Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Royal Wedding: How the boy who would be King grew to be a man

Handout photo issued by Clarence House of The Bride and Groom in the throne room at Buckingham Palace, TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the centre with attendants, (clockwise from bottom right) The Hon. Margarita Armstrong-Jones, Miss Eliza Lopes, Miss Grace van Cutsem, Lady Louise Windsor, Master Tom Pettifer, Master William Lowther-Pinkerton. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday April 29, 2011. See PA story ROYAL Wedding. Photo credit should read: Hugo Burnand/Clarence House/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder. NO MERCHANDISE OR COMMERCIAL USE

Watching the wedding at Westminster Abbey, I kept seeing in my mind a very different William - the William who stood a few yards away from me in the same Abbey in almost exactly the same spot at his mother's funeral service in 1997.

On that brilliantly sunny Saturday morning, I was privileged to be one of the 1,900 guests inside the Abbey. The exclusivity of being there was as overpowering as it must have been for the wedding guests last Friday.

I had no idea that the protocol for state funerals - though clearly not for state weddings - was to invite editors of the UK print and broadcasting media to be present. So it was that I took my seat facing the catafalque upon which Diana's coffin would rest, directly behind where the young princes William and Harry, their father Charles, the Queen and the rest of the royals would sit.

I remember that, among the famous faces around me, were those of former spouses of royalty, Lord Snowdon and Captain Mark Phillips, relegated by divorce to the rows of commoners, celebrities and more minor titled and aristocratic figures packed into the Poet's Corner wing of Westminster Abbey.

I recall, too, that when Princess Margaret and Princess Anne came up the central aisle from the west door and took their seats before us, not a glance of recognition passed between them and their ex-husbands.

They had been famously married in the same Abbey just as William and Kate were on Friday, with the bells of London ringing in celebration, but life's fortunes and misfortunes had dealt them all a different hand.

Family by family, couple by couple, the House of Windsor took their places on the gilt seats specially reserved for them on state occasions. And, as she did last Friday, shortly before 11am, the Queen took her place in the front row.

The atmosphere of expectation was electric, as it surely was among the wedding guests, but in 1997 Westminster Abbey was engulfed in a very different mood.

I remember the congregation standing and the sound of the Welsh Guardsmen's boots echoing through the Abbey as they carried the coffin of William's mother on the long walk up the central aisle to the front of the same altar where the wedding vows of her son would be exchanged nearly 14 years later.

As I watched William in 2011, my mind returned to that morning and the sight of him, then 15-years-old, and Harry, aged 12, accompanied by their father Charles, as broken a man as ever anyone could be at a funeral, bowed and distraught as they took their places beside the Queen.

The tens of millions who watched on television and those of us who were in the Abbey did not know the full extent of William's ordeal that morning.

How he had felt constrained to display his grief in public view. How he had felt uneasy at being asked to walk behind his mother's coffin through the streets of London with the eyes of the world bearing down on his every step.

And how, as apparently was the case, his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, persuaded him at the last minute to join the cortege.

Last Friday, there was no such reluctance. The tears of the past had given way to the smiles of today. Life has moved on for the most famous family of all, just as it must do for the rest of us, for good or ill. The wedding in Westminster Abbey signified the resilience of the Monarchy. In 1997, it was close to being counted down-and-out. I recall the mood as the guardsmen carried the coffin of William's mother out of the Abbey to her last resting place. Many among the grief-stricken congregation, or the millions who lined the funeral route, or watched around the world on television, believed they were witnessing even more than the most moving of all royal funerals - that the House of Windsor would never be seen in the same light again.

They were wrong. Two people have essentially saved the Monarchy. They have rescued it from the trials and tribulations imposed on its image by one generation after another in their family circle.

One is the Monarch herself, a woman of simple, straightforward virtues, stoic and dependable, unswayed and unnerved; the other is her grandson, a young man who appears to display some of the same virtues, stoic and dependable, unswayed and unnerved.

To my mind, one wedding and a funeral, 14 years apart, sums up royalty yesterday and royalty as it is today. It hasn't gone away you know.

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