Royal Weddings: Looking Forward… And Back

BY Sarah C. Sullivan  November 18, 2010 at 5:35 PM EDT


Commemorative plate of Prince William and Kate Middleton. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

After 30 years, the United Kingdom has another royal wedding.

The engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton showcases the social and cultural changes of the past three decades. Shortly after the official royal announcement was made, social media networks were abuzz: “The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh are absolutely delighted at the news of Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s engagement,” the Queen tweeted. Word spread quickly. The British Monarchy Facebook page posted links to the official statement on its “wall.” It also uploaded photos on Flickr. And by 10 a.m. Tuesday, #royalwedding was the No. 1 trending topic on UK Twitter accounts.

Parallels are already being drawn between this royal wedding and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. “The wedding of William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, in July 1981, was the first great, glamorous and royal romance to come along in the age of television,” said Bonnie Angelo, who covered the wedding as the London Bureau Chief for Time magazine. It drew an estimated 750 million television viewers. But the nuptials of William and Catherine, as she will now be known, will be the first royal wedding in the UK in the age of social media and 24-hour news coverage. “That could change a lot,” Angelo said. “We weren’t quite as saturated then as we are now.”

The British media is fixated. Speculations as to the venue, the cost and the guest list abound on nearly every news and information-sharing platform. France 24 said that Britain was in “full hysteria mode” over the royal engagement.

But some argue that with constant social media and TV attention, the wedding won’t draw the same level of interest. “I think people are much more sophisticated now,” Angelo said. “They are used to big events. TV blankets the world.”

The NewsHour’s Ray Suarez, who covered the nuptials in London for Mutual News, sees it differently. “Social media creates a constant narrative, but I don’t think social media will dampen the excitement,” he said. “It seems to increase demand for information; it involves more people. Everyone becomes his own reporter.”

Some elements of the wedding are expected to follow tradition. Kate Middleton is now wearing the engagement ring that William’s mother, Princess Diana, once wore. And the Associated Press reported Thursday that Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Lady Diana were married, are front-runners for the location.

There is also some parity in economic circumstances between the two weddings. “We had grown used to having stories about miners’ strikes coming out of Britain and then there was this glorious romance,” Bonnie Angelo said, describing the atmosphere of the last royal wedding. Three million people were unemployed. The upcoming wedding, too, will come at a time of austerity. Just a few weeks ago, the British government’s national spending review outlined cuts of 83 billion pounds, aimed at cutting the national deficit.

But like the last royal wedding, this one is expected to draw significant revenue. “Money gushed into London,” Suarez recalled. “Every single hotel room for 50 miles was full; pubs were jammed as soon as they were re-opened after the wedding,” he said. “The night before the wedding, three-quarters of a million people flooded Hyde Park to view the most expensive show ever seen in Britain. Everybody was making money.”

Interest in the royal family and Britain has stood the test of time. “Overall, people are keen about the royal family,” Angelo said. And Suarez noted, “Instead of the country where Queen Victoria once said, ‘We are not amused,’ Britain has become a country were almost anything goes.”

“The British really do know how to bring out the pomp and circumstance,” Angelo added. “That royal wedding did a lot to restore the luster of the throne. And I think this new wedding gives them a new era of pizzaz.”