Notes From a Royal Wedding

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The great thing about a royal wedding is that it’s the ultimate national Groundhog Day. All those cartoon faces doing all the same things, except it ends in a gloriously different way. And however cynical you feel at the outset, it’s impossible to resist the potent images of historical bonding. The glimmering veiled bride, driven slowly on her mystical journey from Kate the commoner to Her Royal Highness; the tall, virile prince in the scarlet military uniform who awaits her at the altar; the queen herself, tiny and implacable in daffodil yellow. The soaring sounds of “Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer,” beloved by the Welsh rugby crowds.

You just succumb. You just roll over. Nothing to be done except count up the score of past versus present. The couple—their chemistry lit up the screen. Compare it with the tango of uneasy body language every time Charles and Diana appeared as a couple. When Catherine’s eyes met William’s over the marriage vows at the Abbey, there was a powerful vibe of contented sexual understanding. Her gaze was level and demure, secure in the long years of his affection. He returned it with a look that said, I trust.

The Middleton family
Catherine’s mother, Carole, can say goodbye to all the tabloid sniping about her origins as an air stewardess. She looked so naturally chic in her stone-blue Catherine Walker coat dress. Let the tabs just acknowledge that Mrs. Middleton’s aspirational parenting has been flawless. During eight years of scorching press scrutiny of the woman they sneeringly tabbed “doors to manual” (an airline joke), there’s been no leaking or trashing from this supportive family circle. I sensed no social triumph in Carole’s demeanor as the wedding progressed. Instead I saw a mother pensive with the knowledge of how completely she will now yield up her beloved daughter. However deep their bond, from this day the mighty Windsor machine inevitably takes over. Kate will henceforth be addressed by others as Ma’am. She belongs to Them, and also to the nation.

The Dress
It perfectly expressed the slinky image of classical modernity. It was a daring high-fashion designer choice in Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, but the tight-fitting bodice and cautious nine-foot train managed to be seductive and regal at the same time. The veil was a light dust of snow over the glow of her face. Thank God no frightful experimental updo, or a burqa-like swath of taffeta like the one that hid Diana’s blushing young face. Kate’s decision to keep her usual glossy brown cascade pinned back by the queen’s discreet 1936 diamond Cartier tiara was another example of her instinctive good taste. Everything about her actions, to and for William, is about creating a feeling of safe continuity: You know me. I am here.

The best single takeaway from the wedding is how fast Catherine has morphed into a future monarch. The new Duchess of Cambridge has a sleek, natural poise. Forget her new status as a duchess and a princess. This woman with no patrician forebears is ready for the throne already. The irony, new for Britain, but so familiar to Americans, is that her strength derives from those very humble origins. The fact that she comes from flinty, northern coal-miner stock. Her grandmother Dorothy always said she wanted to be the “top brick on the chimney.” Her mother’s dynamism built the family fortune with a party-favor business she threw together on the kitchen table. Catherine’s stoic temperament was evident in that endless eight-year courtship. What was not evident was something perhaps William saw before anyone else—that Catherine was the kind of gorgeous, equable woman who, like his great-grandmother the Queen Mother, would stay in London during the Blitz.

The Guests
Wounding for Tony Blair not to make the cut. Or his successor in 10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown. To include two Tory prime ministers, John Major and the incumbent David Cameron, but not the last two Labour P.M.s, was a bad whiff of ye olde crusty England (made worse by the lame palace excuse that Blair and Brown are not Knights of the Garter). I would count these omissions, though glaring, as perhaps the sole wrong calculation in the otherwise flawlessly well-considered crowd choreography. I am told William nixed Blair because he didn’t like the overpersonal recollection Blair wrote about him in his recent memoir, and the queen didn’t save him because she is sick of the myth—perpetrated by Stephen Frears’s movie starring Helen Mirren—that the then-P.M.’s great advice “saved” the monarchy when the crowd turned ugly after Diana’s death. Still, Blair did win three elections and run the country for more than 10 years. Is he really less consequential than the dodgy foreign royals, representatives of toppling Middle Eastern despots—and even Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson—who made the list?

The Gaggle of Friends
Some subtle groundhogging to be found in the names of all William’s friends at the Abbey. So many of them are the offspring or relatives of the same old squierarchy Diana referred to with dread as “heavy furniture,” or the Highgrove Set. William, like his dad, hangs out with a gaggle of Van Cutsems, Van Straubenzees, Parker Bowleses, and Palmer-Tomkinsons. (Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, 39-year-old daughter of Charles’s friends Patti and Charles, was last heard of when her nose collapsed from overenthusiastic cocaine consumption, but you would never know it last Friday as she made her way grandly to her seat in an electric-blue confection with what appeared to be a small upturned canoe on her head.) The difference with the new lot (perhaps to be known as the Cambridge Set for William and Kate’s new ducal title): they tend to have racy, entrepreneurial-sounding jobs like running an Internet concierge service or a party-planning agency. But these are just today’s way of selling your contacts book.

Only the hats take no prisoners in the class wars. British tradition dictates that the posher you are, the more eccentric the headgear. Perhaps years of suppressed emotion are to blame for the appearance of these small feather explosions or enormous organza transponders. A galleon in full sail seemed to float atop Camilla’s noggin. (How times have changed. The once racy mistress of Prince Charles is now ripe for casting as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.) Sarah Ferguson’s unfortunate older daughter, Princess Beatrice, plumped for a “fascinator” of entwined prawn-colored entrails. Someone should arrest Philip Treacy, the fashionable milliner who made both of them. Catherine’s sister, Pippa, however, got everything right. That cowled Sarah Burton column in ivory crepe was a Twitter sensation.

The Spencer Clan
Weren’t snubbed, as some tried to say, just not that well advertised. Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, who breathed fire from the pulpit at her funeral when he hurled recriminations at the royal family for the way they treated his sister, is now on his about-to-be third wife and looked almost as relaxed and cheerfully overweight as Elton John. And Prince Harry may be a Windsor, but in coloration and temperament he is indubitably a flaming-red Spencer. I love the way even in his crisp captain’s uniform of the Household Cavalry there’s a roguish hint of dishevelment about his hair.

The Future King
No prince of the realm has been as good at the democratic touch as William, unless you count Prince Hal as written by Shakespeare in Henry IV. You see it reflected in his off-duty clothes, an everyman hoodie slung over his (nonetheless) classic Jermyn Street shirt worn with a pair of sneakers. On the wedding eve he plays soccer with his buddies in Battersea Park, then hops on his Ducati motorbike back to Clarence House.

When he spontaneously comes out with Harry and mingles with the ecstatic crowd, it’s the YouTube version of the night before Agincourt. Maybe the coolest image of the day was William at the wheel of his father’s convertible Aston Martin with a smiling Catherine beside him, as they rolled out of Buckingham Palace courtyard for some post-wedding downtime.

The Diana Factor
It was stamped on every minute of the proceedings, not just because the networks couldn’t resist the flashback glories to that Other Wedding, but because none of what we saw last week could have happened without her. Her own marriage to Charles may have failed, but her parenting, like Carole Middleton’s, was a blazing success. After so many years of being defined by her last tragic years, the old footage the networks played reminded us what an incredible mother she was to William and Harry. In those precious times alone with them, how unneurotic she was! Toting 9-month-old William around with her on her first royal tour of Australia (the only royal woman at that time ever to take a child along); careening down the water slide with her boys at Thorpe Park, Britain’s “national thrill capital,” she was so clearly a magical, fun-loving mom, or as Harry acknowledged at her memorial service in 2007, at the Guards Chapel near Buckingham Palace, “the best mother in the world.” It was Diana who wired William with some innate radar to look for a soulmate who had a strong family bond. She never had it with her own family, nor did Prince Charles, the sad prince who betrayed her but became a caring father. As we head toward Mother’s Day we should bless Diana for that.