There is nothing like a wedding for inducing an attack of social paranoia. Suddenly, even the most relaxed and confident people can be crippled with the thought that somehow what they’re doing ‘isn’t right’. Bride’s who haven’t held their father’s hand in years become increasingly concerned about the correct arm to hold as he guides her up the aisle. This snowballs to become the topic of many frantic conversations, internet postings and web searches whilst the significance of getting it right, of doing the done thing becomes somehow pivotal to not just the success of the wedding day but possibly to the marriage itself and the years that follow.
So imagine then, if you will, the weight of the social rules and regulations that will tightly wrap every royal wedding with a blanket of good manners. When it’s just you and your Dad having a little shuffle around outside the church whilst you decide where to stand, it’s quite funny and really rather sweet. When everything you do is recorded, noted, played back and re-watched millions of times, it definitely isn’t.
Rewind to the start of the process – the announcement of the engagement. For us mere mortals, it’s usually the bride’s family that has the honour of announcing the engagement (if the bride and groom themselves haven’t already done the deed via e-mail or on Facebook). Mother and Father get a few moments in the spotlight, their names in ‘forthcoming marriages’ columns of The Times perhaps or maybe the local newspaper. But when you’re marrying into the royal family, you can forget being able to blurt out the big news in a moment of crazy excitement. Announcements are tightly controlled and even the wording of the official press releases lacks a certain something. Then, to add insult to injury, the announcement doesn’t even come from the Queen but rather the Queen’s Press Secretary and immediately, your big day has been delegated.
In days gone by, the court paperwork was often tied to the front railings at Buckingham Palace (in a suitably elegant frame of course) and hundreds of people would gather to see if there was any more news or excitement. Now of course, the ‘breaking news’ banners trail over TV screens everywhere and the announcement is immediately headline news. TV channels change their evening schedules, the couple in question are wheeled out to face reporters and photographers and so begins the public wedding planning. If we have a royal groom, the bride’s family, usually the head honchos in the wedding hierarchy, are definitely on the outside looking in. Statements from Sarah Ferguson’s father on the occasion of her engagement were barely mentioned in the newspaper reports of the time and are wiped completely from many of the books and souvenir supplements that followed. Mr & Mrs Middleton fared relatively well here and the statement read in the foggy garden was well received and well reported but that’s where their involvement in the announcement ended. On this incredibly happy day, they weren’t with their daughter and that must be pretty tough for any parent.
The royal wedding juggernaut also wipes the bride’s family’s name from the wedding invitations too and there is a whole new etiquette here if you’re marrying into ‘the firm’. If you’ve been lucky enough to make it onto the guest list, you shouldn’t expect your invitation to come from the Queen however because it’s The Lord Chamberlain who is in charge of gathering the RSVPs and he certainly won’t appreciate having to chase outstanding replies. The ‘average’ bride will always have firm opinions on the rights and wrongs of replying to invitations but where we can debate whether it’s ever ok to say yes by text, there is no debate here. Your RSVP to a royal wedding invitation requires your best stationery, your best handwriting and definitely a first class stamp.
The royal family are much more likely to stipulate a dress code though and have none of the worries that other brides seem to have about appearing to be strict with their guests. ‘Hats are welcome’ or ‘come dressed to impress’ are frankly givens and are not worthy of special mention. Instead, you’ll see ‘uniforms, morning dress or lounge suits’ given as instructions. Please remember that the considerate guest won’t wear a lot of metal as it does so hold up those tedious security checks and remember arriving at a royal wedding is rather like boarding a plane. The ‘economy’ class guests will be asked to arrive first, taking their seats before those in ‘business’ or ‘first’ who will enter at the last minute but everyone will be on time. At royal weddings, it is only the bride who is allowed to be late and that’s limited to the customary five minutes. No last minute family photos, no over-running with hairdresser or make-up artist, no excuses about being stuck in traffic, royal brides run to a strict timetable.
However, you should still sneak a carton of confetti into your handbag because there’s always an opportunity to hurl it at the happy couple with reckless abandon and that’s when they leave the wedding breakfast. Yes, royal couples still have to face the ‘decoration’ of their transport as they head for their honeymoon. Charles and Camilla escaped relatively lightly with some helium balloons tied to the door handles of their Rolls but The Duke & Duchess of York left with a strange satellite dish attached to the back of their coach, a gigantic teddy bear in the passenger seat and some plastic flags that looked rather like they had been picked up hurriedly at the local souvenir stand (which, of course, they might have been) draped around them.
So, if you're still a little upset that your invitation didn't arrive for 29th April, I'd content yourself that watching on TV is going to be a whole lot easier!