They saw little, they heard less, and they joyfully undermined the bride and groom’s efforts to have an environmentally friendly wedding by buying up hundreds of acres of plastic flags. But on the whole a great day was had by all.
“Didn’t see a thing. I’ll have to watch the TV tonight, but we’re having a ball,” said Jackie Kane, 42, who left Manchester at 3am to reach a picnic spot alongside the Mall with her sisters, Valerie and Deborah, and their union flag-draped children. “It’s about the atmosphere, and for the kids it’s part of history. I came down for Diana’s funeral and the jubilee. I love the royal family, it’s good for England. And we saw Chris Evans!”
Among the thousands who slept overnight on the Mall was George Sullivan, 23, from Exeter, who, like many, was full of champagne and cheer. “This is England,” he said, “sorry, Britain. This is how we show the world what we are.”
Police estimate a million people turned out at the palace and along the route, which meant only those at the very front had a view of more than a nodding feather in a hat or a flash of a white-gloved wave.
The cardboard periscopes some clever PR firm doled out were cherished, while the merchandisers were out in force, ensuring the crowds were engulfed by red, white and blue tat.
Draped in their native New Zealand flags, schoolteacher Melanie Cunningham, 35, had the broad shoulders of rugby player partner Rewiti Vaimoso, 30, to sit on. “We’re not royalists, but we’ve been living in Scunthorpe for five years and it’s the only royal wedding we’ll see. It’s exciting. We’d hate for the union jack to disappear from our flag, it’s the flag our grandparents wore to war. Besides,” laughed Cunningham, “it means I get an entry visa!”
The home crowd came perilously close to being outnumbered – a babel of languages from Thai to Portuguese was in strong evidence, with Japan, France and the US especially represented. TV crews from all corners of the globe roamed the crowds looking for the wackiest dresses and interviewing anyone in uniform.
The poor-quality sound system outside Westminster Abbey left many visitors in confusion about what was going on. Wanda Haun, aged 81, and daughter Kathy Connell, 59, had travelled from California. “We love the royals, always have, and that young man, well, Diana would be proud,” said Connell. “We were stuck when the tube had no wheelchair access but people were wonderful and carried my mother and the chair up all those stairs. Really, this is just wonderful.”
The behaviour of fractious children, several parents confided, was the only fear for the day, but despite lost balloons, far-flung toilets and grass-stains on baby princess dresses, spirits stayed high.
One German couple, Gaby and Paul Ekkehard, were in St James’s Park with their five children aged from seven to 16. “We came for history and for fun. In Germany we have no celebrities. This royal family is at least half German, so we came for this,” said Gaby, 41, a lawyer. “It has been a lot of fun, I did make sure the children all had their Nintendo games, but the youngest is very disappointed not to have met the princess.”
One of the happiest men in London was Big Issue seller Alistair Buckley, 32. “It’s been great, I’ve had a £10 and a £5 tip so far, I’m making a fortune. Lots of people want a copy as a souvenir. I’m loving the royals, love ’em.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010