Royal weddings set to light up 2011

An extravaganza of royal glamour should lift the austerity gloom in Europe next year with the wedding of Britain’s Prince William in spring and of Prince Albert II of Monaco in the summer.

After years of speculation, Prince William has finally announced his engagement to long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton. View our slideshow as the royal family — and the whole of Britain — celebrates the news.

William is to marry his university sweetheart Kate Middleton in London on April 29, while Prince Albert and his South African fiancee Charlene Wittstock are tying the knot over two days on July 2 and 3.

“There’s a public infatuation that you wouldn’t believe,” French commentator Stephane Bern, who has already covered dozens of royal weddings, said.

“The world’s television stations are already making absolutely sure they will get the live feed.

“There is a real public desire for these sorts of events, a willingness to beat the gloomy times.”

That chimes true in Britain, where the coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron has unveiled a sharp package of cutbacks designed to reign in the kingdom’s record high deficit.

Cameron wasted no time in making the wedding day a public holiday. That brought some cheer to Britons, who were happy but not otherwise in party mood over the wedding.

Britons indifferent
At the end of November, pollsters ComRes found that two thirds of British subjects were “indifferent” to the big day, despite their attachment to the monarchy. The survey found that 76% were proud that Britain remains a kingdom.

“My guess is as we go towards it, people will get more interested,” said historian Jean Seaton.

However, the marriage of William and his fiancee would not have the glamour of the 1981 marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, William’s parents, she said.

“Lady Di made fashion; this woman is not going to make fashion,” said Seaton.

William has given Middleton his mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring, but the times are very different from the 80s “wedding of the century”.

Things took a turn for the worse for the British royals in the 1990s, with Queen Elizabeth II describing 1992 as an “annus horribilis”.

That involved the separation of heir-to-the-throne Charles and Diana; the divorce of her daughter Princess Anne from Mark Phillips, and the separation of her second son Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York — not to mention the devastating fire at her Windsor Castle home.

Worse was to follow in 1997 when Diana was killed in a Paris car crash.

“There was some damage, but a lot has been done to repair it already,” said Charles Kidd, the editor of Debrett’s, the British aristocracy bible since 1769.

‘Ideal model’
“Charles’ second marriage is extremely happy. And the young people of course look very happy. The Queen continues to be an almost perfect monarch. You only have to look at her list of engagements.”

Bern said the British monarchy was the “ideal model”.

“It is evolution without revolution: it evolves from generation to generation, but there are permanent values which remain,” the commentator said.

“Queen Elizabeth will die on the throne. She will never abdicate, she will never retire like everybody else.

“We are in a period where people need to find their bearings and the monarchy offers a historical marker.”

Andrew Hawkins, who heads up the polling company ComRes, argued that the British royals had done their best to adapt to the times, citing Prince William’s work as a rescue helicopter pilot.

Seaton, who has criticised the sheltered world of the royals, acknowledged that point.

“He is doing a real job,” she said.

Perhaps just as important, she argued, was that Middleton was 28 and had already spent eight years in a relationship with her future husband.

“The really good news is, that woman knows what she’s going into,” said Seaton.

Diana was far younger when she got engaged to Charles.

In Monaco, commentators are convinced that the marriage of Albert will be an even bigger event than Prince Rainier’s marriage to Hollywood star Grace Kelly in 1956.

“Albert II is known all over the world,” said one senior official.

The prince met Wittstock in 2000 at a swimming meet in the principality, where the Zimbabwean-born South African won the 200-metre backstroke gold.

They made their relationship public during the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. — Sapa-AFP

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