- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2011

LONDON | “Kate has chosen her bridesmaids!” “Harry to be William’s Best Man!” Those breathless headlines are what pass for breaking news in Britain these days, as the nation is in full throes of its latest royal obsession — the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Mere minutes after the attendants for the April 29 wedding were announced on Valentine’s Day, major newspapers here — the Times, the Daily Mail, the Sun, even the more sober Independent — had the news splashed across their websites.

Since William announced his engagement to Miss Middleton in November, fits of euphoria have swept across the media, communities all over Britain have planned street parties to celebrate and just about every British industry seems to be trying to find a way to cash in on the royal romance.

Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham is crafting a celebratory beer called Kiss Me Kate, while the Birmingham Mint is peddling commemorative medals depicting the couple.

Tea towels, plates and mugs featuring pictures of the couple are for sale nearly everywhere.

Now comes word that the couple are sending invitations to 1,900 of their closest friends and relatives, including notables such as Sir Elton John and soccer star David Beckham but excluding William’s aunt, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

Bookmaker Paddy Power is taking bets on the exact color of Miss Middleton’s dress (ivory? ecru?), the location of the honeymoon and whether Miss Middleton will use the word “obey” in her vows.

The romance also has inspired a comic book, written by Rich Johnston, a graphic novelist based in London.

When asked how the couple respond to this frenzy, Eva Omaghomi, assistant press secretary to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, said: “The couple has always intended for their wedding day to be as enjoyable as possible for as many people as possible.”

To that end, the day has been declared a national holiday. “The wedding of Kate and William will be a happy and momentous occasion,” said Prime Minister David Cameron. “We want to mark the day as one of national celebration.”

William met his future bride when they were students at St. Andrews University in Scotland in 2001. After a long courtship, William proposed to Miss Middleton while on vacation in Kenya. He offered her the diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring of his late mother, Princess Diana.

“It is very special to me,” he said at their first news conference. “And Kate is very special to me now as well. It is only right the two are put together.”

Miss Middleton is the daughter of a former flight attendant and an airline officer who have since made millions of dollars selling party supplies. She will become the first “commoner” to marry a future king in 350 years, and will say “I do” at Westminster Abbey, where Diana’s funeral was held in 1997.

Wedding preparations have the swooning press corps speculating wildly about details, such as the designer of Miss Middleton’s dress (to be announced on her wedding day). On any given day, 100 to 3,000 reports about the couple are published.

And the British public?

“It’s a marvelous thing,” said Derek Cole, 73, of Bognor Regis in West Sussex, who plans to watch the wedding on television. “And it’s significant that it wasn’t arranged.”

Millions of people will tune in, he said, because William “is the son of one of the most famous people in the world — Diana.”

Ringret Leks, 26, an accountant from North London, said she is so thrilled that she will get as close as she can to the ceremony. “I’ll be going into Hyde Park and waiting and waving,” she said. “Girls like princesses and fairies. I am lucky to be in a country with a royal family.”

British army veteran David Deacon sees the wedding as a chance to celebrate all things British, “from the food at the reception to the sewing machine used to make the dress.”

Other Britons, however, are trying to get as far away as possible. Hotels.com reports that searches on its United Kingdom site for trips abroad the week of April 29 are up 212 percent over the same period last year. Some people are simply taking advantage of the extra holiday, while others are fleeing the festivities.

“We are escaping to Cornwall to avoid it,” said lawyer Jude Allen of Islington. The only reason people are interested, she added, is that it’s a “nice distraction from all the doom and gloom [of the economic crisis]” and “we get a free holiday.”

But as Britons flee, Americans flock in. U.S. searches for London hotels were up in early January by 189 percent over last year, said Alison Couper, global communications director at Hotels.com.

“The royal wedding is a win-win for inbound and outbound tourism,” said Ms. Couper. It places “London in the spotlight for overseas visitors and allows Brits to be able to take advantage of the extra holiday to enjoy a dose of sunshine.”

London stands to make $48 million to $81 million as a result of wedding-related tourism, said Jacqueline French, senior public relations manager of Visit London (official city guide and hotel booker). That number is based on an expected 600,000 additional tourists, about the same number who came for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.

Many Americans are interested because they recall Princess Diana fondly. “I remember watching Diana as a kid and thinking it was just fantastic,” said Elaine Trimble, 38, an American development consultant living in London. “There will be similar interest in this wedding as there was with Diana and Charles.’ And everybody wants to be a princess.”