Saturday, April 30, 2011
Like billions of people around the globe, I tuned in to watch the wedding of the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge (otherwise known as Prince William and Kate (Now, Katherine) Middleton.
Years ago, I posted articles that referenced Prince William's shortage of public duties (in contrast to his father, Prince Charles, by his age). For much of his life, William has tucked himself away from the public as much as possible, in the impossible quest for more privacy and anonymity. Since these articles, Prince William has stepped up his A game and has served his country through his military service and current work as an RAF search and rescue pilot. He has done more royal engagements, philanthropic work, and has performed increased duties that have long been expected of him. (Better late than never.) His reluctance to step into a more public role is somewhat understandable given his view that the press was responsible for his mother's death and a source of unhappiness as they hunted her every move. There is no doubt that, standing on that balcony with his new bride, Prince William must have received a clear picture of the influence and public support he truly had, as evidenced by a million people that had gathered within his sight to catch a glimpse of the new couple, hoping to see an iconic kiss.
Prince William and Catherine gave the public far more than they bargained for, including a second (more lingering) kiss and a view of the couple riding in Prince Charles's Aston Martin. The most striking visual was seeing the future of the monarchy take central stage on the balcony, next to figures that looked nothing short of antiquated. The massive crowds and record-breaking global views of this historic day show that the monarchy is certainly here to stay (for now) . While the whole day was PR heaven for the royal family, giving the public what appeared to be a new royal couple set to breath modernity and warmth into an institution that badly needs it, one must remember that the monarchy doesn't change much. Prince William and Catherine repeated a scene set on the same stages countless times before. In the same church, in the same carriage, on the same balcony as several predecessors. For certain, their children will be photographed in the same rooms and lawns, whose children will follow suit (if the monarchy survives the test of time). Prince William and bride are extensions of tradition and in truth, neither is a figure the public can much relate to. When the PR machine is at rest, not much is known about these two or their private life as a couple, but the few details that emerge showcase two individuals not many modern people can relate to. Despite endless attempts at comparison by the media, Catherine is NOT Princess Diana II, nor is Prince William. The young royals have a carefully crafted image and despite the beauty and happiness of this royal wedding, one must remember that the occasion is both tradition and orchestration. The public face the press is trying to sell, the monarchy wants to the public to believe, and that which society actually does are often in conflict.
As for the future of the monarchy, much of the public has voiced an opinion that Prince Charles is not a worthy successor to the Queen (and regardless of pointless articles and public polling, the line of succession is not a popularity contest). There is an order to this tradition, and unless Prince Charles dies prior to the Queen or abdicates (neither scenario seems likely), he will be the next on the throne. I am disenchanted when I see a public that disregards all of Prince Charles's years of sacrifice and duty to his country in favor of his son, simply because Prince William is younger and looks like his mother Diana, the beloved Princess of Wales. Prince Charles has put in over sixty years of waiting and work for this role which he has taken seriously while Prince William spent much of his time avoiding that level of responsibility. Prince Charles is not only the heir to the throne, but also a man who has done more charity work than Diana and rarely receives any credit. He has the unfortunate situation of being wedged between figures he can't possibly compete with, but that doesn't diminish his commitment and service to Queen and country.
The wedding was everything the public hoped it would be, offering us all a glimpse into a true fairy tale. That Prince William married a 'commoner' (which simply means someone who isn't a royal or aristocrat - bear in mind her family does have money) only serves to increase public interest and turn tides in favor of this couple, as he brings to the table what Diana hoped he would - a monarchy with a closer connection to its people. Time will tell if this hope will ultimately be fulfilled as Prince William's preference is generally to hide from the public when possible, though unlike his father, one can be assured that if public opinion favors his bride, it won't cause that same marital strife. Prince William would most likely be happy to see someone else get the brunt of the spotlight unlike Diana who found it disturbing and problematic in her marriage. Catherine Middleton offers beauty, style, and a sense that she is "one of us". She comes from an intact family and a more commonplace life, qualities Prince William could have only wished for. Despite endless comparisons, Catherine Middleton and Princess Diana have little in common. This could bode well for their marriage, as Princess Diana was only with Prince Charles for 6 months by the time he proposed and despite her privileged background, Princess Diana was thrust into a situation she was ill-prepared for unlike Catherine who spent ten years with the prince, groomed into royal life little by little, living alongside press and speculation. She was afforded the "time to adjust" that was a luxury Princess Diana was never afforded and is much more confident in her role and persona than Prince William's mother, as evidenced even in the flawlessness of the wedding (Princess Diana got Prince Charles's name wrong on the altar).
In many ways, the strength of the marriage of the newly dubbed Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will dictate the future of the monarchy and its continued existence in British life. Despite all of Prince William's years, he has made choices that have mostly removed him from controversy (with the exception of spending public money by using a helicopter to surprise Kate on several occasions). In a sense, by staying out of the public eye, he has not only protected his privacy but avoided courting controversy while providing increased stability in his romantic relationship. The little that is known about Prince William serves to work in his favor as he has the genetic gifts of Princess Diana and as such, the public will associate him favorably unless he makes major missteps. He is far more protected than Princess Diana, thanks to laws put into effect after her tragic and pointless death that served to protect royals and celebrities to a larger degree. In a rare breach of this policy, Prince William was photographed by paparazzi riding his Ducati motorcycle in the streets prior to his wedding, shockingly published by The Telegraph, a dangerous scenario that evokes feelings of Princess Diana. Nonetheless, Prince William enjoys a personal freedom that eluded Princess Diana and gives hope that his marriage will not suffer the same fate, critical for continued support of the monarchy.
The wedding evoked strong public memories of Princess Diana and undoubtedly so for Prince William himself, between the familiar sight of crowds outside of Westminster Abbey to Princess Diana's engagement ring that had been worn by Catherine prior to the big day, as well as selections from the ceremony reminiscent of the late Diana. Prince William holds his mother dear much as the public does, and when the masses see him, they see both his mother in his face and the face of the 15-year old boy who solemnly escorted her coffin. As such, he naturally courts public empathy and enjoys wider acceptance than he might otherwise, even though he is a distinctly different individual. The irony of this is that in her last years of life, Princess Diana painted a dark picture of the monarchy that turned public favor against them and yet her untimely death had the unanticipated effect of garnering public support for the future monarchy with her eldest son at the helm. By holding the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, Prince William was not only able to allow his mother to be part of the ceremony in a symbolic sense but also was able to create an event that created a familiar yet all-together different experience for the public, an event that may have had similarities as far as location but was full of joy and hope as opposed to the dismal realities of Princess Diana's funeral.
Between a perfectly executed ceremony steeped in traditions that dates millenia, a bride and groom who looked like flawless dolls, two balcony kisses (one more memorable than the other), and their drive away from the palace in the Aston Martin with a "Just Wed" license plate and balloons flying out the back, the happy couple managed to give the country and the world the spectacle it hoped for and allowed the global community to share (in a rare moment) a worldwide event that was hopeful and positive, while making us all believers in true love and the power of romance. Audiences hope for good news and rarely get it in the media, nonetheless on such an incomparable scale, and millions tuned in to share in the joy and happiness of two people, united in love and its many possibilities (including the inevitable birth of the next future king/queen). Even the most jaded heart that was witness to this ceremony felt warmth and belief in humanity even temporarily, as people are inherently good by nature and came out in droves to share together in a joyous occasion. People were happy to see something good happen to a young man whose live has been so full of tragedy while a new tomorrow was born for the monarchy. An awful lot of tradition rests on those strong shoulders and Prince William and Catherine Middleton have mighty big shoes to fill and a lot to live up to. They may not be the second coming of Princess Diana, but one can only hope her short life and death served to teach many lessons that can be wisely implemented for a better future for this historic family.
Cheers to the happy couple, may their lives be filled with continued love and celebration.