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Brits still have soft spot for the Royals

Maija Gustin | Saturday, April 30, 2011

I’ve heard a lot of disdain for the British monarchy during my semester in London.

Like that the tradition is archaic and the lavish lives and traditions of the Royal Family use up valuable taxpayer money.

From what I could tell, most Brits were going to say, “Hey, thanks for the day off Will and Kate” and stay as far away from Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey as possible. Tourists would throng the city and outnumber the apathetic Brits for sure.

But on the morning of April 29, as I wandered the procession route from the Palace to the Abbey at 4 a.m. and saw the throngs of thousands, maybe millions of people waiting for a glimpse of the Royal Family, the Brits were out in swarms, waving their Union Jacks loud and proud.

So where is the apathy?

For a bunch of people that supposedly didn’t care about the monarchy, the Brits I met had a blast camping out in the cold all night and couldn’t wait for a glimpse of Kate in her dress.

Millions thronged central London to catch a glimpse of William and Catherine, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, in person or to watch the ceremony on giant screens in Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square.

The last time a crowd of this size came out for a Royal event, it was for the funeral of the beloved Princess Diana. Though the atmosphere was distinctly more excited yesterday, one couldn’t help but compare the two.

Many of the Brits I met along the procession route camped out for Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981 and were there to see her funeral in 1997, as well. For them, this was first time to be excited about the monarchy since Di.

Many of these same people also brought their young children to the event, with hundreds of young girls excited to see a real princess in person.

The irony of the whole Royal Wedding, though, was that the crowds were unequivocally there to see Kate.

Sure, the Queen, Will and Harry got some big cheers, but the people were clamoring when Kate finally rolled down the procession toward her wedding in a Rolls Royce. After she passed, anyone with a smart phone whipped it out and started searching the web for the first pictures of her arrival at Westminster, dying to see that dress.

Therein lies part of the new excitement with the monarchy — Kate. For as stuffy and outdated as Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and co. may seem at times, Will and Kate are all about the new role of the monarchy in society.

They are both young and accomplished. He is not resting on his laurels as a future king and she is not taking the back seat to her fiancée’s future. After eight years of courtship, they are marrying for love and, of course, he is marrying outside the traditional aristocratic circle.

Their wedding was small in comparison to other Royal events and they have, more than anything, expressed their hope for a private life together, free of the press and paparazzi as much as possible. And, most of all, the two looked genuinely happy on their wedding day — happy to be sharing the day even as millions (supposedly billions) watched and happy to think of their future together.

Will and Kate represent a monarchy that can fit into British society. Rumors are floating around that they plan to scale back monarchical feeders (people who get privileges because of distant relations to the family and such), do less of the pomp and circumstance, cut their household staff and change the rules of succession so that their first child, boy or girl, will ascend to the throne regardless of gender.

It seems, then, that the British people are excited for a monarchy that might actually seem relevant again. Recent polls have suggested that most Brits want the crown to go straight from Elizabeth to William, skipping Charles, who has been particularly unpopular since his marriage to and divorce from Diana.

The many Brits I had the pleasure of spending the Royal Wedding with expressed such dislike of Charles. They, however, frequently referred to William as “lovely” and were more than excited about Kate joining the House of Windsor.

For as cynical as many Brits may be about their ancient monarchy, yesterday proved that a soft spot for the Royals remains. Will and Kate have infused the concept of monarchy in Britain with renewed life and brought together an audience of millions, maybe billions, to celebrate their future together.