The Joys Of Modern Life: 49. Royal Weddings

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THE QUEEN'S youngest son is getting hitched. Like the Teletubbies, Sophie and Eddie "love each other very much". Big hug and pass the sick bag. It is far too easy to be cynical about the forthcoming royal nuptials. You might well be wondering why we have a Royal family at all. Yet it is precisely such an occasion that justifies their existence.

For years on end, the royals get on with the traditional pursuits of visiting hospitals, killing animals for sport and bonking each other senseless. Then, just when you think it's time Britain became a republic, the royals do something we can all relate to - marriage.

All marriages matter. Be it a posh do or a shindig in the community hall, marriage is the comma, if you like, in the sentence that begins when we leave our mother's womb and ends when we leave the world.

Yet a wedding is more than mere existential punctuation. It is a celebration of society's big themes, values and mores. A royal union acts as a cultural barometer, indicating current climate and predicting change.

Historically, royal marriages occurred with a political endgame in mind, such as securing a peace deal or amalgamating kingdoms. There was no talk of love, "whatever that is", and the "o" word was not up for discussion. A queen would obey her king, or it was off with her head.

So what matters now? The dress. We know that Sophie Rhys-Jones will be strolling down the aisle in a Samantha Shaw dress and a "St Tropez" tan. When a girl dreams of her wedding day, she will have a firm idea of what she wants to wear and only a vague notion of the man she wants to marry. If she can't actually be a princess, she will at least look like one for a day.

The wedding list is another essential totem, packed with items so expensive that no matter how much is spent on champagne and smoked salmon, the bride and groom are quids-in when the price of the pressies is added up.

And so it is that Sophie's chums are smarting at the "unworldliness" of her list, which includes a pounds 10,000 milk jug and, for the poor relations, a tea strainer at pounds 3,110. Consumerism is most definitely "in".

By far the most singular pattern emerging is that romance - love - appears to be the number one motive for matrimony. In spite of this, more marriages than ever end in divorce. And, let's be honest, the royals are setting a rare old pace in this department.

We still enjoy a wedding, though, don't we? Even when we sit at the back of the church whispering: "It will never work." So let's end on a happy note. Miss Rhys-Jones has decreed "no hats" on Saturday. Since hats generally look naff unless you spend at least pounds 200, she'll be saving us a packet if this royal innovation sets a trend.