Britons and monarchy -- a serious fairy tale
London — It was a splendid affair -- a new Princess of Wales, a wife for the heir to an enduring and popular throne, and a day filled with pomp, pageantry, color, and tradition.
It magnified, yet retained, the human and spiritual qualities of marriage on which society still so largely depends.
For the huge, good-natured crowds waving, shouting, jumping up and down, and peering through hastily purchased cardboard periscopes along the procession route, it was a day for fervent patriotism, high adventure and -- as many freely conceded -- of romantic escape from gloomy economic and riot headlines.
As Sir Winston Churchill said of Queen Elizabeth's own marriage in 1947, it was "a flash of color on the hard road we have to travel."
While television cameras beamed details to a global audience estimated at some 750 million people, I gave up this newspaper's seat in St. Paul's Cathedral to look for the spirit of the occasion among the crowds on The Mall, and on Ludgate Hill leading up to the cathedral.
Everywhere I met people who identified the monarchy with Britain itself. Older people were more patriotic than the young, who supported the royal family but who had also come for the sheer excitement of it all -- camping out for a night on hard concrete pavements, sharing tips on where to buy the cheapest soft drinks, wearing outlandish hats, and vying with each other to see who could think up new ways to use the Union Jack.
There were Union Jack hats, cloaks, socks, muumuu dresses, Union Jacks daubed onto suntanned backs with body paint, flags, pennants, and more.
Pauline and David Cheeseman of Colchester, in Essex, didn't mean to come and spend Tuesday night on Ludgate Circus at all -- not until their teen-age daughter Jane suddenly said, "Let's do it."
"We'd had our baths, and were in our nightdresses," said red-haired, cheerful Pauline as we shared the same square foot of sidewalk for several hours under a thankfully warm sun throughout the Wednesday morning.
"We hadn't gone up to Hyde Park for the big firework display that night [July 28], and we really meant to stay home and see the wedding on television, too," she said.
"But then we saw that bonfire at Windsor on television," David chipped in. Jane said, 'Oh come on, we have to go,' and so we all got dressed again and drove in, about 60 miles.
"I'd been in the city all day" (he services and repairs office equipment) "but there I was. We got here about 1 in the morning, parked the car on the other side of Blackfriars Bridge, and settled down. It was a long night, but an exciting one, too exciting to sleep."
All three Cheesemans agreed that the monarchy was Britain, and vice versa. They were glad they had come -- even as a large white police security van suddenly parked in front of us, cutting off half our view.
When we all protested and asked the van to pull back a little, we were told by a stern policewoman that it was filled with armed police and "special equipment." It had to stay on duty, "orders from above." An armed man had been caught the previous night somewhere near the route: No chances could be taken.
The Cheesemans nodded. Security. A reminder of the workaday, often dangerous world waiting for them after the big day was over. They stopped protesting. And later, police moved the metal barricades forward several feet to give our group a much better view.
Isabel Warren, mother of two, wife of a policeman, and an executive with a city employment agency, waved and cheered as hard as her daughters.
"It's a new lease of life for royalty," she said in an impeccable upper-class accent. "A wife for Charles, who will be King someday. Children, continuity. Diana is young and attractive and appeals to many people because of her naturalness.
"Oh, it's a patriotic day for me. Not that I meant to stay down for the whole night: our daughters were caught in the half-million people at the fireworks show, and couldn't get home to Teddington, so I came in to pick them up and, well, decided to stay and camp out."
A young couple behind me thought carefully before answering my question about what the day meant to them.
"Well," said the husband, "I wouldn't say there's all that strong a feeling for the monarchy among young people. But a day like this, well, it's history, isn't it? I want to be able to say I was there. . . . And the royals are OK. They're OK."
Up on Ludgate Hill, Helen Gwyfoor from Bradford, in Yorkshire, age 17, was more emphatic.
"Brilliant, that's what they are," she said, using one of the new "in words" among the young here. "Lovely. We came down by coach [bus] on Saturday, stayed with friends, and camped out on Tuesday afternoon. We've got, let's see, plastic bags to sleep on, and squashed sandwiches, and melted chocolate. . . . But don't get soft drink from that shop there. Forty fence he charges [75 cents ]. Get it at the news agent's next door for 25p [45 cents]."
At the other end of the route, on the wide, red-paved Mall, Barbara Reynolds of Orpington in Kent beamed with pleasure. You don't have to have it explained to you if you're British," she said, with a wave at the colorful scene spread out before her -- flags, pennants, green trees, and smiling faces.
"I'm British, and proud of it. . . . This is Britain to me. I was here for the Queen Mother's 80th birthday, and for the Queen's silver jubilee. . . . All of them. Wouldn't miss it.
"All you need is a folding chair, and a rubber matress, and children or grandchildren to run around and have fun."
Teen-ager Frances Greene, also of Bradford, said unemployment was high in the north of England, but the royal family was popular and attractive. "Nothing like them," she said. "Marvelous."
Down near Ludgate Circus, Esmie Anderson of Miami Beach, a freelance fashion model, was one American who did come, despite the decision of many of her countrymen to stay home and watch it on TV.
"I made up my mind three weeks ago to come and then go on to visit France," she said. "Sure, I like the monarchy, but what I really like is London -- even thought it is so expensive," she rolled her eyes. "One pound [$1.86] for a cup of tea. Twenty-four pounds  for a night for bed and breakfast in a small hotel. . . . Oh well. I wouldn't have missed it, anyway."
The entire crowd cheered lustily when it heard the firm voice of Prince Charles saying "I will" over loudspeakers from St. Paul's Cathedral. It cheered again when Diana followed suit. It cheered to the skies when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, pronounced the couple man and wife.
The crowd almost lifted the heavens as the Prince in his Navy commander's dress uniform, and his princess, in a romantic swirl of ivory silk taffeta and antique lace, hand-embroidered with mother-of-pearl sequins and pearls, rode back to Buckingham Palace in the maroon 1902 semi-state landau. It was open, despite security fears. A silver horseshoe for good fortune set on the crimson silk seat opposite the couple.
And when the prince and princess appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace , hundreds of thousands packed around the Queen Victoria Memorial and down The Mall gave them a tumultuous welcome -- which grew even louder and more exuberant when the Prince leaned over and kissed his bride in full view.
The new Princess is already one of the most popular figures in the royal circle. "A new lease of life," indeed.