Through fashionable London the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton is causing confusion. Privately, the snoots of Islington and Notting Hill are no different from the rest of us. They think Kate looks cracking and RAF pilot William would make a fine son-in-law. Is there not always something irresistible, my dears, about a tall, young prince with a chopper?
Yet metropolitan smoothness makes them hesitate. Is royal fever socially wise? Is it ever acceptable for a cool cat in designer denim to wave little Union flags and sing the national anthem? Metro-smoothies fret about expressing their gaiety at this fairytale wedding. They do not want to be reported to Commissar Polly Toynbee. They fear being haunted by the ghost of republican Claire Rayner.
How, in the London of gel-haired mockneys and Will Self wannabes, should an off-the-peg lefty ‘play’ the royal wedding?
1. Matrimony Goes against everything you learned on the knees of your Spare Rib-reading parents. Of dubious value from a tax point of view, too, and so kinda adult. Scary! Unless you are leader of the Labour party, there is no need to panic and get hitched. You can rationalise this wedding as a dynastic-political act which has no wider social significance. That’s what to tell your long-term lover, anyway.
2. Street parties Not as unsound as they might seem. You have a natural horror of mixing with hoi polloi but a street party can mean street cred. They’re retro. Bunting, trestle tables, little paper bowls containing jelly and ice cream — it’s all wildly 1977 Silver Jubilee, with a hint of the Sex Pistols and the Callaghan government. This is a great look just now. The bigger and gaudier the decorations, the better. You can claim you were simply partaking in pastiche. If caught wiping away a tear when Kate and Wills step out of the Abbey’s west door as man and wife, laugh it off as a speck of blossom in your eye. Better, claim it was ganja smoke from that West Indian family at No. 55. You’ve forgotten their names already but they’re terribly sweet. A street party will give you a chance to meet all those urchins from the poorer houses in your block and work out which of the little buggers vandalised your BMW Z8.
3. The dress designers Who will run up the wedding frock? Usually you would be above such fripperies, so approach the matter with the attitude of a Guardian G2 writer. Think street art/camp/social history. Grayson Perry will be taking an interest. So why can’t you? Candidates to design the dress are said to include Alice Temperley, Marchesa and Sarah Burton. Don’t feign ignorance and say ‘Sarah Burton? Is she related to former Gloucester prop forward Mike Burton?’ SB is trendy and fey, so it’s all right to know about her.
4. ‘Will you be going to the wedding?’ On no account say, ‘Oh I wish we were.’ Good grief no. Try: ‘Nah, our daughter Nettle is playing in a steel band concert in Camden that morning and there’s no way we can get back into the centre of town on time.’ If you are a Cabinet minister and you have been left off the list you can plausibly claim to have a crisis to deal with that day. If you are Ed Balls, say: ‘Look, this wedding is, first and foremost, a family event, so naturally Yvette and I are really excited for the young couple and wish them well and that is the right thing to do.’
5. What to wear A plastic bowler hat is acceptable, not least for its echoes of A Clockwork Orange. Union Jack T-shirts also may be worn. These convey the right sense of ironic overkill. If you are spotted by a fellow member of Soho House you can shrug it off as urban postmodernism. After all, even Prospect magazine ran a cover photo of Prince William on its last issue. To retain your metropolitan veneer you should at all times seek to wear an expression of wry, amused ‘I’m above this but, tsk, I’m glad that working people are being given a public holiday’. Think of your attitude as a scent: Eau de Ennui. If you are still uncertain, simply try to emulate Paul Merton when he hasn’t managed to say much for a while on Have I Got News For You.
6. Conduct during the ceremony While watching the wedding with friends you will be expected to make occasional comments. For god’s sake don’t get carried away and start trying to outdo Huw Edwards by shouting, ‘Isn’t that the Dowager Duchess of Droitwich?’ or ‘Wow, the Duke of Gloucester’s looking frisky today.’ ‘I’m a republican but I do admire the Queen’ has been overdone. Why not try something edgy, such as praising Prince Andrew? This will create what etiquette guides used to call ‘a talking point’.
7. Fringe benefits The royal wedding is an exercise in Keynesian economics. Look at the jobs being created. Freelance pundits such as Jenny ‘Legs’ Bond will be coining it. Meanwhile, Kate Middleton is reportedly to employ no fewer than six hairdressers to prepare her tresses. So many slim-hipped Herberts floating around, waving their tongs. There’ll be so much hot air from the small talk they won’t need hairdryers. The Greens will like that.
7. Mrs Middleton Bitchy sophisticates know exactly what they think about Kate Middleton’s mum, the former airline stewardess Carole, but shrewder specimens will understand it does them no credit. To them she has, like an over-familiar petrol pump attendant, risen above her station. Now that Mrs Middleton is on the brink of her triumph, Mayfair salonistes could do themselves grave damage by broadcasting this opinion over the lunch tables at Scott’s. Shouting ‘Camilla Fitz-Twicenightly’s mother would have done it so much more discreetly’ will not win many allies at present. Mrs Middleton and her husband run a mail-order party balloons business somewhere off the M4 (come off at Chieveley Services and follow the signs saying ‘Wills and Kate merchandise, attractive rates for cash buyers’). To Caledonian liver-sponges at the Travellers’ Club and bores at Boodle’s, the Middletons may be ‘Poujadiste meritocrats on the make’ but you could just as well argue that they are admirable creators of wealth, model go-getters who embody aspiration.
8. To the turf accountant Gamblers will correctly see the royal wedding as an excuse for a wager. Possible punts: First to goose one of the bridesmaids: the Duke of York 12/1, Prince Harry 6/4, Clare Balding 16/1, the Rt Revd Rowan Williams 100/1. First to fall asleep in the service: Mr Guy Pelly 5/1, Princess Alice of Gloucester (or is she dead?) 15/1, HRH Duchess of Cornwall 25/1. To catch the wedding bouquet: Princess Eugenie 4/1, Pippa Middleton 9/5, Earl of Wessex 12/1.
9. That accent Prince William has dropped the Queen’s English and has an accent more like phone-in contributors to Talk Sport. When he comes to his vows, will it be ‘to ’ave and to ’old’? Or can Sir Brian Sewell be persuaded to play a latter-day Lionel Logue and give some last-minute speech therapy?
10. How long do you give it? The answer to this question is: ‘Do you mean Kate and Wills, Ed and Justine or Cameron and Clegg?’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated April 23, 2011