29 April 2011

The Bride and Womb

Surely the dullest of all the dull prenuptial conversations conducted in the media this week has been the Royal Wedding attendees list. Would the Syrian ambassador's invitation be rescinded? How come the North Korean ambassador will get to pocket a couple of vol-au-vents but not Tony Blair? Would the King of Tonga get an invitation +8 for all his wives? When the real question for William and Kate should have been: "Who the blue blazes are any of these people and why are they coming to my wedding?"

I didn't watch any of the Royal Wedding today, but not because of any antipathy toward the British royal family. I am a republican but, as far as I am concerned, that was actually beside the point. I don't think any of the guests should have been there who weren't known to the couple, and they should have kept the cameras outside; not because I don't want to see it (I'm fairly adept at not watching TV), but because, frankly, it's none of my business. Or yours.

The decision to make the wedding of the second in line to the throne a state occasion is at once baffling and revealing. It's strange because Prince William getting married is no more a public occasion than his graduation, first communion or passing out from Sandhurst. By making it into a state occasion, where politics and diplomacy guide the invitations as surely as kinship, it reveals the event as, ultimately, a medieval throwback.

Once upon a time, the new Duke of Cambridge would have had little say in who he married, and would have been unlikely to have known his bride before the wedding ceremony. It wasn't a match made for love, but for political strategy - to forge alliances with other countries, to strengthen their mutual lines of succession. We can now take comfort in changed times, and even celebrate the fact that Prince William was probably the first royal heir in history to have enjoyed an uncoerced and leisurely courtship. But by putting the wedding on a footing with a coronation, we are tacitly acknowledging the base meaning behind the feathery hats and polished carriages: in a political system based upon genetics not public election, you've got to grow your own. And here's where it gets down to brass tacks; I'm surprised broadcasters didn't ask to carry on transmitting fly-on-the-wall style through the honeymoon. Or at least demand to see the bedsheets as proof.

Of course I can understand the public interest in the event. I'm not saying that it's wrong for people to have enjoyed today's ritualised squiring - it's natural, human curiosity, like rubbernecking a car crash. But, equally, if William and Kate had wanted to get hitched in a Las Vegas drive-thru in His 'n' Hers Elvis outfits and let the glossy mags treat for the rights to their pictures, that would have been fine with me. Even if I didn't get the day off work as a result.