Forget Big Ben! And who cares about the National Portrait Gallery or Trafalgar Square? There, right across the street, behind that parked van, is the Jigsaw clothing store where Kate Middleton worked as an assistant accessories buyer from 2006-2007. Part time.
“Wow!” says a couple from Greece. “Interesting!” adds an Australian woman, snapping photos from various angles.
Welcome to the London attraction of the week - the formidable, information packed, royal wedding tour of London. Available, with slight variations, through half a dozen different companies, but inevitably always featuring such highlights as where Prince William went out dancing (and ran up a bar tab of £11,000) after his break-up with Kate which lasted just a few months.
But let's not dwell on unhappy memories. With the nuptials of William and Kate upon us, the city is filling up with tourists (and journalists) from across the globe, all eager to see, hear about and feel some of the magic of the royal romance.
“In the next two and a half hours, we will be discussing the highs and lows of William and Kate’s relationship,” explains Hana Umezawa, the pretty guide from Celebrity Planet tours, as she gets the afternoon started peering into the window of the jewelry store where Princess Diana’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring - which now adorns Kate's left hand - was purchased.
Two dozen tourists and almost as many journalists are soon paused in front of Jigsaw for a moment of philosophical reflection.
“Kate’s struggle to hold down a job since graduating reportedly earned the displeasure of the Queen,” intones Umezawa - who has a master's degree in international development but moonlights the wedding beat - looking solemn.
“I understand how she feels, that Queen,” nods Don Savant, a young man from Trinidad who flew for ten hours to be part of Friday's festivities in London. “Work is an important ethic. Even for royals.”
The tour zips by Mahikis, the Polynesian themed tiki bar where William came to drown his sorrows after the 2007 breakup, reportedly jumping up on a table and yelling "I’m free!” It heads over to Clarence House, where Charles and Camilla now live, and across to Buckingham Palace, surrounded with massive stages for the world media to be able to capture the big post-ceremony kiss on the balcony.
Umezawa is pelted by questions. “Do you know anything about the cake details?” David and Adele Bywaters from Cornwall - who plan to bake a cake on the wedding day and have a party themselves - want to know. “Why did William break up with Kate over the phone,” the concerned Australian asks. “Where is Kate now?” the Greek couple demand. “I really don’t know her itinerary,” admits Umezawa meekly.
The tour winds through the parks, past royal homes and royal shoemakers, and ends, finally, at Westminster Abbey, built in around 1050 by Edward the Confessor, and famed place of royal coronations, weddings and funerals (Diana's funeral ceremony was held there).
On Friday at 11A.M., Kate will step out of the Rolls Royce in her wedding dress, for the whole world to finally see, and step into this church to become a princess.
Outside the Abbey, the first of the die-hard royal enthusiasts have put up their tents and laid out sleeping bags, so as to get the best view on the big day. Savant, intrigued, strikes up a chat with John Loughrey, a former assistant chef dressed in a t-shirt stating “Diana would be proud.”
A PR woman from a mattress company approaches bearing an inflatable mattress and pump - a gift. That’s it, Savant is sold. He will stay right here, he tells Loughrey, and seats himself between him and Gwen Murray, a mother of four who has arrived with a suitcase and a large stock of wool, so she can knit as she waits out the hours.
She was also there 30 years ago, says Murray, camping outside Buckingham Palace as Charles married Diana - and she would not miss this one for the world.
“Me neither,” exclaims Savant, happy to find a like minded soul, and sharing his granola bar with his new friends. “This is history. This is the modern day fairy tale.”
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