady wife accused me of being a killjoy. Indeed, she went off to watch the proceedings with a friend as she didn`t think I would be the ideal companion for enjoying the wedding.
After lunch, I was dragooned into preparing salads for the street party organised by us and the neighbours to celebrate the happy event. I had hoped to slide over at the last minute to drink a toast to the couple and then escape. But I discovered to my horror that I had been volunteered for barbecue duty. What with moving chairs and tables to the lane outside our gate, preparing a dish of mushrooms a la grecque, and getting the barbecue going, that was most of the afternoon and evening gone. And after dinner, the guests all trooped to our house for coffee.
However, before the lady wife sees this and accuses me of whingeing, let me say the whole thing was fun. Even the weather cooperated, despite the earlier dodgy forecast. So all in all, Brits had a wonderful holiday, and were able to find distraction from their current economic woes.
While we didn`t have to shut our street as it`s a little dead-end lane, well over 5,000 roads across Britain were closed for street parties. Large screens had been set up in squares, and strangers drank toasts to the young couple.
Even traditionally republican newspapers like the Guardian and the Independent were totally besotted by William and Kate. For days, entire pages had been filled with nothing but news and comments about the couple, and the significance of the wedding for the royal family and for Britain.
Television channels devoted hours to how the two had met. The lady wife and a friend insisted on watching a Channel 4 programme called “Meet the Middletons” in which we were introduced to many of Kate`s extended family. I looked up from my book from time to time, and in one clip, was enchanted to discover that one of Kate`s relatives runs a fish-and-chip shop up in the north. He has invited the couple for a meal at his chippie whenever they like.
If I sound a trifle cynical, it`s not because I am against the monarchy. Actually, I think the royal family provides colour and tradition in a world that`s increasingly bland. Despite the expenditure the state lavishes on them, they are a strong tourist draw. And the antics of some of the royals provide Brits with a running sitcom that has fascinated and occasionally embarrassed them.
One of the things that preoccupied many English friends before the wedding was the fact that neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown had been invited. To rub salt into their wounds, the other two living ex-prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, had. The former was too ill to attend, but the sight of Major at the wedding must have rankled with the last two Labour PMs.
The reason given was that they had been left out as they were not Members of the Royal Order of the Garter. But commentators were of the view that David Cameron loathed his two predecessors, and had used his clout with the Palace to make sure their names weren`t on the guest list. If this is true, it shows a mean streak in the Tory prime minister.
But what has left a lasting impression is the meticulous planning that went into making the event such a huge success. Months of the most detailed preparation ensured that everything went off like clockwork on the big day. Apart from the fact that the wedding ring was a bit of a tight fit, every other aspect of the pageant fell perfectly into place like the well-rehearsed circus that it was.

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