Royal wedding: all the world loves a show

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The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton fascinated the globe because it tapped into people's desire to be part of a communal event -- and everyone loved the pomp and ceremony, commentators say.

Perhaps Prime Minister David Cameron put his finger on it when he said: "We're quite a reserved lot, the British. But when we go for it, we really go for it."

Viewing figures showed the wedding of the second-in-line to the throne was on at least 70 percent of televisions in Britain at some point on Friday.

Wedding fever also spread around the world -- almost a third of the global population, or two billion people, were expected to watch, according to British government estimates.

Among the sea of spectators which flooded into London, tourists from the United States, Japan and Australia were just as enthusiastic as their British counterparts in waving the Union Jack flags.

The explanation is rooted in history. The British ruling dynasty represents a reassuring symbol of continuity in an ever-changing world.

And the legacy of the empire, which reached its peak in the 19th century, is a feeling of belonging to a community with a shared destiny.

Vernon Bogdanor, a constitutional expert, stresses that Queen Elizabeth II is "the symbolic head of a multi-racial Commonwealth of 54 countries representing one third of the world's population", stretching from Australia to Zambia.

The world's newspapers feasted on the photographs of the pageantry of the wedding, with its horse-drawn coaches, parades and pomp and splendour.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper puffed out its British chest and declared that for pure spectacle, the wedding surpassed the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris, US President Barack Obama's inauguration or the election of a new pope at the Vatican.

The wedding was also a major public relations success for "The Firm", as the royal family is nicknamed, showing that it has once again succeeded in renewing itself.

"William and Kate are potentially a breath of fresh air for the family and the start of a whole new British concept for the family -- a modern prince and princess," said PR guru Max Clifford.

Many editorials pointed to the interest generated by the marital difficulties of three of the queen's four children, which dominated the tabloids in the 1980s and 1990s.

But when the microphones of TV stations from around the world were thrust into the crowd and the question "Why are you here?" was asked, the answers matched the words most often entered in Internet search engines for the wedding: "the dress", "fairytale", and "princess".

The response of Pauline Davidson, a 77-year-old pensioner, was typical: "It's great, it cheers people up -- and I enjoy all the glamour and the pomp and ceremony."

The Guardian newspaper, openly republican and irreverent about the royal family, resorted to a sporting metaphor to describe the ovation given to the royal bride.

"The people who cheered themselves hoarse yesterday love her the way football fans love a new signing to the team -- because she joined the select group of people who embody the entity to which they belong," it said.

Christopher Frayling, a historian, described the "ritual" element of the event. "These events serve a very strong ritual function. It's reassuring. It's coercive," he said.

"The Beatles got it right," he added, when they sang: "All you need is love."

And the sociologist Juliet Gardiner told the BBC the wedding made everyone feel better about themselves, proved by the t-shirts worn by some spectators which read: "You don't have to marry a prince to be a queen."

Next year offers Britain two more opportunities to put on a show.

First another royal one, when an armada of a thousand boats takes to the Thames for Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee in June.

Then the 2012 London Olympics -- and as London Mayor Boris Johnson said, the massive organisational task of the wedding was "a good dry run" for the Games.

© 2011 AFP

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