Charles wedding shocker!

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The Independent Online

Some mistake, surely? Apart from a not wholly convincing claim on Friday that the bridegroom's father may not be home in time for next month's royal wedding, at least a week has passed without a major cock-up in the Prince of Wales's wedding arrangements. The suggestion that the Duke of Edinburgh might not return from a "private" trip abroad in time to "support the Queen" during the final preparations is hardly up to the standard set by the series of comic disasters that followed the wedding announcement, which was itself brought forward because of a leak. I am not even sure why the Queen needs her husband's support, given that she has servants to do all those last-minute chores like chasing the caterers and changing the order for flowers.

Some mistake, surely? Apart from a not wholly convincing claim on Friday that the bridegroom's father may not be home in time for next month's royal wedding, at least a week has passed without a major cock-up in the Prince of Wales's wedding arrangements. The suggestion that the Duke of Edinburgh might not return from a "private" trip abroad in time to "support the Queen" during the final preparations is hardly up to the standard set by the series of comic disasters that followed the wedding announcement, which was itself brought forward because of a leak. I am not even sure why the Queen needs her husband's support, given that she has servants to do all those last-minute chores like chasing the caterers and changing the order for flowers.

The claim, and a snippet in a gossip column on the same day about the Prince inviting half a dozen ex-girlfriends to his wedding, is a sign of the confusion that surrounds an event that is taking place in a completely different atmosphere from his first marriage. The BBC got off to a bad start by extending its flagship current affairs programme, The World at One, in order to cover the wedding announcement, rightly prompting complaints from listeners. A divorced member of the Royal Family marrying the woman he has been living with for years is hardly an earth-shattering development, although there have been valiant attempts to characterise the Windsor-Parker Bowles relationship as a great love story - when it isn't being presented as farce, that is.

At least the Prince's second marriage is modern, a tacit recognition that lifelong marriage has become problematic, even for the Royal Family. His first was dynastic, a startlingly obvious fact that no one seems to have mentioned to his then fiancée, Lady Diana Spencer, whereas this one - unless the bride intends to astound us by revealing that she is pregnant - is presumably about affection and companionship; the royals are adapting to increased longevity, coming to a realisation that people need different qualities from partners at different stages in their lives. But that's about it, as far as modernity goes, with the Prince (or the Prince's people, more likely) failing even to check his regal assumption that he could marry in Windsor Castle without having to let all manner of ordinary people do the same, dreadfully inconveniencing his mother. (The temptation to call the castle with all sorts of bizarre requests - bridesmaids carrying corgis, for example - would have been irresistible.)

No one is really sure any longer what a royal wedding represents, a significant state occasion or an essentially private ceremony in which the public (some of it, I hasten to add) takes a benevolent interest. This one is turning out rather more public than originally intended, due to the enforced change of location to a register office, and I'm sure that the week leading up to the wedding will prompt pages of speculation about the bride's dress and her relationship with her new stepsons.

Even so, with the exception of die-hard fans of the Princess who continue to blame Camilla Parker Bowles for the failure of Charles's first marriage, I expect the population will quickly satisfy whatever appetite it retains for news of the happy couple.

It is the media that still treats such events with ponderous solemnity, alternately fawning on the Prince of Wales and seizing on the slenderest evidence of rifts within his family ("Philip's wedding snub to Charles"). In the old days, the royals weren't expected to do much, other than open buildings and provide big state occasions (coronations, weddings, funerals) every few years. Now they have to provide stories as well, narratives of passion, jealousy, betrayal and reconciliation, just like Posh and Becks. Even for republicans like me, it is a queasy spectacle, combining the vestiges of deference with the intrusive reporting that most contemporary celebrities have come to dread. It may be the deal the Windsors had to make, following the death of the Princess of Wales, but it is a high price to pay for an increasingly meaningless throne.

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