Here’s the first thing you need to know: I don’t care about the royal family. I really don’t. I don’t follow their every move in the tabloids, and I don’t want to know what any of them wore, ate, or said in India. New pictures of the royal baby? I’ll pass. But none of that mattered back in April 2011. I was like pretty much every other person on the planet. I joined the unyielding frenzy surrounding the pending nuptials of Prince William and the Duchess formerly known as Kate Middleton. It’s been five years since they tied the knot, and they've had two perfect royal babies and managed to live happily ever after. To this day, some outlets report that two billion people watched the royal wedding live. Almost 23 million people in the U.S. alone watched the nuptials on networks like CNN, NBC, ABC, Telemundo, and CBS. That means millions of us woke up early one morning — some Americans as early as 5 a.m. — to watch two strangers say “I do” and share a kiss on a castle balcony. That’s insanity! In the years that have followed, I’ve tried to make sense of how and why I got caught up in the spectacle of the royal wedding. Why did so many of us feel drawn to this one event? With their five-year anniversary creeping around the corner, I’ve decided to reexamine the stages of royal-wedding frenzy that I experienced — and find an answer.
Stage 1: Meet KateThe hype began in November 2010. I woke up one morning to wall-to-wall coverage of the royal couple on every morning talk show, with banners that read “Prince William Engaged!” I immediately rolled my eyes, but kept watching in case there was any real news. Suddenly, William and Kate walked out into a gaggle of press at St. James' Palace. The cameras started flashing at such a rapid pace that it looked like someone had turned on a strobe light. I felt for Kate Middleton. This ordinary (albeit extraordinarily beautiful) woman stepped out into a room in a simple blue wrap dress and was being hounded with personal questions about her proposal, the prospect of being a member of the royal family, their vacation, and whether Will got down on one knee. She stumbled while speaking, and kept looking at her new fiancé whenever she got nervous or was at a loss for words. I decided, as normal people watching celebrities often do, that these traits — nervousness, nice wrap dress, sweet smile — were endearing. I liked her. I had no idea who she was, or how long they had dated, or where she was from. But it didn’t matter. The press conference was enough.
Stage 2: Experience Princess Diana NostalgiaIn the days that followed, Buckingham Palace announced the official wedding date: April 29, 2011. In the weeks after that, Kate Middleton’s blue wrap dress was sold out, and we all got to see the couple’s official portrait. I was still fairly indifferent on the matter. Until I read an article about Kate’s engagement ring. This was the moment that clinched it for me. While I have no interest in the royal family overall, I have very fond childhood memories of Princess Diana. I remember watching her help sick children, and talk about AIDS on nightly newscasts. I remember reading a children’s pop-up book at my grandmother’s house that was all about her royal wedding. And I remember exactly where I was in 1997 when the world learned that she had died in a car crash in Paris. Because I loved Princess Diana, I was very happy to read that the engagement ring on Kate’s finger was the exact same engagement ring that Prince Charles had given to Princess Diana when he proposed. It was a glorious 18-carat oval sapphire, surrounded by 14 diamonds and set in 18-karat white gold. It was starting to feel like a fairy tale again, wasn’t it? I started to remember flipping through that pop-up book, looking at the image of an animated Princess Diana riding in a horse-drawn carriage, surrounded by fairies (which was clearly true to life). And it just happened — I started thinking that I wanted to see that kind of large-scale, fairy-tale wedding in my lifetime if it ever happened again. It was history in the making, after all.
Stage 3: Pretend You’re Above The HypeThere were countless stories about 5 a.m. wake-up calls, royal-wedding parties, women vying to be Prince Harry’s date, and speculation about Kate Middleton’s gown. While engaging in chitchat about what kind of dress I think would look great on Kate was acceptable, I refused to be a part of the rest of it. Unfortunately, you could only be so far removed from the wedding hype. I read about the damn Prince Harry stalkers. I didn’t want to know about Pippa, but she was constantly being photographed on her way to work. But I drew the line at the viewing parties. I would not attend an actual party organized solely to watch strangers get married in another country. But I wasn’t above waking up early with my parents and sitting through The Today Show’s coverage of the ceremony in its entirety. Even the part when they drove off to Clarence House through a crowd of strangers in an Aston Martin convertible with a rear plate that read, “JU5T WED.”
Stage 4: Embrace Complete Wedding HysteriaThe night before, I couldn’t sleep anyway — thanks to all the FOMO-mongering coverage — so I was already up at 5:30 a.m. The first thing I noticed were the multitudes of people filling every nook and cranny of London. People lining the streets to Westminster Abbey, people squeezing into parks watching Jumbotrons, and people lining the gates of Buckingham Palace. I had never seen that many people in one place, with the exception of Live Aid replays. Hearing the British people on the ground talk about their excitement for a new princess got me excited (and also made me feel like a total traitor to America’s founding fathers). It wasn’t just ordinary people who were excited — celebrities, politicians, and other royals all showed up to the wedding wearing their very best. The Beckhams were there, and so were Elton John, Mario Testino, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and a slew of others. It was the fanciest red carpet I’d ever seen. There were tailcoats, top hats, and fascinators. And by this point, I was totally on board with all of it. When Kate stepped out of that carriage and walked up those stairs, I was blown away. She was like the 2011 version of Grace Kelly — classy, elegant, and with a train for days. But as much as I remember the dress, the kiss on the balcony, the throngs of people, and the Aston Martin, I’ve kind of forgotten everything else. I can’t remember the actual ceremony, the speeches, the vows, or the kiss in Westminster Abbey. I don’t remember how they got back to the palace, or why the entire royal family thought they should go stand on a balcony and wave at their subjects. I just remember wanting to be a part of something bigger than me. Something that everyone was going to talk about the next day, month, and for years to come. I wanted to believe in fairy tales. I wanted to have an answer to the question, “Where were you when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge got married?” And I do. I was in Philadelphia, with my eyes glued to the television for the entire affair. It was opulent, it was ridiculous, it was pure pageantry — and it was well worth the memory.