Expat Brits drink to Wills and Kate in 'Dordogneshire' exile

29th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

With pies, sandwiches and pints of beer, British expats celebrated the royal wedding in the sunny southwest of France, where thousands have settled seeking a simpler, country life.

So many live here that their favourite region is nicknamed "Dordogneshire", and as French champagne corks flew conversation turned to very British ideas about royalty and class -- and, of course, to Kate Middleton's bridal dress.

"It's history in the making. The prince is marrying a commoner," said Lise Moloney, who dressed up for the event in an elegant violet chapeau and silk wrap, as if she were a wedding guest herself.

But instead of gracing the tree-lined aisle of Westminster Abbey, she celebrated in the Cafe de Paris in Eymet, a medieval "bastide town" in the Dordogne region that has been colonised by English-speaking immigrants.

For much of the Middle Ages this area of southwest France belonged to the English crown thanks to a previous royal wedding in 1152, when former French queen Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future king Henry II of England.

After centuries of warfare France won back control of the region, but in recent years the English have returned, this time seeking to buy up reasonably priced country homes in an area known for good food and wine.

"I heard on the radio that all the English people were gathering here and decided it was the place to be," said Danish expat Caroline Berg, enjoying the televised spectacle and the lively debate.

Moloney thought Prince William's decision to marry a low-born university chum rather than a foreign princess was an important step forward for Britain.

"I think it's important that the royal family is more in touch with everyday families. Other royal families like the Danish royal family have married commoners," she explained.

But Gini Ivey, a local estate agent, took a more pragmatic view of the marriage market faced by today's young princes. "Where would he find a princess to marry? I mean, how many are there?"

While the cafe crowd took the mixing of Kate's red and William's royal blue blood in its stride, not everyone was convinced the queen would share their enthusiasm for the common touch.

"I don't know if the Queen accepts Kate. Her grandfather worked in the pits, the mines. Old money doesn't accept new money," said an antiques dealer.

"This is the first time a future king has been allowed to choose his own bride," commented a middle-aged English woman.

But there was one point on which everyone seemed unanimous: the young couple and their entourage had scored major fashion points.

"William looks gorgeous in his uniform. Very smart," said Ivey. "I hope he understands. Kate will become a fashion icon."

Inevitably comparisons arose between Kate and the late Diana, princess of Wales, William's mother, who died in 1997 in a Paris car accident.

"Hopefully, she will not make the same mistakes as Diana. Diana was totally unprepared," said Ivey, whose concerns were echoed by everyone as a fresh platter of savoury cakes circulated.

"I can't image what Kate's life will be like, but I think it might be easier for her than it was for Diana. She has had more grooming," suggested Moloney.

And the enormous popularity of the couple will likely outshine Prince Charles and Camilla.

"Charles wants to be king and the people want William," said Karen Coleburn, an Eymet resident who works for a British-based multinational.

"This is history," said Berg. "Everyday life is very boring. So if you are at the right place at the right time -- it's history."

As the wedding procession came to an end, Berg touched the dashing hat she'd purchased moments before at the local milliner: "And now I have this hat as a memento."

© 2011 AFP

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