Royal wedding: Tours follow in couple's footsteps

By Peter Jackson
BBC News


From trips to Kate Middleton's home village in Berkshire to a Kate and Wills walking tour of London, travel firms are unashamedly cashing in on the royal engagement. But what do the paying public think? We joined a tour to find out.

For many, the royal wedding in April amounts to little more than a welcome day off, but for a dedicated band of tourists and royalists, it is a golden opportunity to indulge their love of the monarchy.

A thriving industry in royal wedding tours is attracting a steady crowd for whom a tea towel or mug no longer cures their royal fever.

For the princely sum of £15 - about half the cost of a replica royal engagement ring - one such operator is offering a guided stroll around the London sites that "helped define the golden couple".

You can discover where "commoner" Kate's great-grandfather worked, see the "hedonistic" nightclub frequented by Prince William or marvel at the clothes store - yes, the actual retail outlet - where his bride-to-be worked.

So, for whom does the entrance to the Mahiki nightclub or a High Street branch of Jigsaw hold such fascination?

The answer lies with the small group of affable Americans gathered at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair - the starting point of our two-hour tour and site of the Queen's birth in 1926.

'Quite sceptical'

As our guide points to a plaque on the wall marking the former apartments of the Queen's maternal grandparents, I catch up with Christie Brock, 30, an American living in south-west London.

The media planner, who married a British man two years ago, booked the tour for her mother Jeanne Richards, 63, and her mother's best friend Kay Juhas, 64, both keen royalists visiting from Michigan.

"My husband and everyone in my office laughed at me. They said I can't believe that [the tour] even exists and they were quite sceptical about what we'd actually see," Christie says.

"But I don't feel that. It's just a little bit of fun and educational - it's a nice day for a walk in a nice part of town."

As we stroll from Bruton Street to royal jewellers Garrard's, former accountant Jeanne explains her interest.

"Most Americans like celebrities and learning how people live - we're curious. The royals seem to have a lot of money but they don't seem to be that happy," she says.

Her friend Kay, a retired history teacher, recalled how her grandmother - an English orphan adopted by a doctor in the US - triggered her early interest in the royals as a little girl.

"She was fascinated by the Queen's coronation. I guess I grew up in a house interested in current events and history."

We cut our conversation short as our guide - 25-year-old Hana Umezawa - launched into an enthusiastic potted history of Garrard's the jeweller.

The charity worker, who guides part-time, says Princess Diana broke with tradition by choosing her engagement ring from the shop's catalogue rather than having it custom-made.

She then explains how that same ring found its way on to the hand of Miss Middleton, after Prince Harry, who owned it, agreed to give it to William.

At the offices of Kate's wealthy paternal great-grandfather, Richard Middleton, we hear about the trust fund set up to pay for Kate's Marlborough College education, and the working-class roots of her mother's mining family in Durham.

But what were Christie's impressions of the bride-to-be? "She seems really nice, a good person who'll fit in well, but if anything she seems a little boring," she says.

"I think Harry's girlfriend Chelsy is a bit more fun... but I guess if you're going to be the future queen you need to be careful."

'Wisteria sisters'

When it comes to Kate and her sister Pippa's social aspirations, a less than complimentary picture emerged.

"The two have been nicknamed, rather unkindly, the wisteria sisters. Highly decorative, terribly fragrant, with a ferocious ability to climb," says Hana.

Our tour is the creation of Dragons' Den reject James Bonney, whose company Celebrity Planet runs a series of themed walkabouts, from Harry Potter to the Beatles and Jack the Ripper.

But he is not the only one on the bandwagon.

image captionBuckingham Palace will host William and Kate's official wedding reception

Your London Tours has an eight-hour trip by for £380 per four-person car, and a former member of the Queen's household offers an eight-day "royal wedding celebration" tour of royal estates and stately homes - for the princely sum of £3,800.

Next up on the route is Mahiki, the night club where Prince William reportedly drowned his sorrows after he and Kate separated, followed by the Jigsaw fashion store where Kate briefly worked as an accessories buyer.

It was while working in the shop in 2007 that she got the fateful call from Prince William saying he was breaking off their relationship, Hana explains.

A van partly obscures our view of the shop and a black cab pulls up right in front of us, but nobody seems to care.

Jeanne is busy telling me how in 2006 she toured Buckingham Palace during the Queen's 80th birthday, and had seen rooms "you don't normally get to see".

She and Kay have also toured Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace, she says with just a hint of pride.

The royal titbits come thick and fast, but are not always that relevant to the couple in question.

At the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly we learn a bell was installed for the doorman to alert staff to the arrival of a royal personage.

'Royal inner circle'

We slip past White's gentleman's club where Prince Charles spent his stag night before marrying Diana, and see royal bootmaker John Lobb's shop, where prices start at £2,400 a pair.

"It's likely Kate will opt for footwear of a more modern style," on her wedding day, Hana surmises.

During a conversation with Kay about her love of the film The King's Speech, we head to the Queen's Chapel, where Kate attended a royal wedding in 2008 without William - "evidence of her inclusion in the Royal Family's inner circle", according to Hana.

The rest of the tour is a whistle-stop stroll past the familiar landmarks of St James's Palace, Clarence House and Buckingham Palace, ending at the wedding venue itself - Westminster Abbey.

So, what was the verdict? Wasn't it all a bit contrived and opportunistic? Jeanne and Kay are having none of it.

"They didn't make us sign up - we did it on our own. It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours," Jeanne says. "I thought it was very enjoyable, I saw a lot of things that I'd seen before but didn't know what they were, so that was very interesting," Kay adds.

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