Sorry, but royal weddings will never be the same again: The Princess Royal is to remarry, and good luck to her. But it's inappropriate to push the gush button, says Mark Lawson

Click to follow
ON Saturday afternoon, between the repeat of Dad's Army and the latest edition of Jim Davidson's spherically punning snooker game show Big Break, the BBC continuity announcer explained that we were going to the newsroom. Recent precedent will have led most of us to assume a bomb or Norman Lamont. Even when a stern Moira Stuart began with that ancient nape- prickler phrase 'Buckingham Palace has just announced . . .', my guess was that the Queen Mother was dead. The news of the remarriage of the Princess Royal was an anti-climax.

But, then, the story led the main BBC news bulletin. Martyn Lewis - imperfectly rehearsing the serene half- smile and honey voice used by Sir Alastair Burnet on earlier royal engagement days - discussed the betrothal with the BBC court correspondent, Jennie Bond. 'I understand Her Majesty is delighted,' revealed Ms Bond. These syrupy irrelevancies were just about excusable as the product of an otherwise slow news day. Reading yesterday's newspapers, I felt less charitable. 'Anne's Surprise Announcement: I'll Wed Tim At Balmoral', panted one front-page. The new royal bridegroom's Jewish roots were the cue for gushing biography: 'From a merchant in Venice to a member of the Royal Family . . .'

This kind of coverage seemed to be warped, and specifically, time-warped. It was as if the events of this year - the marital pile-ups of the younger royals, the humbling of the Queen to tax-paying status - had never happened. The tone was wholly ignorant of history. The royal wedding announcements of 45, 19, 11 and six years ago respectively (Elizabeth, Anne, Charles, Andrew) had brought crowds to the palace gates, street parties and days off school. Even the cynical were forced to conclude that, on these occasions, soupily romantic press coverage reflected a majority national mood. But Saturday's news was of a remarriage to be held in a Balmoral kirk, because the Church of Scotland is kinder to divorcees than that of England.

The first royal marriage announcement since the recent rocking of the monarchy - the first royal second wedding announcement since the Royal Family began to be treated as moral exemplars - was a small piece of social history. Yet the response of a standard deferential knee-flex - and the assumption that this properly reflected the general mood - suggested a nation not yet at ease with these rearrangements.

It is an illustration of the confusion that exists in Britain, at the end of this debunking year, about our attitude to the royals. If Saturday's announcement had, indeed, been the death of the Queen Mother, the BBC would have known exactly what to do. A booklet in the safe of all senior TV executives lays out procedure (Jim Davidson's Big Break would have been replaced, probably with solemn music.) But, in the announcement of the second wedding of a member of the Royal Family, the BBC was operating beyond protocol. It reached, like most newspapers, for the gush button.

It was a poignant, and revealing, reflex, but bizarrely inappropriate. As someone who has brought less discredit to the Royal Family than most living members, the Princess Royal is to be wished better luck this time. Yet, although second marriages can be famously happy, second weddings can never be as innocent as the first. News editors will presumably discover this if they attempt to extend the template of deference any further. Headlines about 'The Second Wedding Of The Century' (an echo of those bestowed on the Waleses) might resound a little tinnily even with monarchists. So might David Dimbleby murmuring 'And, there, the children of the first marriage', during live television coverage.

The point, though, is that no such jaunty broadcast was planned. Indeed, the intended privacy of the ceremony suggests that the Princess Royal and her family are demonstrating a greater realism and maturity about the event than, so far, has the press. If a quiet remarriage for one of its members is the final confirmation that the Royal Family is, in most matters, as wretched as its subjects, then the discreet kirk service at least appears to accept this.

It is surely the case that there can never again be a royal wedding, even a first one, on the scale or symbolic ambition of the previous four broadcast spectaculars. Those vast and soaring displays of uxoriousness, with world leaders cramming the abbeys, belonged to an idea of monarchy now dead. After the events of this year, the weekend gush represented either hopeless longing or hideous hypocrisy.