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During my journalist career, wed to an historian, I was fond of slyly slipping a vibe into conversation declaring that all historians wished they were journalists. After all, we write the first draft of history, and ten or more years later historians conducting research on issues of the time, read reporter’s published articles as part of their research. News copy provides a glimpse of the societal, political and economic norms of the period under study.
A case in point, on July 30, 1981 on assignment in London covering the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. He was thirty-two, his bride twenty. The dazzling event was broadcast globally as “a fairy tale come to life.” In time we learned this was not the case. In July of that year the usual pundits speculated why Diana was chosen.
Those who believe in the monarchy contended the marriage of his Royal Highness Charles, the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana, was made in Heaven. And that’s exactly what I wrote in an article under the headline: Observers Still Wondering Why Diana was chosen.
Speculation among London visitors and the international media pondered whether the wedding was arranged or as the British claimed, it was magical, love at first sight. No use speculating, Diana had passed all the tests including a reported three-day interrogation by the Queen Mother. No one could deny that on the Prince’s arm, the bride looked magnificent, smiling shyly and demurely. Also, the wedding provided a real psychological boost to the United Kingdom where inflation skyrocketed and unemployment at its highest in years.
Covering this international story necessitated press credentials requiring a series of correspondence between the Association of America Correspondents, the English Government Press Center, seeking permission to attend the event plus a request for a space designation on the wedding route. A Press Card issued by Mass State Police, Commissioner of Public Safety verified the character and professionalism of this reporter on the city staff writing for a Massachusetts daily newspaper. The UK government also required two passport photographs.
This laborious to and fro heralded the sanitation of all media personnel assigned coverage of the royal wedding. A notification from the London Press Center dispatched a nasty warning, niftily camouflaged as a word of advice: “It’s going to be a mob scene. Reporters may want to advise news room personnel back home it will not be easy to just come to London and expect to get a good view of anything. The Palace is being arbitrary about priorities and the Commonwealth and British press provides a much higher property than foreign media.”
Despite the red tape, I earned the distinction of the first American journalist to apply for and receive press credentials Hence, I was issued a view near the wedding sight close to Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
Foreign stories always challenging but especially so in pre-computer days. There’s time differences involved to meet deadlines, inadequate telephone service difficult to dictate an article or two. The Royal wedding occurred in the primitive period prior to the convenience of a laptop. However the Government’s Press Center provided exemplary provided exemplary perks for the working press. A huge press center akin to the one used for the Rhodesian Conference in Lancaster House in 1979. The Brits declared a ceasefire, ending the Rhodesian Bush War leading to the creation of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
The Press Center provided hundreds and hundreds of IBM Select typewriters. It also provided pre-wedding briefings. In a stroke of genius, the Government rounded up all teletype operators in the UK and reporters handed articles to operators for dispatch to appropriate newsrooms across the world. A welcome perk, an enormous convenience.
The day of the royal wedding, from my viewing spot the wedding route was a scene of splendor and pageantry. Lined with hundreds of police clad in their best uniforms showcasing white gloves and medals. Also members of the Scot Guards, the Royal Airfare, Irish Guards, and the Regiment of Canada. All wore red tunics, black trousers, anthe English traditional bearskin head-dress.
The best pageantry was yet to come, as foreign dignitaries in horse drawn carriages began the journey from Buckingham Palace to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Queen Elizabeth presented first, wearing light blue in an open landau carriage, red velveted, gold edged, so dazzling, so regal. She sat with husband, Prince Philip, followed by a seemingly nervous Prince Charles attired in his breast buttoned commander’s uniform.
Both carriages were flanked by red plumed calvary-men. Other dignitaries included King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvie of Sweden, Margarethe and Prince Henrik of Denmark. The sight of Princess Grace Kelly sitting alone in her cushioned carriage waving majestically was a combination of beauty and glamor.
Last to arrive for the eighty-minute Church of England ceremony was the bride, riding in a Glass Coach, two bay horses driven by a coachman in blazing gold and scarlet state livery. Lady Diana wearing a frilly wedding gown of ivory silk taffeta and old lace with a 25-foot sweeping train. She smiled radiantly from behind a lace veil.
A day to remember, a chronicle for historians to read the media’s reporting a historicwedding. This reporter added a post-script about King Juan Carlos of Spain who set off on a Mediterranean cruise snubbing the wedding. He returned his invite as a protest against the royal couple’s honeymoon stop in Gibraltar, which Spain claimed. Gibraltar, a British crown colony protected the entrance to Mediterranean.
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