A quintessentially English spectacle

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Sean Mallen

Just as the British have a special touch for ceremony, so too do they display a colourful brand of wackiness. Poet Edith Sitwell celebrated the national trait in her book “English Eccentrics.” She was a proud and unapologetic member of the club, writing once that she was not eccentric, but rather “more alive than most people…an unpopular electric eel in a pool…of catfish.” Eccentricity ran through her family’s choice of names. Her brothers were Osbert and Sacherevell. A cousin, the one who inherited the family’s wealth, was Sitwell Sitwell.

As I complete my first week in England as Europe bureau chief for Global National, I am struck by how many eccentrics have crept into my initial stories. There was Margaret Tyler, the 77-year-old grandmother whose Wembley home is bursting with 10,000 items of royal memorabilia. When her children and grandchildren visit for lunch, they have to hold their plates on their laps because her dining room table is covered with items related to the William-Kate nuptials.

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Ms. Tyler was a lovely and patient lady, happy to answer questions that she has faced hundreds of times before from dozens of other reporters. The night before our visit, there was a crew of seven from Indonesia. We had to arrive early because there were two Australian TV teams following us. With the wedding still a week away, she was averaging four interviews a day. An American specialty channel has hired her to do expert commentary during the live broadcast.

“People think my husband divorced me because of my collecting,” she intimated. “It wasn’t at all. But anyway, my children are grown and on their own and it’s my house and I’ll do what I want.”

Ms. Tyler would like to add more shelves, but every wall is already thoroughly shelved, so what she really needs is a bigger house.

On Tuesday, word flashed on Twitter that the first royal fanatic had begun camping out on the route of the bridal procession. He was not hard to find. When photojournalist Dan Hodgson and I arrived at Westminster Abbey, there was a swarm of cameras around John Loughery. Dan recognized him. It was the same fellow who approached Dan and our foreign editor Stuart Greer a couple of weeks ago, vowing to be the first on the route. Sure enough: Mr. Loughery won the title by arriving Monday afternoon, just as the bells of Big Ben rang out 5:00. He explained that they somehow represented the name Diana; a connection I confess escaped me.

I had to wait in line for my interview, and shared it with a TV crew from Japan. Mr. Loughery did not mind the attention. He said he was honoured. He speaks in a rapid-fire, high-pitched voice, with well-practiced encomiums on the royals. He claimed to be the number one fan of the late Princess of Wales. (Margaret Tyler also claimed the same title, so it seems to be in dispute.)

John Loughrey, a fan of Princess Diana, talks with a passer-by outside Westminster Abbey on April 26. Photo by Akira Suemori, The Associated Press.

No, Mr. Loughery was not worried about the threat of rain, except that it might affect Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. And he was most pleased to hear that we were from Canada, given that Prince William and his bride have chosen it for their first foreign trip as a married couple.

A few feet away stood a man whose name I didn’t catch. He had evidently emptied several rolls of Scotch tape to wrap himself in pictures of the royal family. When I asked him to say his name, he simply launched into a full-lunged and detailed description of the order of service for the wedding — an eccentric and self-appointed tour guide.

Sitting serenely in a folding chair, surrounded by blankets and bags of supplies was camper number two. Gwun Murray, 76, arrived Tuesday morning. She was an experienced hand, having also planted herself outside the Windsor chapel where Prince Charles finally married Camilla in 2005. Mrs. Murray seemed puzzled at an American reporter’s query about the secret of the romance between Kate and William, looking at the questioner as though she had just been asked to explain why the sky was blue.

But she had a ready answer when I asked why she wanted to come so early and to experience such discomfort: “To get this spot and to see that view,” she said with steely determination, gesturing at the Abbey.

Royal enthusiast Gwen Murray, 76, right, from Norfolk, England, talks with a passerby as she sits on her stool across the road from Westminster Abbey on April 26in order to ensure the best viewing spot for the upcoming royal wedding. Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis, The Associated Press.

The church itself, though grand, also has its eccentricities. It is, in fact, referred to as a “Royal Peculiar.” (In truth, the title refers to the fact that it is under the responsibility of the monarch, not a bishop.)

I attended Easter services in order to soak up some atmosphere to assist in my live reports from outside the Abbey in our Friday special. The interior is split in half, with an ornate arch, called The Quire, obstructing the view of the altar for all of us who are in the back half of the church. We are told TV monitors will be in place for the wedding so that guests like Elton John, Hilary Weston and the Beckhams will be able to watch the vows.

If you look up “English Eccentrics,” some lovely stories appear. I enjoyed the tale of “Mad” Jack Mytton who drank several bottles of port every morning (or cologne), and who owned a pet bear that once ate part of his leg.

And who knew the great poet William Blake would require his wife to sit naked with him in the backyard while reading Paradise Lost aloud?

Those coming for the wedding of the heir to the throne seem ready to uphold these fine English traditions.

Sean is Global National’s Europe bureau chief, based in London. Follow him on Twitter: @SMallenGlobal.

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