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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Our obsession with royal weddings

Ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day, we take a look at why we are so enamoured with royalty and, more particularly, the nuptials

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, 1981. Getty
Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, 1981. Getty

You don’t have to be a monarchist to love a royal wedding,” Lina Al Amad says. “You just have to be a fan of love. And weddings. And a good party and gorgeous dresses. And celebrities. And who isn’t a fan of at least one of these things?”

Al Amad, 27, may have hit the nail on the head – there is no single reason why the world is holding its collective bated breath in anticipation of the wedding of the year, if not the wedding of the decade.

On Saturday, May 19, the most publicised date on the 2018 calendar, Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle will tie the knot in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. The eyes of the world will be on them, and if you thought Kate Middleton’s 2011 marriage to Prince William was a media bonanza, get ready for the second instalment.

Palestinian Al Amad, who isn’t even British and grew up between the United States and Kuwait, is planning to get all dolled up, complete with chic, handmade fascinator, to attend a wedding viewing invitation at a friend’s house in Abu Dhabi.

Prince William and Kate Middleton, 2011. Getty
Prince William and Kate Middleton, 2011. Getty

“We’re pretending to be wedding guests ourselves, and my friend is throwing a fancy get-together for at least 30 people,” she says. “It’s an excuse to have fun; it’s a happy occasion. So why not?”

Why not indeed? Everyone loves a wedding. It’s easy to knock the commercialism, the tedious toasts, the cheesy DJs, the questionable outfit choices, but what could be more entertaining? And when a crown is thrown in, then all the merrier.

When Prince William and Kate Middleton married in April 2011, royal wedding fever gripped the world; it was estimated that the global audience was more than two billion people. Blanket coverage of the event dominated television screens, because that’s what people wanted to watch.

That same year, two more royal weddings received extensive media coverage – that of Prince Albert of Monaco’s wedding to Charlene Wittstock, which was described as “Monaco’s biggest party in 55 years”, and the two-day, Lagos-based royal wedding of Nigerian prince Taiwo Olashore to bond trader Olawunmi Taiwo.

Enchanted by royalty and a member of the general public

And that’s just in recent days. Our obsession with royal weddings is not a new phenomena, because whatever your background, the underlying fact remains: everyone loves an excuse to celebrate love, and nothing affords the opportunity more than a good wedding. Not to mention that with a royal wedding, where we get to observe as spectators without the added stress about what to bring as a gift and who we are sitting next to and how we will look on the dance floor, there’s the romanticism of a fairy tale come to life that’s irresistible.

“Harry is marrying someone who is older than him, a divorcee, an American and a famous name in her own right,” writes Katie Nicholl, author of the new biography Harry: Life, Loss and Love. “Even if you’re not a royalist, it’s very hard not to be a little impressed, a little charmed and a little enchanted by this incredible romance.”

When a wedding is between royalty and a member of the general public – albeit an actress – it’s almost as if the world is even more interested than they would be if royalty were marrying royalty. Such was the case for actress Grace Kelly when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, or when Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark married Australian-born commoner Mary Donaldson in 2004, or when Prince Abdullah of Jordan – now king – married Palestinian Rania Al Yassin in 1993 in Amman.

Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly, 1956. Getty 
Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly, 1956. Getty 

“My mother and father stood in the streets of Amman to catch a glimpse of Rania and Abdullah on their wedding day,” Al Amad says. “My mother said that day was declared a national holiday, and she and her college friends, my father included, waited for hours for the prince and his bride. She took pictures of them as they passed by in an open convertible decorated with flowers and bows as they waved at the crowds. She found it so romantic, that a prince had picked a regular girl to make his wife. It was like a Cinderella story that came true.”

'A fairytale element to it'

That would make sense for those of us who have grown up on Disney movies and fairy tale storybooks. Royalty presents a real-life fantasy that we can live out vicariously through simply observing it. It offers escapism from our everyday realities, and it’s almost like viewing history in the making. A peek into a wedding humanises royal figures that are worlds away from us and our lives, and the fact that they are participating in an event we can all participate in – a marriage ceremony and a wedding party – makes us feel not only that we know them, but that we could be one of them, too.

Prince Abdullah of Jordan and Rania Al Yassin, 1993. AFP
Prince Abdullah of Jordan and Rania Al Yassin, 1993. AFP

Royals attract worldwide fascination, and royal-watching has always been a favourite pastime of the media and its audiences alike. The current popularity of Netflix shows like The Crown, Victoria, Reign and Versailles is testament to that, perhaps because, like a royal wedding, they offer a glimpse into royal rituals that were once regarded as private and sometimes secretive affairs of state rather than occasions for public celebration.

There is a “curious psychological need for royal narratives and for imagined participation in royal lives”, wrote the scholar Philip Long in Royal Tourism: Excursions Around Monarchy. Broadcasting a royal wedding offers a glimpse into a coveted, envied lifestyle that we want to know more about.

“I think that there’s a lot of Britishness in the pomp and ceremony, and I do enjoy that,” says British journalist Farah Andrews, 29, who will be heading to her mother’s house in Dubai to watch the nuptials on television. “And everyone gets to come together to celebrate a happy event. Even if you don’t consider yourself a big romantic, there’s a kind of a fairytale element to it that appeals to us all.”

There's excitement in the air

Andrews is as big a fan of the Swedish royals, and devoured news and pictures of the 2015 wedding ceremony of Prince Carl Philip and former reality-TV star and glamour model Sofia Hellqvist.

“It’s the romance of it, and the fashion, and seeing what all the royals from around the world are wearing to the wedding.”

Prince Carl Philip of Sweden and Princess Sofia. Getty 
Prince Carl Philip of Sweden and Princess Sofia. Getty 

Andrews’ mother, Scottish nurse Rhona, is hosting more than 30 people for the occasion, and is asking her guests, some of whom are not even British, to dress up.

“It’s very similar to what we did when Will and Kate got married, an afternoon tea complete with scones, and we’re doing it not only because we love the royal family, but also because, who doesn’t love a wedding? We can’t resist the excitement of it all,” Rhona says.

She recalls the excitement in the air during Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981. She was working in a hospital in Scotland, and the hospital had organised a wedding dinner celebration for the staff and patients.

“It made everyone a little happier, it was a lovely atmosphere. It’s almost like we’re all guests because we get to be a part of it through them sharing it. We get to see the guests arriving, what they are wearing, who is with who, what the bride’s gown looks like – all the beautiful, fun and happy parts of a wedding. Right from our living room.”

'It’s almost like we’re all invited too'

Part of the draw could very well be all the pageantry and centuries-old tradition associated with royalty, as is the case for Dubai resident Rissa Summer.

Hailing from the UK, Summer feels much the same way, and describes weddings as something that most people can relate to.

“It’s a regular old everyday tradition that is being practised by royalty, and it’s almost like we’re all invited too when it’s broadcast for us all to see,” she says.

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Read more:

Places in the UAE to watch the Royal Wedding

Combining cuisines to create a menu fit for a royal wedding

British Airways royal wedding flight: Crew members all named Harry and Meghan

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Summer will also be hosting a British tea at her home, complete with bunting and Union Jack flags, as homage to all the street parties being organised in the UK to celebrate the event. “It’s rare nowadays to have such a happy international event to celebrate and share with the world,” she says. “There’s something about that that’s irresistible.”

“This wedding, like all weddings, will be a moment of fun and joy that will reflect the characters of the bride and groom,” says Jason Knauf, Prince Harry’s communications secretary. “The couple of course want the day to be a special, celebratory moment for their friends and family. They also want the day to be shaped so as to allow members of the public to feel part of the celebrations, too.”