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The Wedding of the Century

Collectors are out trying to scrounge for the 66 kinds of Charles-and-Diana mugs before the ceremony, on Wednesday. Diana's face will wash your hands, dry your dishes, pour you a drink, warm a teapot, hold a pan. You can have her with your tea, on your biscuit, and as an after-dinner mint. A hundred million dollars' worth of wedding kitsch has cheered up Carnaby Street vendors and the price of Royal Worcester shares.

Gossip abounds—another proper wedding ritual. At upper-class tables, people wonder what will happen to Lady Tryon and Camilla Parker-Bowles, Charles's two blond, married lady friends, whom Daily Mail columnist Nigel Dempster inevitably refers to as HRH's closest confidantes. The aristos wonder if Charles's real friends—shooting types such as the Butter family, or his groomsman, Nicholas Soames—will ever accept Lady Diana as the real thing; they haven't seemed to yet. The public adores her; the private friends adhere to the English tradition of holding back. Oh, all very polite, of course, but, so far, a little too polite.

Anyway, Charles's grandmother is thrilled. Diana was the candidate she had been pushing all along. The Queen Mother, according to the aristos, had been competing with Lord Mountbatten, whom Charles called "HGF"—honorary grandfather. Mountbatten's candidates had been his granddaughters, the Knatchbull girls, and the queen mum had been pushing the granddaughter of her lady-in-waiting, Lady Fermoy. The surprise was that after Mountbatten's death the Queen Mother won.

"I hate the engagement," she says, "but I shall adore being married."

Mothers and grandmothers know how to push here too. Charles, for his part, seems charmed with his bride-to-be. Apparently, he fell in love with her during those weeks he was in Australia alone. He saw this glamour girl in the press every day and, according to a friend, realized that he had been pushed into marrying one cute cookie.

Meanwhile, the cute cookie has blossomed, having harpooned Wales. She's dropped a good stone. She's thrown out the middy blouses, and shops every day for strapless, backless beaded gowns. She's said she doesn't want to wear the same dress twice. Who's paying the bills, even at discount? The theory is that it's Diana's mother, the wife of a wallpaper heir. In London, people realize that both the prince and Diana's father are land-rich but cash-poor. You need more than the prince's half-million-dollar yearly income to keep up appearances.

Anyway, Mrs. Shand Kydd, Diana's mother, has obviously taught her to stay glamorous if she wants to keep her man. Frances Shand Kydd did what was impermissible in English upper-class life: She left her husband and her children and married, God help her, a man whom she loved. And the kids got a stepmother, Raine. She's nobody's favorite. In fact, just before the wedding, with all those tea towels to sell at Althorp, Raine has lost her butler. But there are larger concerns. Lloyd's of London has insured the gewgaw-makers in case Charles, not the world's greatest polo player, takes another tumble from his horse.

Tongues wag, often viciously. The talk is that Barbara Cartland was not invited to St. Paul's. One hears that the queen worried about what form of pink Diana's step-grandmother would wear, and that Cartland's announcement that she had given her invitation to her son was merely an attempt to save face. And royal hostesses, such as Liz Shakerley, the third cousin to the queen, and Serena Balfour (as in the declaration), are being hounded by old friends to allow them to bring their sudden houseguests to their balls.

There's worry too, of course, a terrible kind of too-awful-to-think-of feeling about Prince Charles. It's a kind of undercurrent, rarely discussed, except obliquely—like the way Princess Margaret's manicurist, a redhead named Pauline, frets openly about the IRA in her Mayfair shop while applying some deb's gloss. It isn't in the papers, though. But the American papers seem keyed up that something might happen—they are said to be sending street reporters as well as society editors here. At ABC, they've already planned where they will have special cameras, just in case an attempt is made. The security will be massive. Obviously. The English papers are using ambulances to get their wedding film back to Fleet Street—all of two miles. That's how blocked off the route of the procession will be.

That kind of dreadful tension somehow heightens the suspense—and the excitement. So does the scale of the public spectacle, the 750 million wedding guests who will be linked by the BBC. Once again, the subjects of the commonwealth will be united. In Calcutta and Kenya, they will watch Diana not promising to obey, with proper tears in ex-colonial eyes and Pimms' No. 1 Cup gripped in ruddy hands. Incredibly, the prince, always somewhat lonely and naïve, seems oblivious to most of these goings-on. His life has always been like this. Friends say he's somewhat confused by all the attention.


  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Aug 3, 1981 issue of New York
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