London quiet on the eve of William and Kate's wedding

While 2 billion people are expected to watch Friday's royal nuptials, London was downright quiet the day before.

Nir Elias/Reuters
A flag with the faces of Prince William and his soon-to-be bride Kate Middleton is seen opposite Westminster Abbey, in central London, on April 28.

With royal family wedding rehearsals over, there’s less than 24 hours before Prince William and Catherine Middleton exchange vows in the "wedding of the century."

Yet the atmosphere in London is actually calm and quiet ahead of Friday's 11 a.m. ceremony. Londoners have a bright interest in the event, and the love story behind it; new polls show 70 percent of British support the monarchy and that William is now the most popular member of the royal family. (Ms. Middleton is tracking at third, behind the Queen.)

But there’s no tidal wave of wedding-mania, few shouting groupies, and little high-pitched buzz down King Street or in Piccadilly Circus.

A day before 2 billion people are expected to watch “Kate and Wills” intimate vows and balcony kiss at Buckingham Palace (weather permitting) there’s a pleasant but not surging interest in the big day. That he's a royal and she's a middle-class woman with an art history degree is a fully sated story line.

Most locals standing outside the Red Lion and the Three Crowns pubs off St. James square, having read about Middleton and William's relationship for nearly a decade, plan to leave for the extended weekend and won’t watching the wedding.

“I’m going to the south of France,” says Stephen Gantry, a lawyer. “I’m going to Botswana,” says his law partner Geoff. “Really! I’m off, too,” chortles Judith Edwards when the question turns to whether it is just men that may not be that into the wedding.

“Excitement built last week, but that’s deflated... . What I note is how quiet it is in London,” says Jasmine Birtles, a London commentator and financial website owner who spoke from the underground to Heathrow where she planned to depart. “It seems now we are either in a mass exodus, or people plan a lie down in the garden on wedding day.”

Pub talk, when it does focus on the wedding, a tradition dating to the 11th century, tends to be over whether it will rain on Friday, whether Middleton will wear her hair up or down at the ceremony, and when the endlessly discussed but still unseen wedding dress and its designer will appear.

Few scandals, little tabloid fodder

Middleton and William in fact are giving the tabloids scant if any scandal or bad behavior to regurgitate. And there’s little chance this is changing. They plan to resume their lives as a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot and wife who will probably work and spend a lot of time with her family.

The bride and groom “seem to love each other and look happy together,” says F. Philippou, owner of a barber shop in Mayfair for more than 50 years. “That’s already an improvement.”

This week the main passionate declarations about the couple came from historian David Starkey who said the couple had little “grand passion” were a “pragmatic match … remarkably equal.” The couple reflects a post-royal and elite sensibility in Britain that Mr. Starkey attributes to the colossal failure of the Prince Charles and Diana wedding.

“The great legacy left by Diana is that our expectations toward the royal family have changed,” Starkey says. “As a result, Kate has had a much easier time. We no longer expect perfection from our royals. If they have changed, we too as a society have grown up.”

The real issues here are across-the-board budget cuts and economic pain. If anything, the two principals are getting props for trying to put on a more “real” and “human scale” wedding appropriate for the times. Middleton’s touches already a surfeit of small green trees imported into stony Westminster Abbey, a set of vows that are expected not to include the word “obey,” and for hanging out unpretentiously with her sister Pippa. William played a game of soccer with friends in a downtown park.

The main words Londoners use in describing the pair are “good,” “decent,” and “normal.” The Daily Mail today put out a front-page photo of Middleton on an errand calling her “the queen of calm” – which seems to match the wedding Zeitgeist.

No Blair or Brown?

Even tabloid controversies here are small scale: Today the wedding invitation to the Syrian ambassador was withdrawn following concern that a massacre could take place in that country as its representative sat in Westminster for the wedding.

More pointed here is criticism of the royal family, which is supposed to be scrupulously nonpartisan, for not inviting former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Previous Tory leaders Margaret Thatcher and John Major are invited, as are guests that include the king of Swaziland.

The Times of London today editorialized about what it called “the blunder” of not inviting Labor prime ministers Blair and Brown, “two men who served William’s grandmother … for a total of 13 years,” in a guest list of more than 2,000 people.

“The royals cannot afford to appear to favor one political party over another,” the Times said. After the tragic death of Princess Diana, it added, “The royals were lucky to have Mr. Blair on hand to give expression to the national mood in a way that they could not. It ought not to have been too much trouble to have offered him a seat at Westminster Abbey.”

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