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How 'sensible' and 'royal wedding' add up to 'yawn'

Margaret Lowrie

By Margaret Lowrie
CNN Correspondent

June 20, 1999
Web posted at: 5:48 p.m. EDT (2148 GMT)

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

In this story:

Just Sophie and Edward, working folks

Managing the media

Beef stroganoff, and no hats

LONDON (CNN) -- Edward and Sophie are getting married Saturday. Forgive Britain its collective yawn.

It may be cause for celebration in royal circles, where there have been more divorces than weddings in recent years, but this is not Diana Mach 2. This is not a late '90s version of an early '80s fairy tale.

This is, royal experts say, a modern, a mature marriage.

Any comparisons with the other, luckless marriages of Edward's siblings, particularly Charles' to the late Princess Diana, are not welcome here.

"It's not helpful. It's not accurate. It's something which the media has created," Prince Edward complained to a BBC television interviewer this week.

"I mean, being utterly cynical, the [late] Princess [Diana] was a huge money-spinner for them [the media], and it's certainly something we would never encourage."

His bride-to-be may look somewhat like Diana (in fact, Sophie Rhys-Jones confessed in the joint interview with her fiancé that she sometimes mistakes photos of Diana for her own good self). But any further resemblance, she is at pains to point out, is purely coincidental.

"It's two very different people. She had her own personality and I have mine," Sophie said in the joint interview, not only stating the obvious but, perhaps, understating it.

Just Sophie and Edward, working folks

For starters, Sophie is no naive, nervous young thing, plucked from aristocratic circles to produce an heir to the throne.

Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones
The happy couple announce their engagement

Royal wedding

She's 34; Diana Spencer was 20 when she married Prince Charles. Diana's father was an earl; Sophie is solidly middle class. And Sophie has been at Edward's side since they met more than five years ago; they say they're friends, too.

"They've had a lot of time to absorb a lot of probably very painful lessons," says Gervase Webb of Britain's Evening Standard newspaper. He says both Sophie and her royal in-laws benefited from the extended courtship.

"They've had time to bring her in gradually, get to know her, so when she starts up on her wedding day as HRH Sophie Windsor or whatever, it won't be the shock that it was for Diana or Fergie."

Actually, it's not clear what title she'll use, if any. So far, the royal scuttlebutt is that she'll continue using her maiden name professionally.

Therein lies another difference with princesses past. Sophie already has a career: she owns a public relations company, R-JH, that's extremely lucrative. It doesn't exactly require an MBA to see that with royal connections, her company is likely to be even more lucrative, a mini-royal mint in itself.

In fact, Prince Edward has a career, too. He makes documentaries with his television production company, Ardent, and does so as plain old Edward Windsor, sans royal titles.

Given their oft-stated desire to keep their private lives as private as possible, it is generally seen as unlikely that Edward and Sophie will take up much in the way of royal duties, either individually or as a couple.

Managing the media

One aspect of royal life they won't be able to avoid entirely: media intrusion.

Early on, Prince Edward made an unprecedented request of Britain's newspapers to let him conduct his relationship with Sophie in private, to give them breathing space denied either Prince Charles and Lady Diana or Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.

Tabloid headline
Sophie played it cool in public when a tabloid ran an old photo of her   

The media largely complied, until recently. Last month, Sophie's bare bosom was splayed in the pages of The Sun tabloid, in a holiday photo taken by a former radio station colleague more than a decade ago. The Sun reportedly paid some $150,000 for the picture showing a London disc jockey playfully pulling down Sophie's bikini top.

Even by frisky British tabloid standards, it was a photo too far.

While Sophie maintained a discreet silence, Buckingham Palace took an extraordinary step of not remaining so, accusing The Sun of a "gross invasion of privacy," a "pre-meditated cruelty" causing "considerable distress."

The resulting public outcry was so great, The Sun's editor felt compelled to apologize, twice.

Ironically, the photo's publication probably helped Sophie by creating a wave of sympathy on the eve of her wedding.

Judith Kark, head of a London secretarial college that "finishes" young ladies, applauds the way Sophie handled the matter.

"Remaining quiet is a very 'Jackie Kennedy approach' to the handing of public persona, and I think it takes maturity to do that," Kark says. It was "a very clear indication she is in quite a firm driving seat here -- she is in control."

A royal bride "in control" is an image that, at one time, would have had the royal family up in arms.

But Edward's family is said to heartily approve of his choice. The queen sees her as "sensible." That may not sound glamorous, but it contrasts with the royal characterizations of an "emotionally volatile" Diana and "unpredictable" Fergie.

But then few believe Sophie will face the same pressures as, notably, Diana.

"She's not producing an heir to the throne, she's not in the highest profile of jobs, she's marrying the queen's youngest son, he has a job, she has a job. So they are part of the royal family, but they are nearer to the Scandinavian royals" in terms of their low-profile lifestyle, says the Standard's Webb.

Beef stroganoff, and no hats

In fact, the wedding itself is cited as an example of the couple's break with tradition.

Edward and Sophie chose Windsor Castle, outside London, far from the pomp and pageantry of St. Paul's Cathedral (site of Prince Charles' marriage) and Westminster Abbey (Prince Andrew's).

The details may not be the classic British royal fare the British public might gorge on, but the tabloids are aquiver.

The relatively late hour of 5 p.m. is billed by the tabloids as very "European," the guest attire of evening dress and tuxedo as very "American." And guests have been told that great staple of British occasion, the hat, is (gasp) not necessary.

Sophie Rhys-Jones

Sophie's flower girls and pageboys are not from royal circles; instead, they are the children of the couple's longtime friends.

Further, we are informed, guests will go through a buffet line at the reception (though there are assurances the queen herself will not have to queue for her supper). Even the menu is cited as a bold departure -- smoked haddock, beef stroganoff and raspberries, instead of the traditional lobster, chicken and strawberries with cream.

The BBC is carrying the ceremony live but is charging a king's ransom to let others broadcast it, so it is unlikely the global audience will reach the vast numbers of Diana's marriage, or her funeral.

Not that it's clear the interest is there, anyway. By being modern and "sensible," the couple offers little along the lines of traditional "royal-ness" to capture the public's imagination, around the world and even among many Brits.

Sophie and Edward are, in a way, filling time -- and tabloid inches -- as a kind of place-card holder for the next generation of royals (including Prince William, in particular, in whom there is already keen interest).

While everyone seems to wish Sophie and Edward well, once the hubbub of this weekend's wedding dies down, they may well be largely granted their wish to lead private lives.

y: CNN's Richard Blystone finds Althorp a new Mecca for modern-day saint
July 3, 1998

More CNN correspondent analysis -- find by dateline

The British Monarchy -- official site
  • Windsor Castle

Edward & Sophie wedding special -- from the ITN News Network

Royal Insight

British Tourist Authority

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