The centre of London on the day of the wedding was cut by police barriers; the underground stations were closed; it felt hot; and there was someone on every paving-stone between Millbank and Leicester Square. It took me an hour and a half to find a route though the crowd back to my aunt’s flat, and I just had time to drop my tail-coat and pick up a toothbrush, before heading back to Euston. Once home, I was asked about the wedding in Pooley Bridge, Crosby Ravensworth, Appleby, Tebay and Kirkandrew-on-Esk; in Longtown, Temple Sowerby and Warwick Bridge; and I didn’t know what to say.
I sat for an hour, for example, with a Royal Wedding street-party in Shap. The grandparents were wrapped against the cold wind, the parents were enjoying the bright sun, the children were riding round and round on bicycles and on the edge of the crescent of houses, lambs were grazing. I was given a slice of Union Jack cake, and someone politely asked the questions, which my mother asks about every wedding. What did you think of the bride’s dress? Who did you meet? But they were far better informed than I. They had seen it through cameras flying down the buttresses, and zooming in on the princess’ ring-finger, with an expert commentator who could tell the Agong of Malaysia from the Sultan of Brunei. Everyone agreed that Catherine’s mother’s dress was perfect; that Princess Beatrice’s outfit was not; that Harry was fun and that the couple were very much in love. But I hadn’t noticed any of those things. I was seated two rows back in the nave, behind the broad scarlet coat of a Yeoman of the Guard and a tree: a slender Field Maple with bright green leaves, with lily of the valley at its base. Oh, and I saw beech in the transept. I was used to weddings where guests pour in at the last moment; ushers try to seat giggling long-lost cousins; old men laugh over organ music, mothers try to soothe babies, fathers carry them outside; and where there are children, in white, under everyone’s feet.
It was not that kind of wedding. We arrived more than two hours before the service, each of us with our own colour-coded ticket. I was sat next to the Prince’s farm manager and his wife. Our view was of a thousand wooden chairs, a ceiling a hundred feet high and monuments to forgotten heroes on the walls. It was cool and very quiet and there were no celebrities in sight. Facing me was a soldier in uniform, with many medals. He served, I think, with Prince Harry in Afghanistan. Behind him, was a deer-stalker from Scotland. The old head of the Prince’s security team, who I had last seen in Kabul, was wearing an immaculate tail-coat. We talked a little about dairy farming in Gloucestershire. Someone who had known Prince William as a boy, said she could not quite believe that he was old enough to be married: and she cried a little. But generally we sat in silence. There were no children and no flirting cousins and I don’t remember any organ music. Meanwhile, a heavily-built African man in a velvet suit with a silver cane, was led to his seat; the clergymen and choir-masters stopped pacing in the aisle; and the grand old men of the Queen’s bodyguard, in their silver helmets and ostrich feather plumes, shuffled into position.
When the court trumpeters played their fanfare, and the yeoman of the guard entered with their cockades in their hats, it seemed for a moment like the prelude to a comic opera. But that was the end of pomp and circumstance. Despite all the generals and uniforms, there were no marching men, clanking spurs, forest of swords, nor bugle calls. Despite all the inheritance of a 1400 year old crown, there were no rituals ofEdward the Confessor, and no great reeling off of titles. Despite the copes and mitres, crosiers and choirs, the churchmen seemed formal but not priggish: dignified, without pomposity. The sermon was wonderful. And although every movement had been rehearsed and perfected: in some cases by generations long dead, it was not lifeless. It moved like a dance.
And now I’m back in my kitchen, exactly two weeks later. The blackbirds fell silent three hours ago and all I can hear is the mosquito-like buzz of the strip-light above my head. It’s past midnight and I haven’t said anything about the other days of the fortnight: the local elections, or the anniversary of my first year as an MP, or my father’s 89thbirthday. Yesterday, I brought the Skills Funding Agency and Askham Bryan together to talk about Newton Rigg and we made some progress. The willow-warblers are back from Africa and there are whorls, like miniature bee-hives, on the walnut twigs. Scotland may vote for independence. I am introducing my first proper motion on the floor of the house next week, which will, I hope bring mobile coverage to two million more people in rural Britain. And Bin Laden has been killed. But Joan Raine has asked me to speak about the wedding…