Editor-At-Large: The monarchy at play – it's the greatest show on earth

Killjoys may sneer at the Royal Family, but they can't deny it knows how to stage a spectacle. And the costume department pulled a blinder

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The night before the royal wedding, I had an entertaining hour watching My Big Fat Royal Gypsy Wedding on Channel 4. The bride's dress was so huge that it was almost impossible for her to walk down the aisle. The children were dressed like pole dancers and the adults like Katie Price. Millions of us have made this series a huge hit, sneering in our middle-class homes at these lavish festivities which are, by the way, as important a part of our culture as acclaimed plays about life in modern Britain such as Jerusalem, now a smash hit on Broadway.

Next day, I was back on the sofa for the real royal wedding, wearing my tiara (a tenner from the Carnival Queen shop), sipping Tesco Prince William champagne. I'm not a fan of the Royal Family – I made a documentary a couple of years ago proposing that Charles hand over the crown to William – but I wouldn't go as far as that grump Morrissey, who was busy promoting his new album last week. Desperate for coverage, he was reduced to whingeing that the royals were "benefit scroungers" who "had no use whatsoever".

That got me thinking. The British (including me) love things that are utterly useless – shoes, Morris dancing, pop music, chocolate animals, leek-growing competitions, butter sculptures. Irritatingly for Morrissey, the Royal Family does have a function: it occasionally puts on displays which remind us all how to be neighbourly, how to have fun and how to celebrate being British. Yes, they cost too much. Yes, they can be appalling snobs. Yes, their courtiers are out of touch. But Friday's wedding was a fantastic event by any standards, and in spite of Mr M predicting that "most people don't care", the reverse seemed to be true. A lot of young people – exactly the age group you might expect to find the monarchy out of date – were cheering in the Mall, camping out, having a party.

But as those A-list guests started to arrive at Westminster Abbey in their dreadful fascinators and unfortunate tartan trousers, I realised that the garish sartorial standards of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding that caused so much merriment in stylish circles are deeply embedded in our culture. At the Abbey, the dresses weren't covered in rhinestones, and there were few fake tans. But the sentiment which shone through at those travellers' weddings – look at me and sod everyone else – was plain for all to see. Not everyone was guilty: Kate Middleton's dress was a triumph for good taste. Fashion's king of the put-down, Karl Lagerfeld, admitted it was "elegant and chic". Her mother, Carole, wore a faultless outfit with little jewellery. Sister Pippa looked divine as maid of honour. After that, it was downhill in the fashion stakes. A wedding represents a chance to dress up, but we should remember that the bride takes centre stage. This is an alien concept to self-publicists such as Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, whose new nose was upstaged by a bizarre electric blue outfit, with matching shoes and bag. Was she auditioning for a part in the next superhero epic? Sally Bercow's dress revealed too much cleavage and had a slit in the skirt. Her hair was a mess. Victoria Beckham dressed as if she were going to a funeral and looked glum. Her hat was striking – shame about the sour face sitting underneath it.

Most female guests seemed to be unwilling to opt for the understated option. Chelsy Davy resembled a barmaid about to pull a pint, with grotty hair, an Alberta Ferretti off-the-shoulder jacket, and skirt worn with a hat that didn't match. Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie desperately need a stylist; they looked like a couple of dowagers from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta – Eugenie in a mumsy blue Vivienne Westwood skirt that made her hips look massive, worn with a fussy hat, and Beatrice in a nasty Valentino couture suit best seen in a coffin. Her witty Medusa hat by Philip Treacy, teamed with heavy goth eye makeup, looked out of place. The hat was fabulous, but as she sat behind the Queen for the ceremony it was just too distracting. Camilla wore an outfit that made her resemble one of the warships we can no longer afford. Who said box pleats flatter big hips? And although Prince Charles was photographed linking arms with her in Morocco recently, their body language in the Abbey was frosty. Camilla looked thoroughly miserable, perhaps because recent opinion polls suggest that 75 per cent of us don't ever want her to be queen.

Sam Cam didn't wear a real hat, and her Burberry frock was suitable for lunch, not a huge occasion like this. The end result seemed rather casual, as if she was sending a message saying "it's not my thing". (Bit rich coming from a member of the aristocracy.) As for Mrs Clegg, did she come as Eva Peron? Too much lipstick and a spotty lace-covered suit, even if it was eco-friendly and sewn by fair trade collectives in the Third World. After those unpleasant remarks about the middle-class Middletons being out of their depth, they turned out to have judged the occasion perfectly.

The monarchy is still an anachronism, but what a floor show. Shame Morrissey wasn't watching, I suspect he would have found it rather entertaining.





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