diamond geezer

 Saturday, April 30, 2011

I nearly watched it on the telly. I'll get a much better view from my sofa, I thought, and I'd have been right. But with actual genuine history happening up the road it seemed better to go and experience the Royal Wedding first hand. I could always watch it on telly later, and fast forward through Fearne Cotton for good measure.

Getting into St James's Park before 9am was easy, no queues, no security checks, nothing. Nobody was queueing for burgers or Pimms - too early - and the police were merely smiling intently and offering directions. At the Radio 2 bandstand, where Chris Evans was wandering round in an oversize Union Jack hat, the crowd sounded much larger than it really was. But I was still far too late to get a decent vantage point alongside the Mall. All the front pitches had gone on Thursday, and I'd have needed to arrive rather earlier to be less than five rows back. It was still possible to see the road surface, but only because I was tall enough, and only in thin slivers between earlybirds. And every time a vehicle - any vehicle - went by, the entire view disappeared behind a sea of flags, periscopes and raised cameras. Best move on.

I plumped for a pitch at the far end of St James's Park, on a slight mound overlooking Horseguards Parade. Still five rows back, but here any passing horse or carriage should be visible, plus I'd have the chance to watch the procession snaking away across the parade ground. My fellow watchers were a mixed bunch, from Home Counties ladies to foreign students, plus girls in Middleton masks and extremely bored eight year-olds. The first Bentley earned whoops and cheers, not that the crowd around me had a clue it contained William and Harry until they were told. And then came seven royal coaches, although these were executive coaches with tinted windows ferrying tails and millinery to the Abbey [photo]. Charles and Camilla waved past later, then the primrose Queen and finally Ms Middleton wearing her no-longer secret dress. Snap snap blur snap gone.

While you were watching the service (assuming you bothered), we were listening to it. Radio 4's commentary boomed out from well-disguised speakers, from the opening I Was Glad to the final Crown Imperial. Some in the crowd sang along to the first hymn, most applauded the I Wills, but we could only imagine what the rest of the world was seeing. A detachment of Coldstream Guards took the opportunity to line up along the roadside, precisely, but seemingly not impeccably enough for the officer who then walked past tweaking and fluffing up each soldier's bearskin. Every so often a Scout wandered behind us trying to flog official programmes, but most already had one, and the rest didn't dare step out from their spot in the crowd. A bottle of champagne popped to Jerusalem, while the lady next to me celebrated by declingfilming a ham sandwich.

Expectant chatter, until finally the State Landau emerged through the Horseguards arch. Bloke in red, woman in white, smiling broadly [photo]. They'll do hundreds of royal appointments as a married couple, but waving at us was their very first. The next coach dwarfed its bridesmaid contents, then came some trotting horsemen, then the Queen again. I saw them all for a fleeting few seconds, and would have seen them for longer if only the crowd hadn't been quite so obsessed in taking umpteen souvenir photos and videos of everything that passed. Once it was enough simply to attend an event like this, but now you need a Facebook album to prove it.

After the royal minibuses came the Westminster council cleaning vans, reversing as necessary over piles of horse manure to remove them from the road. And then nothing much, apart from several soldiers and policemen, so I relocated to the top of The Mall and waited. The place to be, I'd heard, so as to be near the start of the pedestrian charge down to the Palace. First came the Scouts, the Brownies and other uniformed youth, behind a slow-moving mounted police cordon. When would we mere bystanders be permitted to follow? Not long, because some opportunistic spectators nearby took matters into their own hands and broke apart the double-layered metal barriers. Had they tried this anywhere else a police officer would surely have noticed and gestured us back, but we were in a security blind spot so slipped out with ease. To the balcony!!

It's a long walk down the Mall, but there was something rather special about being almost near the front of this genteel stampede [photo]. Those with flags waved them, especially when the press photographer in our midst ran up his stepladder and requested a cheer. And you could tell that those trapped on the other side of the barriers, who'd previously been in prime position, were now secretly seething that they were stuck impotently within the confines of the Park. We fortunate throng moved ahead in stages, so as not to encourage running, eventually reaching the broad circus around the Victoria Memorial. It was important to get further ahead than this, because the Victory statue perfectly blocked all views of imminent snog action. Left or right, take your pick, then scuttle forward [photo]. And by the end of the manoeuvre I was so much closer to the railings than I'd ever dreamed it was possible to get.

"Excuse me" said the pushy lady trying to squeeze in from the right. She passed by, but the bloke she was with stopped immediately in front of me and held aloft a camera on a pole. "Take that down!" yelled the crowd behind, and he did, but only temporarily. When the Duke and Duchess stepped out onto the balcony up it went, then briefly down so as not to get lynched, than back up again. If you're reading this, you selfish twat, you're a selfish twat. But look, there they were, temporarily the two most famous faces on the planet, beaming out across a mammoth crowd stretching way back towards Admiralty Arch. The other senior wedding guests emerged and spread out, from the unlikely Middletons across to next-up Harry [photo]. So trusted are the British public that we thousands had been allowed to get right up close to this premier shooting gallery, unfrisked, on the basis that we'd only take aim and fire with our cameras. And that gamble paid off, in spades.

They kissed. You'll have seen it, courtesy of the mass wall of media lenses lined up beneath the Victoria Memorial [photo], but some of us saw it for real. They kissed again, in case anyone missed it, which was a bonus. And then they gestured up the Mall as a low drone grew steadily louder, and three wartime warhorses approached [top photo]. Much more impressive from beneath their path than they appeared on TV, and far more so than the four technological marvels which followed. With the marriage thus blessed by engines of aerial death, it was time for the royal party to withdraw. One last chance for the next-but-one King and his bride to stand and wave, then back inside to the reception and the start of a decades-long wait.

I nearly watched it on the telly. But how much more historic to say "I was there".

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