Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Royal Wedding Revelations - EXCLUSIVE! (Part 3)

One thing I forgot to tell you about in yesterday's Buckingham Palace story was the Royal Loos.  No good writer or journalist-to-be could ever resist a sneaky peek into the smallest rooms in the palace--I was no exception.  They are positively...well...regal, dear readers.  Also commodious and throne-like.  Quite literally.  I have never been seated on so many acres of polished wood to pee, nor been anywhere lavatorial with such grandiose silken wallpaper. The overhead flush, worked by a long chain finished with a crested china pull, sounded just like a roaring Balmoral waterfall.  But enough of Royal conveniences.  I believe I promised you a Cathedral...

Photograph copyright Lucy Coats 2011
 Wednesday 29th July 1981, inside St Paul's Cathedral, London
We'd all been up late the night before, mingling with the massive crowds in the darkness of Hyde Park, cheering en masse as the fireworks went up in a fiery paean to tell the watching world that tomorrow there would be a Royal marriage, a new princess for Britain.  As the last firework burned out, and I walked back through the joyful, buzzing streets of Kensington with my companions,  it seemed to me a private, personal signal that the friend I knew so well would now enter into a life unimaginable to either of us only four short years before, as we lay in our adjoining iron boarding school bedsteads, chattering about boys and lessons and the grimness of certain teachers.
Photograph copyright Lucy Coats 2011

The hairdresser visited early, sticking pins in strategic places and making sure hats and hair were perfectly aligned. Bag, gloves (grey short ones for me this time), shoes polished and pristine, makeup applied, don't forget to wee at the last minute because it will be a long day--the girls with pearls (of course we wore pearls!) were ready to go. It was the strangest of feelings, being driven along that sunlit wedding route lined with what seemed like millions of smiling faces, Union Jacks, and those odd square periscopes which stuck up everywhere like small chimneys. We waved frantically (in a most undignified and unregal way) through the car windows of course--what other opportunity would we ever get to feel like queens? And every time we did there were loud cheers from behind the metal barriers. Even the lined out policemen were grinning at us. It was nine o' clock in the morning, and we had two hours to go before lift-off. The smaller West Door of St Paul's was open, and a crowd of assorted top hats and morning suits and uniforms were pouring in, together with a whole rainbow garden of dresses and feathered, sequinned, chiffoned, strawed and silken creations on heads.

As we entered, Ushers handed us two large white booklets, one a Guide to the Ceremonial so we'd all know who was who as they entered, and the other an Order of Service decorated in gold and red and showing music and hymns and all the normal business of a wedding.

Photograph copyright Lucy Coats 2011
The small bright-blue entry ticket told me to go to Nave North A. If you look very carefully at the aerial footage from that day, you can see me sitting half way up the main aisle on the left hand side, fidgeting as I listen to the music. And boy, was there a lot of music while all the grandees got into place. Howells and Tippett, Britten and Bliss--all the Great British Composers of the 20th century boomed out of those massive organ pipes. The cheers from outside grew louder and louder as each car arrived. Heads craned round unashamedly, who would be next through the doors? Who could we recognise and wave at from our own lives? Jane? Sarah? Carolyn? Virginia? Annie? Charles? We all studied our ceremonial programmes minutely and a wind of whispers rose up into the dome and circled and swirled in a tornado of discreet sound as some of the Heads of State and foreign royals were conducted to their seats, followed by the Gentleman Ushers with the more minor members of Royal Family.

Then it was the turn of the Ecclesiastical Procession. Virgers, the Crossbearer, the Taperers, The Choristers--on and on they went in a rustling, starched flood of snowy white surplice, red robe, and finally the gold and purple of high church office. Diana's mother Frances arrived next--looking elegant if a little lonely in floaty powder-blue chiffon--very different from the relaxed woman in sun-faded jeans and cotton shirts I remembered so well from one long, hot Scottish summer.

Photograph copyright Lucy Coats 2011

Shortly afterwards we heard barked military orders as the lining parties shuffled into their immaculately dressed ranks on the steps, the main doors of the Cathedral were flung open, and the procession of Foreign Crowned Heads arrived, resplendent in uniforms, bright sashes, medals and Orders. Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway and Belgium settled in their seats. Eighteen minutes to go. When would the rest of them arrive? Surely soon, we said hopefully, wriggling our numb bottoms on the hard pews.
The cheers grew louder and more frenzied. There was a clattering of hooves and more shouted orders. As the National Anthem started to play outside, we rose to our feet as if pulled upwards on strings. The Mayor of London, carrying the Pearl Sword held high in front of him, came down the centre aisle to the strains of a Purcell rondeau, followed by the Queen, blue-clad and serene with Prince Philip's braid-bedecked and bemedalled figure marching beside her and all her family behind. The cathedral swished and swayed like a garden in the wind as we all bobbed and bowed.

Exactly six minutes later, more clattering of hooves and the loudest cheers yet as the bridegroom and his middle brother emerged from the 1902 State Landau to yet more National Anthem, and were joined by his youngest brother in the Dean's Aisle, where they waited for precisely five minutes until the cheers from outside built to a previously unheard pitch of screaming excitement. The Glass Carriage had arrived, the Bride and her yards of crumpled silk entered to a high, wild fanfare of trumpets that put a lump in my throat and raised all the hairs on the back of my spine. The great doors closed, and we were all shut inside as she walked down the aisle, a living virginal sacrifice on the arm of her father the earl, veil down, invisible and yet the most visible woman in the world at that moment.
Photograph copyright Lucy Coats 2011

As all the world knows, she stumbled over her marriage vows, and at that moment--the moment when she mixed up her Arthurs and her Philips--the whole place seemed to take a silently sucked-in breath. I remember wondering if it still counted if you got it wrong at the altar--whether you were still properly married--whether it was a bad omen. And then I forgot it, as the new Princess walked up the aisle on the arm of her Prince, eyes moving over the congregation, seeking out those she knew. She saw us all, her friends, sitting there like a row of brightly-coloured ducks , and just for a millisecond her eye flickered in a tiny but unmistakeable wink above that trademark smile. It was a very Diana moment. And then it was all over. Off she drove in the open landau into that short but intense period of history with its well-known tragic finish--away from the normal everyday life of university and work I and her other friends returned to all too soon.

But for those three days--for those three days I was right inside what seemed then like the biggest and most unforgettable fairytale ever told. And like the cheering crowds outside, on that particular day I too believed that fairytales have happy endings. This Friday, nearly thirty years later, no doubt I shall believe it all over again for Prince William and Kate Middleton in Westminster Abbey as I watch them exchange their marriage vows on my television, along with millions of other viewers. But just in case, I'll also be sending up a prayer to my dear friend on her pearly cloud that this time, for her son and daughter-in-law, history will turn out differently. I know she'll be watching too. She wouldn't miss it for all the world.

Click HERE for Part 1 of The Royal Wedding Revelations
Click HERE for Part 2 of The Royal Wedding Revelations

19 comments:

catdownunder said...

Sigh...

Katherine Langrish said...

Gosh. Just - gosh.
Lucy, that brings tears to the eyes.

karen ball said...

This is unbelievable, Lucy. What a story to share - and told so beautifully. I had no idea! Thanks for sharing with us. Such a glimpse of an entirely different world. And weren't you lush as a young woman?

Nicky Schmidt said...

Lucy, this has been the most wonderful series of posts to read - your powers of observation and your humour and love do you huge justice in these posts! Thanks for sharing them with us! xx

Keren David said...

Lucy, thank you so much for these posts. They're fascinating, entertaining, beautifully written, really compelling and very personal - without ever intruding on your memories of your friend. It's a privilege to share them.

Brigid Coady said...

You have me tearing up. What beautiful memories you have, thank you for sharing them with us.

kathryn evans said...

wonderful to read Lucy but you have made me sad for your lost friend xxxx
And the captcha is crierc - well I never x

Book Maven said...

Heartbreaking to think of that barely-not-schoolgirl winking at her group of friends as if this Royal Wedding lark was just one more massive jape. And to think how it ended!

But this has been so beautifully told and fascinating and so sensitive to Lucy's friend.

Compare and contrast with When William met Kate which I was too weak-willed not to watch last night and I wonder whether to cry or throw up!

Thank you Lucy,dear.

Keris said...

Absolutely beautiful post, Lucy, thank you so much for sharing it. Inevitably, you made me cry...

AnneR said...

That was so beautifully written, Lucy, and so touching. Long before the end I was thinking how awful the very public nature of the tragic ending must have been for those to whom she was a dear friend, and who were not in the public eye.

Amazing that you have remembered it all so clearly and described it so captivatingly! Thank you so much for sharing it all. And yes, let's all hope for a happier ending this time - surely something has been learned from the past?

Lucy Coats said...

Once again, thank you for all your lovely comments. Writing this made me cry too.

Nick Cross said...

A great story and so skillfully told - you kept us deliciously on the hook between instalments! It's a shame we already know the epilogue - if only it could really have been happy ever after. Sigh.

Jo Treggiari said...

Oh Lucy, such a surprise. I am not really a Royal follower but this made her so human and vulnerable. I think she was lucky to have a friend to like you, and I hope the loss of her was not too devastating for you. Thanks so much for sharing.
I adore the photo of the two of you. The bond between you is so apparent.

Tina Lemon said...

This is such a beautifully written series... THANKS!

Deer Baby said...

Wow. Brilliantly told. It's the first time I've read anything from anyone who was actually there and knew her. Just enthralling.

MG said...

How cool this all is! Brilliant! And so nice to hear from someone thinking of this new wedding from Diana's point of view. There's always an edge of sadness to a wedding when one or more of the parents aren't there.

Tam said...

Loved reading this, Lucy. What an amazing story and how utterly brilliant that you were there! Vair jealous and privileged that you shared it all at the same time :)

Candy Gourlay said...

priceless and memorable - what everybody said, Lucy ... and thank you!

TeriT said...

Thanks so much for sharing this.
x

 
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