We came for the royal wedding, we stayed for the ice cream.

From the archive.


How did I end up hauling my 6-year-old daughter to London for the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton?


Such harebrained schemes don't just happen. They infect you young and lurk in your nervous system for years, like shingles. I can tell you exactly when I caught royal fever.

It was July 29, 1981. I was 9 years old. I wasn't a princess-y kid. I was an Anglophile. Blame my mother. Blame “Masterpiece Theater,” which for years was one of the few shows she let me watch on TV. (I was the only kid I knew who was breathlessly following "Brideshead Revisited.")


My mother and I watched the TV movie about Charles and Diana. (Not a BBC production, but with accents, so still fancy.) I was at my dad's house in Key West on July 29 and I got up at 4 in the morning and watched the wedding on TV by myself. I drew that dress all summer, and when I got back to my mom's in the fall, I got a Lady Di haircut.


So when Prince William and Catherine-don't-call-me-Kate Middleton announced their engagement, I did not think I was being particularly crazy when I turned to my husband and said, "We're going."


"Um, I'm not," he said.


Eliza and I arrived in London on April 26. The city was ready. It seemed as if every shop window had some sort of wedding-themed display.


But the locals we met sounded less than enthused. What are you doing on "the free day off?" we heard them ask one another. It was three days before we met someone who was actually going to participate in the fanfare, and he was just planning on taking his kids to his local street party. So who were all these people we were seeing camping out in tents along the procession route? Australians?


"We should get a tent," Eliza said as we rode past them in a cab.


"We aren't getting a tent," I said, thinking of our expensive hotel room. But as the wedding day approached, I started a campaign to control Eliza's expectations. "We probably aren't going to be able to see them up close," I said. "There are going to be a lot of people."


"Can we bring a ladder?" Eliza asked.


"No," I said.


"Well," she said. "You're just going to have to lift me up as high as you can."


The night before the wedding, we couldn't sleep. I thought about heading down to the procession route to wait for eight hours on the sidewalk. (I really did.) But here's the thing about doing that sort of thing with a 6-year-old: If one of you has to pee, you're both going to the Honey Bucket, and it's not as if anyone is going to save your place.


So we waited until morning when the alarm went off. Eliza wore an elegant gold dress and a red cape with a black and white fur collar. I wore jeans and a T-shirt, and the most English piece of clothing I own -- my London Fog trench coat. We started walking toward the palace, about a mile away.


It was quiet at first.


We hurried along the sidewalk. Everyone had been worried about rain, but the morning was beautiful. I was regretting the trench coat.


We could see people now up ahead. They were streaming along the sidewalks and streets. I decided to follow the crowd. Suddenly we were in a throng of thousands. Women in silly hats and tiny dresses teetered along in stiletto heels. Families pushed strollers festooned with Union Jack flags. Girls wore T-shirts that read, "It should have been me." The crowd surged into Hyde Park and suddenly we were in a sea of a million people. That's not hyperbole -- I read it later in the paper, there were a million people in that park.



Three enormous JumboTron screens had been erected to broadcast the action. Even so, I had to hoist Eliza up to see, because when those million people saw the queen arrive at the Abbey, they all stood up and waved their flags, and they didn't sit back down. These people had come for the day. They brought blankets, and were drinking beer -- at 10 in the morning. When William and Catherine began their vows, the crowd went silent.


"I thought her dress would be longer," Eliza said.


"Shh," I said.


Then it was over. They were pronounced married. The shouting was deafening.


I had one thing on my mind: kissing.


After a wedding, the royal couple stands on the balcony at Buckingham Palace and kiss -- it's what they do.


"Let's go," I said to Eliza.


I could see people peeling off, and Eliza and I followed them, assuming they were all going somewhere important. It turned out that somewhere important was the nearest tube station. I pulled out my map from our double-decker bus tour, located our position, and plotted our route to the mall. Eliza was excited for a minute about this -- thinking we were going to the Gap and then maybe Jamba Juice. I explained that it was not that kind of mall.


It took a long time to get there. People kept stopping us and asking to take Eliza's picture. Someone gave her free ice cream. "Ooh, royalty's coming!" a cop said as Eliza walked by in her cape.


"I'm taking this thing off," Eliza said.

The crowd was thick at the entrance to the mall. I had a firm grip on Eliza's wrist and pulled her sideways between people. I wasn't even sure where we were going. I just figured that this many people jammed together must be jammed together for a reason.


The mall itself was closed off by barricades, and guarded by police. I could see the police in their fluorescent yellow jackets chasing people in the park near the mall, forcing them out the gates. The crowd was pressing against the barricades and I picked Eliza up so she could get some air.


It was hot now. My trench coat was off, jammed under my arm, along with Eliza's cape. No one was moving, but it seemed everyone was trying to move. It was the first time I have ever felt the power that a crowd has, how it becomes its own sort of organism, capable of crushing people.


Suddenly, I didn't give a toss about the kiss. My main goal was to get Eliza out of there.


It took some doing. But we made it back to the hotel and turned on the TV in time to see the police lift the barricades and guide the crowd down the mall to the palace. If we had stayed we would have been right up front, with a great view. As it was, we saw the balcony moment, like most of the world, on TV.


After a few hours, we ventured out again. We saw the palace guard on horseback and the revelers still outside the palace.


Eventually, Eliza joined some other little girls who discovered that if they sat down in their puffy dresses, all that silk and taffeta made for excellent toboggans on a slanted marble monument in St. James Park. The girls slid on their backs and on their bellies, and the grown-ups watched. None of us told them to try to keep their dresses clean.


"This was the best day of my life," Eliza told me on the way out of the park.


"What was your favorite part?" I asked.


"The ice cream," she said.