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Royal wedding: Countdown for William and Kate

Kate Middleton and Prince William
Image caption William and Kate will want to strike a balance between ceremony and modesty

Two family weddings, two significant birthdays - the Queen's 85th in April, Prince Philip's 90th in June - plus the usual round of royal duties and the preparations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee next year.

The year 2011 promises to be a busy one for the Royal Family. But there is no doubt which event will be the high-point, both for the family and for the public.

Prince William's wedding to Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey on 29 April has been long in coming. The couple have known each other for eight years since they met at St Andrews University.

The announcement of their engagement on 16 November last year caught the media by surprise.

But there can be little doubt that within the Royal Family it was common knowledge from an early part of 2010 that the engagement was to be announced in the autumn, with the wedding firmly pencilled in for the spring of 2011.

It certainly was not as spontaneous and unexpected as Miss Middleton tried to make it sound in her engagement interview. Within William's family the planned engagement had been known about for a number of months.

Economic circumstances

Looking forward now to the wedding itself there is the prospect of the biggest royal celebration for a number of years.

There will be weeks of speculation about the bride's dress and other aspects of the day itself, countless merchandising opportunities for souvenir makers, significant business opportunities for London's tourism industry, and a bumper weekend for retailers across the country as people use the wedding and the extra bank holiday as a reason to celebrate with parties of their own.

However, the officials at Buckingham Palace and St James's Palace who are charged with organising the wedding are conscious of the economic circumstances of the country.

According to them, William and Kate's wedding will, in many ways, be more of an echo of the wedding of his grandparents than that of his father and mother.

In the post-war Britain of 1947, the marriage of the then Princess Elizabeth to the Duke of Edinburgh was indeed a moment for national celebration but, grand though the occasion was, it was organised within the generally austere atmosphere of a country which was struggling to recover from the devastating economic impact of World War II.

By contrast, the marriage of the Prince of Wales to the then Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 was a lavish affair, deliberately staged at St Paul's Cathedral so that as many people as possible could both line the route across central London and attend the ceremony itself.

Abiding image

In choosing Westminster Abbey rather than St Paul's for their wedding, William and Kate are deliberately opting for something on a rather smaller and more intimate scale.

Image caption The choice of Westminster Abbey will mean a more intimate event

The route between palace and abbey will be shorter, the congregation smaller and, of course, as the palace has been at pains to point out, the cost of the wedding - apart from security and traffic management - will be borne by the families of the bride and groom.

"It will be done properly and well, but not in an ostentatious and lavish manner," one courtier has been quoted as saying. And that, I suspect, is the kind of wedding that William and Kate themselves want.

We have already seen a few clues as to how they plan to strike the balance. We know that Kate will travel to the Abbey by car rather than coach.

After the service, as man and wife, they will ride back to Buckingham Palace in a horse-drawn carriage with an escort from the Household Cavalry in full ceremonial dress. But once they get to the palace there will be a buffet-style reception rather than a full-scale wedding banquet.

There will, of course, be an appearance by the couple on the palace balcony for what will doubtless be the abiding image of the day as they embrace.

But the couple are not heading off immediately on honeymoon. They will remain at the palace for a "dinner and dance" hosted by William's father for the couple's immediate family and friends.

Golden couple

So William and Kate and their advisers are treading carefully in their wedding preparations. They are aware of the appetite of many millions of people, both here in Britain and abroad, to witness a ceremonial wedding on an appropriately grand scale and to share in the romantic "glow" of witnessing this young couple pledge themselves to each other.

But though, inevitably, the wedding will be broadcast to audiences around the world I suspect William, in particular, and Kate will insist that it remains their day without unnecessary grandeur.

Above all they want it to be an intimate ceremony after which they can return, as much as possible, to a life without too many unrealistic expectations that the wedding will be the curtain-raiser to a life on the public stage as the British royal family's new golden couple.

That is precisely what they will be, of course, and they recognise that, but William has at least two more years to serve as an RAF search and rescue pilot.

And as for his wife - very probably she will wish to concentrate on their domestic life together. And who knows, perhaps she will present the Queen with another great grandchild to mark the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

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