Words I guarantee were not spoken during the TV coverage of Diana and Charles in 1981: “Twitter was going crazy about the dress.”
Thus spake Tina Brown, guest commentator for Good Morning America and British-born editor of prominent American magazines, but most importantly this day, a bright-eyed veteran of the 1981 Charles-Diana mash-up. Providing historical perspective was most welcome. On Friday morning, it seemed as though every channel on TV was fixed on the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Outside, the British sun was out; inside Westminster Abbey, the church was brightly lit as the red carpet offset Kate’s gleaming white dress, and the glowing yellow outfit of the Queen made sure we didn’t miss the generations spread out along the length of the altar and in the pews.
Visually and as a news narrative, this was the opposite of TV’s other current dynastic obsession, Game of Thrones. Whereas the HBO series is dredged through the mud, overrun with dread, fear, and the cunning deceit of a kingdom in turmoil, the royal wedding was light and sky-blue airy. To be sure, the wedding has implications for the future of the throne, and there were probably moments before, during, and after the ceremony that were filled with small moments dread and fear (“Good heavens, who sized this wedding ring?”; “Oh, dash it all, why won’t my white gloves go on more smoothly?”). But even at a time when England finds itself in political, social, and economic turmoil no more intense than in that of Game of Thrones, the wedding was, on its glittering surface, a momentary respite from anxiety and worry, as two people launched themselves into a private union and a new public life.
Yes, presided over by an Archbishop of Canterbury who’s a professed Simpsons fan, the wedding of Prince William and Kate was a fine example of how the Book of Common Prayer can guide even a knock-kneed couple through the ceremony with firm command. (Not that this serenely happy-looking couple needed bolstering — Kate even made it through the vows without error, in contrast to the mangling poor, sweet Diana made of Prince Charles’ name.) The reading was from Romans, Chapter 12, and its stress upon the virtues of self-sacrifice, modesty, and honesty was both timeless and timely.
When Charles wed Diana three decades ago, the young bride was dressed as though her milliners had been watching too much Walt Disney’s Cinderella, arraying her in taffeta and lots of other fancy material I’m too much of a guy to know the name of. One of the refreshing things about the new wedding was that it did not resemble a fairy tale: It was, rather, a lovely, modern ceremony, and thank God no one broke out in one of those horrific boogie-down, YouTube-pandering dances down the aisle.
By contrast, Kate’s dress was a dreamy vanilla swirl, with a far more modest train that the one Diana had, a circular undulation of material picked up and carried by her sister and maid of honor, Pippa. (It was, indeed, Pippa’s curve hugging dress that Tina Brown said “had Twitter going crazy.” Pippa served another, subtextual narrative function: She looked like the potentially wild sibling you’d most want to dance with during the after-party.)
NBC had a graphic in the upper right corner of its screen: “Countdown to the Kiss.” The network didn’t realize it should have made that plural. When the freshly spliced William and Kate went in for a second smooch on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, I think I heard Barbara Walters gasp on ABC. It was the kind of TV event in which such small surprises provided the largest pleasures.