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In London, Spring – and Royal Wedding Festivities – Are in the Air

Master Taylor Lance Sergeant Matthew Else inspects the cut of Irish Guards’ uniforms at Victoria barracks in Windsor. The guards will perform ceremonial duties at the wedding. (Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

In a week, Prince William and Kate Middleton will tie the knot at Westminster Abbey in London. We checked in with GlobalPost’s correspondent in London, Michael Goldfarb, for a preview of the April 29 festivities.

Not only are people attending the wedding getting gussied up, but the city is as well. Can you describe what London looks like now?

MICHAEL GOLDFARB: We are having our spring and summer combined this moment. As we head into Easter weekend, the papers are gleefully telling everyone that it’s warmer and sunnier in London than it is in Barcelona or Rome. People aren’t looking down, they’re just looking up because the sky is blue and that’s very rare.

The decorations will go up closer to the day, but I think you’ll find this will be a short and very intense moment. It will hit everyone and then it will go away. In my neighborhood of Stoke Newington, the graffiti artist Banksy — or an imitator — has been putting up a stencil of the royal couple and people have been defacing them.

What are the costs involved with the wedding, such as added security, and how will they compare with the revenue coming in from visitors?

GOLDFARB: At any royal event, numbers get thrown about like rice after the ceremony. The total costs of staging the wedding are estimated to be between 20 million and 30 million pounds (or US$33 million to $50 million). Reports are that at least half a million pounds will be paid in overtime for extra policing.

Another associated cost is that we’ve been given an extra day off. The wedding day is now a bank holiday, the following Monday is a bank holiday. This week, Good Friday and Easter Monday are bank holidays. It’s been estimated that these two back-to-back weekends might cost the economy 2.9 billion pounds.

But that figure doesn’t include what will come into the economy in London via tourism. That’s difficult to figure out, too. Advertisements say you can make 250 pounds a night to let someone stay in your flat or home. So there’s business going on. There will be a lot of visitors coming down, some from other parts of Britain and thousands from the United States and from overseas. So money will be coming into the economy, even as Londoners take advantage of the back-to-back four-day weekends to bugger off.

British Union Jack flags line London’s Regent Street for the upcoming wedding. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

How are Londoners themselves viewing the festivities — as a major inconvenience, or are they taking it in stride?

GOLDFARB: We’re having a block party in our apartment development, where there’s a central piazza with a fountain. There have been discussions about setting up tables and having a tea party with homemade cakes to celebrate. And I do think there will be a fair number of these street parties.

My guess, though, is that most of the people you’ll see in the crowds of television shots won’t be Londoners. We’re like New Yorkers. New Yorkers don’t go to the Statue of Liberty or the top of the Empire State Building. Londoners don’t really turn out that much for this sort of event. You can watch it at home and have a drink in the garden. The bride arrives at the abbey at 11 a.m. and it will all be done and dusted in about 50 minutes.

How does this wedding compare to that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana?

GOLDFARB: It isn’t as big for a number of reasons. One is the monarchy is much less mystical now than it was 30 years ago when the prince of Wales had found someone who was also of blue blood — indeed her family had been ennobled in England when the House of Windsor (originally Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) was still a minor royal house in the German-speaking world. They weren’t even a part of English life. The glamor of it, partially because Diana was so glamorous, won’t be matched by this.

But most important is we live in tabloid times. The fact that they’ve been living together for years, they’ve broken up in public, has demystified it. So while there’s a huge interest and a huge reservoir of good will for William, all of this adds up to a demystification of the event.

I think people are interested because Britain is going through some very difficult times at the moment, the class war aspects that existed 30 years ago don’t exist anymore. And I think people are just looking forward to having an extra day off and an occasion to say this is one thing that we still do incredibly well.

A lot of people don’t give a hoot about the wedding, but why do many others care?

GOLDFARB: I think it goes back to Diana. The modern age of celebrity began in New York, but like a fire Diana was the accelerant that turned a containable fire into a conflagration. She combined all kinds of stuff and then the dramatic nature of her life, the disintegration of her marriage and her tragic death turned the world into — we’re voyeurs now. There’s only one royal family left on Earth with any Q-factor and that’s the House of Windsor. The prince is a good-looking guy, Kate is a good-looking woman, and they just fit the bill. Just like any upper middle-class couple who meet at university, and go about their careers. They’ve had some tough times. Now they’re back together and are going to finally tie the knot. I think a lot of people identify with that.

For those of you who are interested, we’ve collected a few resources about the wedding:

  • For devoted wedding watchers, you can watch the Royal Channel on YouTube, which will stream the wedding proceedings live on April 29 and we’re planning some live coverage right here on the NewsHour’s website as well. Stay tuned for details.
  • The Washington Post is blogging about all things royal wedding-related, including Kate’s latest shopping spree and pizzas you can order with the happy couple’s likeness in toppings.
  • Wonder where Prince William stands in the royal line of succession to the throne? Reuters has the list.
  • If you’re as obsessed with hats as the Brits (unlikely), view ABC News’ report on the proper toppers.
  • Can’t wait for the actual event? If you’re not among the 8 million viewers who have already seen it, take a look at the T-Mobile spoof of the ceremony:

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