LONDON — As workers fill in the cement to smooth the gaps between the cobblestones outside Westminster Abbey in last-minute repairs, the first royal fans have set up camp opposite Friday’s wedding venue.
Undeterred by the sharp drop in temperature after a blazing hot Easter, and forecasts of cool weather and showers for Friday, John Loughrey is ensconced on the pavement, a Kate and William T-shirt wrapped around his waist.
“I don’t mind if I get wet, the main thing is the royal couple don’t get wet, I don’t want them to get wet,” says the 56-year-old former chef, sporting a Union Jack woolly hat.
Next to him, 71-year-old Gwynne Murray has arranged her sleeping bag, tent, foil blanket and thermos flasks around her folding chair. She has camped at all royal weddings since Princess Anne married in 1973, including the “big one” of Charles and Diana in 1981.
Like her, many of the hardcore royal fans connect the wedding day of Prince William and Kate Middleton to memories of Princess Diana, who would have turned 50 in July this year.
The former wife of Prince Charles, and mother of princes William and Harry, died in a car accident in Paris, aged 36, in 1997.
“Diana would be proud of her son, and of his younger brother Harry as best man,” said Loughrey. He believes that because Diana brought up her two boys to be as “normal as possible” and Friday’s “happy event” will mark a lifetime of happiness for the couple.
A young shop assistant at a supermarket chain near the Abbey said he would be watching Friday’s ceremony on TV because of Diana. “They are such nice boys, they deserve to be happy,” he said.
“At the core of it is Diana. It’s a soap opera, a fairytale,” said Chris Wylde, the head of London’s Foreign Press Association, which is handling the influx of some 8,000 journalists from around the world.
Ken Wharfe, Diana’s former bodyguard, who accompanied William and Harry — then aged 15 and 12 — at their mother’s funeral service at Westminster Abbey in September, 1997, said Friday’s wedding had a “happy buzz” about it.
Diana had “broken the royal mold” by bringing up her boys with warmth, love and a sense of fun, Wharfe told the BBC.
“Hugging has no known side-effects,” Diana was reported to have once said.
In her famous TV interview in 1995, she said: “I put it to William, that if you find someone you love in life you must hang on to it and look after it, and if you were lucky enough to find someone who loved you then one must protect it.”
When the royal family deprived Diana of her HRH (Her Royal Highness) title, following her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996, William, aged 14, is reported to have said: “Don’t worry, Mummy, I will give it back to you when I am king.”
When he gave Kate his mother’s sapphire engagement ring on his own engagement, William said publicly that the gesture was his way “to make sure that my mother did not miss out on today and the excitement that we are going to spend the rest of our lives together. This is my way of keeping her close to it all.”
William, who believes that his mother was “hounded” to death by the media, has repeatedly said that “lessons have been learnt” from the past and that his own wife will be fiercely protected from similar intrusion.
For him, walking down the aisle with Kate Middleton will have the double poignancy of sad memories and new happiness.
But Loughrey, on the pavement outside, is already several steps ahead: “Maybe they will have a baby girl they’ll call Diana and then we’ll have a Queen Diana at last.”
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