5pm, The Mall, the night before the royal wedding
Hair up, tiara on, wedding dress in bag, I ventured to the Mall. St John’s Ambulances lined up in a street beside the Mall. TV crews set up their kit half way up the steps to Waterloo Place. People were split into groups of no-nonsense Londoners on their way home, and cheery flag-wavers, chattering excitedly amongst themselves about what would happen along this famous road 18 hours later.
People were camped along the side of the road, cup cakes and wine on make-shift tables. Three generations of one family, proudly sporting royal masks and re-telling their story to a host of passers-by, photographers and journalists.
We walked round to Westminster, to see who was outside the abbey. These were the hardcore campers, they staked their claim on bits of pavement a week ago in some cases.
The idea was to take one photo outside Westminster Abbey in my dress, and see if I could find a William or two.
I lost my nerve. Suddenly the reality of what I was doing was starting to sink in. I must be mad. I mean, I am a bit mad, granted, I push the envelope, but even by my standards this was crazy…
Audioboo boss Mark Rock steadied my nerves with a rum and coke (double) in St Stephen’s Tavern. While there I got talking to some exuberant Americans that had flown in for the wedding. The sight of Kevin’s sequined union jack waistcoat, apparently only a small part of his royal wedding outfit was enough to convince me I wasn’t the only one who’d look stupid. I headed down the stairs to the pub toilets and came (sheepishly) back up as #WeddingKate. It took a bit less explaining that I thought it would as I re-entered the upstairs bar, bedecked as I was, in a full-on wedding gown. I got more smiles than roll-your-eyes stares (which is probably what I would have done had the situation been reversed). Maybe royal wedding fever really had finally reached the capital, or perhaps all those who wanted no part of it wouldn’t be found within several miles of its epicentre and were thus absent.
6pm, Westminster Abbey, the night before the wedding
I guess I should have realised there would be a bustling crowd of tourists taking photos, but it somehow hadn’t occurred to me that I was about to become a tourist attraction.
A crowd appeared around me, I held up my ‘Are you Will?’ sign. We actually found one. He was off to go camping in Hyde Park with his friends. I was invited to join them at a gin palace later on. I found a friendly policeman and asked if he was called Will. “No” he said, “but I could be”. “Brilliant!” I replied, and promptly produced my “I could be William” sign.
Another wave of tourists magically surrounded me. I was tapped on the shoulder and there was a Will look-alike. It was a very odd alternate version of London.
Everyone was in good spirits. Instead of being ridiculed (as I feared) I was in fact being complimented on the dress. It was crazy, but I had fun. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves too. Mark and I took a stroll alongside the tent village in front of the media stands opposite the Abbey. I was offered a place to stay for the night, if I promised to keep the dress on. I was interviewed by a lady from CNN. People held up large home-made top trumps comparing Prince William and David Beckham. It was utter madness, all dressed in red, white and blue.
Normally I’d think these people were crazy, but there was such a warmth of spirit that I actually considered joining them. Not so much for the wedding itself, but for the atmosphere and modern-day version of the togetherness that epitomised the blitz spirit.
Back at the pub, I did another superman-esque cubicle change and then bumped into a young boy with Union flags on his face. “I’m sorry”, said his mother, “I think that he thought you were Kate”. I laughed and said if only he’d seen me moments before I would have looked like a much more convincing princess, but that I really am called Kate. Upon hearing this, they young boy, no more than five-years old, announced that he was “Prince Charming William King”, put his hands on my arms, and asked me to marry him. It was incredibly adorable, and had I not been dashing down to the loo to get changed I would have been able to share some audio or photos with you. I think though, this will remain our special moment.
Finally out of the wedding dress I was able to relax a little and meet up with my friend Patrick (he of #SpaceNomad saviour fame) who was over in London for a short break. After some beer (and some serious explaining) we took a final stroll around tent-city by the Abbey. The atmosphere was so friendly that we seriously considered dashing home for the tent, but settled on a fresh naan bread and proper beds for the night. A wise decision all told.
7am, The big day
I didn’t really need my alarm to wake me. A combination of insomnia and paranoia about sleeping on the wrong side and thus messing up my hair meant I’d been partially awake for most of the night. Nevertheless as it rang I attempted to spring into action. I was already exhausted, which didn’t bode well for the day ahead, but there were signs to be made and printers to contend with.
After an extensive battle with my computer, some glue, and the zip on my dress, I was finally ready to go. I tucked my signs under my arm and set off.
Now central London would be a-buzz with royal wedding fever, I had already experienced that last night. Walthamstow on the other hand was most definitely not.
Grabbing a quick bite at the station shop I felt distinctly ridiculous. (An element of which could probably have been avoided if I hadn’t inexplicably chosen a veggie samosa as my sustenance of choice.)
People handed out union flags branded with a mobile phone company logo at the station, but no-one seemed particularly interested. Ignoring my outfit, the journey was like any other tube ride, with people keeping themselves to themselves and nobody daring to make eye contact.
We switched lines at Finsbury Park and found a much busier train. A few stops in and people starting chatting. A lady got in wearing a cow-girl-esque red, white and blue ensemble. This was more like it, that friendly spirit was back and we exchanged stories about how we’d come to be here.
I left Patrick to meet his American college pals and headed to Piccadilly where I hoped to meet Andrew West, a friend who had agreed to come and be my photographer and provide moral (and psychological!) support.
Andrew was already packed in with the crowds in Trafalgar Square, but on my way there I had to stop and do an interview for Jim Hawkins on BBC Shropshire. The first thing he asked me was “What are you doing?”, a question, I had to confess, that I’d been asking myself all morning.
I headed toward the crowds and felt somewhat relieved to encounter Rose and Martha, who had braved the streets in eighties bridesmaids dresses. I stopped to chat to them and we got somewhat waylaid by passers-by demanding photographs.
In an attempt to upload my audio, sort out my coat, bag and dress, I stopped for a moment. Cue more interest in the “Are you Will?” sign, now hanging on my back.
I was just metres away from Trafalgar Square when the voice that came over the loud speakers announced that the square was now closed. No one else would be allowed in.
The wedding was due to start and you could hear the cheers as people caught the first glimpse of Kate and her dress arriving at the Abbey.
I made friends with a couple of guerilla filmmakers who were shooting their mini royal wedding epic “Return of the King“. Realising I wasn’t going to get too far on my own, I joined them on a walk to Green Park. With some much needed help carrying the train of my dress (plus my coat) I joked that I’d found my page boys.
We got a guardsman (replete with big furry hat) to smile as we held up the “I could be William” sign in front of him and then struck gold with a William by randomly calling out the name.
The crowds around Green Park were crazy. That was also shut and the only option left was Hyde Park. Meanwhile Andrew was attempting to find me and just laughed when I looked surprised at him finding me. “Luckily you’re not to hard to spot in a crowd” he said.
I’d promised I’d get myself down to Battersea to do an interview with BBC London 94.9 who were doing a live broadcast from the street party being held in Battersea High Street.
Andrew and I set off and whilst we were on the train I got him to update me on what I’d missed. Since I couldn’t get into Trafalgar Square I hadn’t actually seen the wedding itself.
As the train pulled in to Battersea I fumbled with the train of my dress. Before we knew it we were moving again, on the train, away from Battersea. Lucky for us the next stop was close and we jumped off at Clapham.
Shattered, we sat and recharged both ourselves and our phones over a glass of lemonade and a chocolate chip cookie. Not quite the royal wedding breakfast my namesake would be feasting upon, but enjoyable all the same.
1.30pm Battersea High Street
A full on street party at last! Tables lined up along the centre of the street, people eating, drinking and having fun together. A big screen next to BBC London’s outside broadcast routemaster bus showed highlights of the wedding. People drinking Pimms sat on the road in front of the screen.
I wandered further down the street, past food vendors and bars with their doors and windows flung open wide.
There were community groups with cake stalls, free salsa lessons and a couple of small fairground attractions.
I found a new William, a jovial Irish guy enjoying the sunshine with a group of friends sporting royal wedding masks. He agreed to be interviewed and I began to envy their seats and champagne. We continued on down the street.
At the end of the road a small crowd was gathered around a stage. Despite the compere’s best efforts to rouse them the response to his question “are we all having a good time today?” was muted.
This felt more like the sort of cynical London I’m used to. It’s not that people didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves, they were just a bit more reticent to admit that it was down to the royal wedding.
I could hear some muttering about the sign on my back and turned round to just as a drunk guy exclaimed “I’m not Will, but I am willin’!”. Ahem, moving swiftly on..,
My next encounter was infinitely better. Having read the sign on my back I’d been alerted to the fact I was in the presence of a Will. As I excitedly checked whether he was really called Will someone else in the group said “I’m called William too” adding that “he’s called Billy too”. Billy’s birth certificate apparently has his official name as William, so there it was: three Williams for the price of one. Brilliant!
I began to feel a bit dizzy. It was a warm enough day and I’d walked a fair old way in my wedding ensemble. A wave of exhaustion enveloped me and I became very single-minded about sitting down in a place with food. I looked mournfully at the long tables laid out in the street. Every chair was taken. I drooled as a lady walked by with a fresh looking chicken baguette of deliciousness. There was nothing for it, I asked where she’d purchased such a fine morsel and headed straight there.
I found an empty table at the back of the bar an Andrew gallantly went forth to brave the crowds clustered around their outdoor grill. Inside the place it actually looked like it could be a wedding reception, the bit just after dinner when you decamp to the hotel bar, but before the disco has begun.
I sat down at the table, plugged my gadgets in to charge and then felt somewhat awkward. It were as though I’d just jilted the groom and was stuck in a room with his distant relatives (the close friends and family picking up the pieces). I was sat alone in the corner in a wedding dress, physically and emotionally drained, and with little recollection as to how I’d got there.
Thankfully it didn’t take too long for food to arrive (and be eagerly consumed) and I began to feel more human again. I wondered how the other Kate was getting on. Moments later she appeared on the large flat screen television in the bar, being driven in a rather nice Austin Martin by her posh prince. Beats the underground I suppose…
Sandwich eaten, champers enjoyed, phones (somewhat) charged, it was time to move on. Just two more Williams to find and then I’d be triumphant. How hard could it be?
Very hard, it turned out. Despite a call out on BBC London, it appeared I’d exhausted the supply of Williams in Battersea. I rested myself aboard BBC London’s converted routemaster bus and tried to summon the energy to continue.
There was only one thing for it, we had to head back into town. Trundling back along the road to the station we hatched a plan.
6pm, Green Park
The hoards of people present earlier had melted away to their hotels, sightseeing, pubs or homes. There were still quite a number of hardy picnickers dotted across the grass though.
My strategy, find a group, weigh up the likelihood they’d talk to me or might contain a William, take a deep breath and smile. My first target, a group of guys dressed in partial fancy dress with military style jackets. Bingo! My hunch was right, securing me William number nine. What I hadn’t quite accounted for was the fact it was now quite late in what (for this group at least) had been an excuse to drink all day. Having chosen a group which contained no females I left myself open to a lot of drunken leering, which was not fun. I’d have to be more careful with the next group.
6.30pm, Hyde Park
The first thing that caught my eye when I arrived at Hyde Park was the lady in a wedding dress. Whew! I’m not the only crazy fool in a wedding dress! I felt somewhat vindicated by this. A day before I embarked on the challenge a good friend had warned me in no uncertain terms that I would be a laughing stock, adding that if I went through with it, it was “your funeral”.
I’d been most upset by this, considering calling it off, but I was too deep in. It was already on the Audioboo website, my blog and the PR company had been using it as an example when they spoke to newspapers. Not to mention I’d just picked up a wedding dress, specially fitted to me. What could I do? Everyone else was excited by the idea, thought it was a bit of fun, but this was a good friend, someone I respect and trust. I just wish he’d been able to give me some constructive advice on how to limit any damage since I was now committed.
I knew what I was doing was crazy. I knew it was silly. I knew people might think I’d lost the plot, but up until then I had also been about 75% sure that I could pull it off. Yes, of course I was scared and doubted everything I was doing, but I thought I could do this, make something happen. Hearing those words from my friend “it’s your funeral”, I panicked, maybe I was going to, as he suggested, offend people. Maybe they wouldn’t take it in the spirit it was meant, a bit of fun. I hated that thought, I don’t like upsetting people.
All day I’d been worrying about what he’d said, even as people laughed and smiled with me, took photos and chatted, agreed to be interviewed. All day I just wanted to do a good job so that I didn’t lose the respect of my friend.
When I saw another lady in a wedding dress, with her husband dolled up in a red military jacket, I felt better. They weren’t taking the piss, they were full on royalists and having a great day. Like me, she’d been complimented on her dress, photographed and seemed to be having a busy, but wonderful time. I finally started to relax about whether people would find my actions offensive. Now, just to find that final William.
I was tired. I mean really tired. All I could think about was lying flat on the grass and staying there for a very long time. But not yet. I had been set a challenge, and I’m not one to give up easily. In order to hold my head up high I needed to find that final William.
Walking across Hyde Park my feet felt like they were made of lead. Did I really have it in me to approach another group? I had to laugh as a group of girls shouted out “Kate! You bitch! You stole my prince!”. They were actually very friendly and came to have a photograph with me.
I spotted a group of about 12 people. Quickly scoping them out I decided that whilst they were probably (at best) “merry”, they were at worst posh drunks. I could handle them.
Hoping against hope that one of them would be called Will, I took a deep breath and approached them. Admittedly they looked at me as though I were crazy, but they heard me out. What’s more, William number ten was among them. Hallelujah!
William number ten was resplendent in pink trousers. He explained he’d lost a bet and I realised that standing there in a wedding dress I was in no position to judge. It it weren’t for the fact his friends were so keen for me to do so, I could have kissed him. I was so relieved to have completed my challenge. I was offered a drink, for the first time all day, but given they’d moved from Pimms to cheap cider in plastic cups I politely declined.
I stumbled a few feet away and collapsed on the grass. I’d taken on the challenge and I was triumphant. All that was left was to find me way home and escape from the dress, which turned out to be easier said than done.
10pm, The Nag’s Head
The local pub, unable to ignore the royal wedding, and yet unwilling to celebrate it, had gone for a wedding event with a decidedly feline twist. That day, the pub’s two resident cats had had a marriage of their own, and this was the focus of their celebrations. A wedding disco, wedding cake, special cat-print outfits for the staff and a modified royal wedding flag with eats and whiskers. It was partly bonkers and partly brilliant, but I was more than happy to nod, smile, and enjoy a well-earned pint.
What a day!