x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Tiny London pub celebrates all things royal

Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton is latest royal event to be celebrated at the Windsor Castle bar.

LONDON // Britain will grind to a halt next month for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, but in one London pub it's a royal celebration 365 days a year.

At the Windsor Castle bar, Kate faces severe competition to find a spot among the enamel plates featuring Princess Diana and the other commemorative knick-knacks which completely cover the walls and ceiling.

"I've got some memorabilia on its way," said Edward Wheeler, 64, the barman. "I've already been promised some plates."

But glancing up at the packed walls he admits it will take some planning to squeeze in the latest addition to the royal family. "When I get the stuff, then I'll see how to arrange it."

This veritable mini-museum of royal memorabilia in Marylebone traces the royal line from the present day back to Queen Victoria's reign which spanned most of the 19th century in Britain.

The pub takes its name from the castle, west of London, where Queen Elizabeth II spends much of her time.

Standing guard outside is a member of the Household Cavalry, complete with the traditional black bearskin hat, in his green sentry box - but closer inspection reveals it to be a life-size dummy.

Inside, the pub is dark because so many souvenir plates are arranged in racks in front of the windows.

As you make your way into the grotto, the items become more and more eccentric: medallions compete for space with wooden busts of George V and even a model of the paddle steamer called Windsor Castle, which was once used by Queen Victoria.

People can also admire metre-high coats of arms, carved from rare wood, of the Order of the Garter, an order of knighthood established in 1348.

Undoubtedly the most kitsch items are dedicated to Diana. The "People's Princess" even appears on souvenir beer cans made for her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981 and is immortalised in dozens of soft-focus eighties-style pictures.

The Diana memorabilia certainly won't be making way for the new crop of Kate souvenirs, the pub's owner Heather Robinson said.

"I don't think she'll ever replace Diana. Diana will always have her own place. Kate will be very good but Diana was really, really special," she said, emotion in her voice even now, 14 years after the princess's death.

It's a sentiment shared by Amanda, 25, an American tourist who found the pub on the internet and just couldn't resist coming along to have a look.

"Princess Diana is an icon who will forever live in our hearts. She had a royal heart and deserved every ounce of her popularity, which she earned," she said.

But of course devotion to Diana doesn't mean the Windsor Castle will not be celebrating the big wedding on April 29.

"It's going to be exciting. We'll have our own party here, we'll put flags and William and Kate photographs up," said Ms Robinson, who has fully entered into the royal spirit despite taking over the pub only six months ago.

The extraordinary collection was put together by the former owner, Michael Tierney.

But why wait for the wedding day - why not get the royal couple-to-be on the walls before they get married?

"Oh no," said Mr Wheeler, who has seen a few British royal divorces in his time. "You never know. They might break up."


* Agence France-Presse