Magic of the moment

Will the fairy tale nature of Charles and Diana's ceremeony be re-captured this year? Steve McClarence reports

I dare say flag-waving crowds are already gathering on the streets of London. Camped out in their red, white and blue tents, they're staking a claim for the best vantage points, ready to bawl "Gawd bless 'em" in broad Cockney, even though the big day is still months ahead.

For many people, after all, 2011 will be The Year of the Royal Wedding. For many people, but not quite for all.

Republicans will have earmarked Friday April 29 as a day to stay in bed, go for a long country walk, or jump on a Eurostar to France, where they took a rather different stance on the monarchy 200 years ago.

Discounting the low-key union of Prince Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles, the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton will be the third major British Royal wedding in the past 30 years.

It will do well to match the first, back in July 1981, when an estimated 750 million worldwide viewers watched Prince Charles marry an obscure aristocrat called Lady Diana Spencer.

I wasn't among those millions of viewers. Instead I was perched on raked scaffolding in St Paul's Cathedral, covering the event, with a grandstand view of Charles' profile. I was also in Westminster Abbey five years later when Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson, but that was very much Royal Wedding Mark II, a rerun with bigger hats.

The first wedding was the memorable one, the big production number, and I still have the official programme and various souvenir odds-and-ends safely stored in a stiff Buckingham Palace envelope.

I plan to auction them on eBay if times get hard. Even my Press invitation, hand-written by someone who may once have shared a corridor with the Queen, should fetch a few thousand from some discerning royalist collector.

The authentic crease, where I folded it on the day to fit my wallet, is still there. Priceless, I'd say.

Looking back, it's astonishing how much I wrote about the wedding for The Star, the Sheffield newspaper where I was working.

I wrote about being measured for a morning suit and top hat, which, in the event, I didn't wear. I wrote about souvenir-peddlers. I wrote about Royal Wedding songs. And I wrote about one of the 500 street parties organised around the city on the weekend before the wedding. It featured a lot of bunting, trestle tables piled high with potted meat sandwiches and trifles, and an Under-Eights fancy dress competition.

The Under-Eights dressed up as golliwogs (you wouldn't get that today), Wonder Woman, Olivia Newton-John and Britannia, with a helmet made from an orange plastic Wimpey hat.

One child dressed up, rather enterprisingly I thought, as a toilet cistern, but didn't win.

There was also a Bouncing Baby competition which the photographer working with me refused to help to judge. He was worried that his car tyres might get slashed by the parents of babies who didn't win. Passions run high at these things, he said.

Come the wedding itself, I drew a significantly short straw. Sheffield's other daily newspaper was also sending a journalist to cover the event. But where she stayed overnight at a nice London hotel, someone thought it would be a good idea if I joined the special excursion train that was leaving Sheffield at 2am on the day itself. I never thought this was a good idea.

The train was packed with loyal subjects, some of them toasting the young couple with cans of lager at 3.15am.

We sped south, past the flickering embers of wedding beacons, and arrived in London at 5.30am.

The place was deserted. "The sun rises on a grey, rather humid day," I dictated to a copytaker from one of the telephone booths that used to line the concourse at St Pancras. Telephone booth? Copytakers? Was it so long ago?

I had a cup of coffee at a greasy-spoon cafe near a kebab house with a poster of the happy couple in the front window. "Eat here or take away," said the slogan underneath them. "I'll eat them here," someone had added.

Slowly I made my way up to St Paul's past crowds four-deep. Some had been there all night but still waved their flags manically for the cameras.

When they all waved together, a gale blew up Ludgate Hill. "Stowmarket Offers Congratulations," proclaimed a banner as red, white and blue striped periscopes jostled like miniature Punch and Judy booths. Periscopes? Yes it was long ago.

Outside the cathedral, posh people who hadn't seen each other since the start of The Season were kissing and mumbling "Hello, haha, yah" without moving their lips. "Did lots of you come up? Lovely. Lovely. Yah."

Inside, Church and State had turned out to re-enact medieval pageantry with buckles and breastplates, ermine and epaulettes, and fanfares at every turn.

Here was the Mistress of the Robes, there the Master of the Horse. Silver Stick Adjutant was partnered by Silver Stick in Waiting.

Here were Vicars Choral and Minor Canons, the Prince and Princess of Liechtenstein, equerries by the dozen, and taperers and prebendaries, who sound like small jungle animals but are actually church officials.

Pomp was piled on pomp, ceremony on ceremony.

My main concern, however, was that, marooned on the raked scaffolding among dusty statues in the South East aisle, it would be several hours before I could get to a toilet. Had that second coffee really been a good idea?

A foreign journalist next to me scribbled Japanese shorthand, which looks much like Japanese longhand, except to the Japanese.

I've been reliving all this thanks to an old BBC LP of the service I picked up at a charity shop the other week.

The big memory it brought back was the stirring music – Trumpet Voluntary thundering out, Kiri Te Kanawa dressed as a bird of paradise and trilling Handel's Let the bright Seraphim – and the great clamour of cheering that echoed up the cathedral when the doors were opened and the couple faced the crowd.

The record reminds you that in the ceremony Diana, in her timidity, got her husband's name wrong ("Philip Charles Arthur George"). And that there were an awful lot of reedy religious voices. The Archbishop of Canterbury intoned: "Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made" before pointing out, poignantly in retrospect, that such tales usually end with the words "They lived happily ever after."

Relatively unnoticed was the soldier in charge of the Household Cavalry escort as the newly-weds left Buckingham Palace later that afternoon. His name was Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Parker Bowles. At the time he was married to a woman called Camilla.

YP MAG 8/1/11