In 1981, the entire world was focused on the wedding of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and Lady Diana Spencer, a shy Earl's daughter suddenly thrust into the international media spotlight. I was a student in London, a young girl barely able to concentrate on my studies because I was so enthralled with all the details of the royal wedding.
School was closed as the wedding day was declared a "bank holiday," and I left Oxford at 5 a.m. with three American friends, Nancy, Bill and Beth. We stood at the Admiralty Arch along the route of the wedding party, full of wonder and excitement, and cheered and celebrated along with all the Brits. They were decked out in all manner of festive gear: hats, tiaras (not loaned to them by the Queen), flags and generally outlandish get-ups. I wore red, white and blue flowers in my hair. My friends had tri-folded hats made out of the British flag.
After the procession passed, we "tucked" into a pub and watched the ceremony on the telly. We accepted the Moss Brothers department store's invitation to pop in for some Moet & Chandon, and then we made our way back to the mall to watch the return to Buckingham Palace. The new Princess of Wales was glowing, and her radiant presence more than made up for the visible reserve of her groom.
I returned to Oxford that day utterly exhausted, but filled with belief in the fairy tale of love and happiness and what the Archbishop of Canterbury had said as Charles and Diana stood before him: "Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made." I carried that tenet back to America, where in the three decades that followed I learned with the rest of the world that fairy tales don't always come true.
Fast forward to 2010, the engagement announcement of Prince William and an unknown commoner, Kate Middleton, was déjà vu of that wonderful summer. In 30 years, the world and the British monarchy had greatly changed. Princess Diana had died, Prince Charles had remarried, Prince Andrew had married and divorced, Prince Edward had gotten married, cell phones had become a new part of the human anatomy and I was supposed to have grown up.
Before I knew it, I was trying to locate Nancy, Beth and Bill to arrange a "Royal Wedding Reunion." I was only able to find Nancy, whom I'd kept in touch with sporadically over the years. She'd been at my own version of a fairy-tale wedding, but sadly that union lasted just slightly longer than Charles and Diana's.
So here we were, three decades later, in London at another royal wedding. We were older, sure, but still girls at heart. It's not often you get to do something so memorable again. We had mortgages back home this time, and responsibilities we never imagined in 1981 as our still-unknown futures lay before us. But it took no time to revel in the feelings of the past -- and to once again get caught up in the fairy tale.
Since we had not made the 1,900-person guest list, we scouted out places with potential view vantage. Westminster Abbey was besieged by those camping out in order to get the first glimpse of Kate's dress. Tents, blankets, sleeping bags and people of all ages, from crying babies to retirees (called pensioners in Great Britain), were crammed into the area.
We soon realized that even if we were able to deploy our tactical skills from before, these people were likely to get violent if you slipped in front of them after they'd endured the worst conditions for a seconds-only glimpse of the future princess. We did, however, get lucky enough to see Middleton and her family as they left the church from a last-minute rehearsal.
We checked out several sights while we gathered our wedding paraphernalia -- flags, crowns and periscopes -- but finally decided our best plan was an early departure on the tube to the Mall, where the wedding party would go to and from the Abbey.
The tube was busy and buzzing with excitement. Nancy asked a guy a question, and history seemed to repeat itself. Instead of Bill and Beth, we were now hooked up with Marcus and Verity, off to claim our spot in the hopes of seeing everything possible.
I have never attended a party with more than a million guests, but it seemed I was about to. You had to push and plod through throngs of people; it was much more congested than it had been in 1981.
We walked by Clarence House, where Prince William and Prince Harry would leave from -- but no sign of them. Continuing on through St. James Park, there were crowds everywhere. I looked for a woman I'd met outside my hotel the night before, pushing what she called a "Danish family bike." In American terms, it looked like a small covered wagon, but she assured me that four children were in there sleeping and she would pedal it the remaining 10 miles to St. James.
The four of us made our way along the park's edge, finally settling on a spot that was not quite as crowded. That's where we stood... and stood. The spirit around us was amazing. It was as if time had stopped. It wasn't just the Brits, either. We met so many Americans and more nationalities than I can remember. They were overjoyed and it wasn't all from champagne -- although it was flowing everywhere. A lively group of Cambridge residents who were thrilled with the titles given to William and Kate (Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) had even prepared a special wedding cake with a copy of Kate's engagement ring on top.
And then the procession started. A little girl seated on her dad's shoulders was our lookout. She obviously had a high royal I.Q., as she knew who everyone was. She'd shout out "Charles," and all cameras would fly up and begin clicking. We could see through the periscope, but unless you made a fast dash to the front row, you had to rely on this little girl's word and your camera image.
As with everything magical, the royal wedding was soon over. We walked through the streets still elated, picking up discarded programs and flags, hugging and getting hugged by strangers.
Yes, things changed in 30 years: more people, a different cast, a genuine love between the new prince and princess. But things stayed the same too. For all the disconcerting remarks about the British monarchy, they truly reigned -- not on the throne, but in people's hearts, and in the heart of one American girl who lost track of time for another magical day.
Patti Lawson is an award-winning author and columnist who lives in Charleston, W.V. Her first book, "The Dog Diet, A Memoir," is the story of her beloved adopted canine companion, Sadie. A lawyer by day, she is completing a book for women lawyers and a legal guide for dog owners. To buy Patti's books and to learn more about her, visit Red Room.
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