Why I'm watching the royal wedding

Friday mornings at 4 a.m. generally find me asleep, but this week I'll be among the thousands of Anglophiles glued to my television for the "wedding of the century."

At 25, I've spent the better part of my adult life either in Europe or wishing I was in Europe. I went to grad school in London and cut my teeth on all things British during my junior year at Goucher College, which I spent at Oxford University.


There, I learned to raise my glass to the Queen, and when she came to dine at Christ Church College (in the very same hall that served as the model for Harry Potter), I lined up on the sidewalk and waited for my chance to wave. I couldn't tell a Cameron from a Clegg in those days, but no matter: I was in the presence of royalty.

I love Jane Austen, the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, Collin Firth, "Love Actually" and anything involving eighteenth-century decorative arts. As such, it's only natural that I'm a bit obsessed with the royal family.


And it's only natural that my fellow Anglophiles are obsessed with the nuptials of Kate Middleton and Prince William.

As Americans, we're born and raised on the notion that monarchies — even constitutional monarchies — are bad. I now live in Philadelphia, where we are particularly proud of our revolutionary forefathers (name a city that celebrates July 4th for an entire week like we do). William Penn and Ben Franklin would be rolling over in their graves if they knew just how obsessed some of us are.

But Penn forgot that everyone loves a good wedding (even humorless Quakers such as yours truly). And Franklin, despite his brilliant political mind, forgot one of the many things that the Brits got right: By separating your head of state from your head of government, you free up the head of government to do his or her job. (Having gone from paying nothing to go to doctor under Britain's National Health Service to paying several hundred dollars every time I need a prescription re-filled here in the U.S., I would say that health care is another thing that the Brits got right, but this is another debate for another time.)

In The Context, Performance and Meaning of Ritual: The British Monarchy and the "Invention of Tradition," British historian David Cannadine examines the relationship between ritual and political power. It's no secret that when you leave all of the hand-shaking and baby-kissing to the Queen and her entourage, you enable the prime minister to lead with greater efficiency.

Too often in the United States, differences of political opinion get confused with questions of nationalism and patriotism. In a constitutional monarchy, citizens can question their elected officials without questioning the ideals these officials are meant to uphold — especially when they have an entire set of Lady Di tea towels to prove their allegiance to Great Britain.

Consider the impeachment of President Clinton. If we'd had a prince dressed as a Nazi to distract us — as in the case of William's younger brother, Harry — you can bet the American people would have never been so fixated by the president's personal life.

Yes, the royal family is rather high maintenance. And yes, the notion of monarchy goes against the very ideals of U.S. Constitution, but just ask any London-bound tourist what they can't wait to see, and chances are they'll say the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.

This is because we're not above ogling royalty in the U.S. Waking up at 4 a.m. to watch William and Kate tie the knot is no worse than trying to emulate Jackie O's style or Michelle Obama's hair.


We're human. Scandals and weddings are two of the things we love most, and in the British royal family, you get scandals and weddings plus celebrities, fantastic hats and even the occasional drug habit. So cut your Anglophile co-workers some slack this week. It will be over by Saturday, and with any luck we'll get another Congressional sex scandal soon so we can go back to fixating on our figureheads and ignoring what's really going on in our country.

Kat Richter, a graduate of Goucher College, is a freelance writer and teaching artist in Philadelphia. Her email is