Text by Melvyn Bragg. Images and [insertions] by yours truly.
I saw London en fete. Union Jacks, five abreast, went from Upper Regent Street, down Regent Street, to Lower Regent Street. They are a splendid sight. They are so much better than the Christmas decorations. I called this the Union Jack. Various persons, when I grew older, called it the Union Flag and are very disparaging about those who call it the Union Jack. Still, in the Scouts I called it the Union Jack. As far as I can remember, my Dad called it the Union Jack. I’m sure the Union Flag is more accurate; it is certainly more upper class to call it the Union Flag, but, damn it, it is the Union Jack and, oddly enough, it looked magnificent, in its glory, right the way down the curve of Regent Street. [See here for the full effect.]
London was full of people selling brochures about the marriage, of people teeming over pavements come to see the marriage, of people lining up about the marriage. It would be churlish not to be caught up in that and I was caught up in it. In London it is an event. It is an event when royalty is married at our great royal abbey.
Westminster Abbey is one of the great fulcrums of the world in terms of its composite character. A place of monarchy. A place of worship. A place of reverence for the great dead, from those who believed in God to those who did not believe in God. A place of great choral Evensongs. A place of chapels and the Jerusalem Chamber and nooks and crannies. Nothing like the crepuscular magnificence of Notre Dame or the extraordinary glory of Chartres, or the cornucopia of cathedrals of the Vatican and St Paul’s, nor does it have the tawny splendour of Wells or the total, perfect magnificence of Durham, but Westminster Abbey is something different. It is where the nation binds itself together on national occasions, it seems to me, and even non-monarchists (I may be wrong, there may be some non-monarchists reading this) must surely feel that here is the symbol of much of our history, for better and for worse, for the rich and for the poor alike. [No, we are not talking about the two nations.]
And it will all happen tomorrow, when the fairytale prince, son of the fairytale princess, marries the fairytale girl who, a couple of generations ago, came from humble stock to become a figure on the London scene, snapped up by the prince and – I can’t help laughing as I’m dictating this – they will be coupled in the place where Harold Godwinson was declared king in 1066 in the English language, and it took 333 years before the next king was declared king in the English language. Eventually – do I say God willing? – William will be king there too and … well, enough of that. Good luck to both of them. We all feel that, don’t we? Well, I hope we do. If we don’t, we’re a pretty poor lot. – Melvyn Bragg
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