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Everything I Learned From a Week of Royal Wedding Shows

BBC America aired 12 specials this week; here’s what you missed

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Ah, royal wedding week: when fast food chains, television networks, and people all over the world can come together to embarrass ourselves with an overexpression of interest in the lives of the British royal family. While I’ve always been moderately interested in the royals, I’m not the type of person who would religiously watch a week of programming in order to prep for Saturday’s festivities. But thanks (?) to my editors, who asked me to watch BBC America’s entire week of royal wedding programming, I’m a casual fan no longer. The American cousin of the illustrious UK network offered five days of programming, including specials like Diana: Legacy of a Princess and Prince George: Born to Be King. Luckily, thanks to repeats and various showings of The Princess Bride, it came out to about 12 full specials, all of which I dutifully catalogued for the greater good. So put the kettle on, grab a biscuit, and join me on this journey. (Maybe grab another biscuit. We’re going to be here awhile.)

WireImage/BBC America

Monday, 3 p.m.: Harry & Meghan: A Very Modern Romance (2018)

After getting this assignment, I decided to start by booting up the only Harry and Meghan–themed piece of programming on the slate. I immediately regretted this decision when the special began with a slideshow of pictures of Meghan on Suits set to a voice-over reading entries from her former lifestyle blog, The Tig. From there, it transitioned to interviews with a bunch of British royal experts with titles like “Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham and Contemporary Historian.” (These were either 47 different old white men or the same three, impossible to say.) I could have gone a lifetime without hearing Sir Anthony and his colleagues speculating whether Harry thought Meghan was “sexy” on their first date or saying things like “there may have been some dressing up as Nazis and things like that.” I did learn a few useful things from this special, like how Meghan’s dad once won the lottery! (Still can’t get an invite to the wedding, though.)

Most importantly, this special included a shot of Meghan giving a speech on stage and breaking out in terrible nervous hives. I have a similar tendency, and since my mom once told me I’d have to be careful about what dress I wear on my wedding day because of it, I’ve never related to anyone more in my life. Meghan, my high necklines and I are with you this weekend.

Monday, 8 p.m.: A Rebroadcast of the Queen’s Coronation (1953)

I tried to knock this one out early, before royal fatigue set in. Turns out that no matter how early I started, watching a rebroadcast of the queen’s 1953 coronation is a slog. (Also, it’s on YouTube.) I made it through about 20 minutes before bailing to go rewatch the coronation episode of The Crown instead. It’s amazing, and I have no regrets. (That final scene!)

Tuesday, 7:30 a.m.: Britain’s Royal Weddings, Parts 1 and 2 (2011)

This documentary started with some very loud ceremonial trumpets, which was a nice little wake-up call at 7:30 a.m. Part 1 began with the wedding of Prince Albert and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, whom—after some Googling—I realized were Queen Elizabeth’s parents. (Pro tip: Never Google “Prince Albert.”) The rest of Part 1 is basically covered by The Crown: Elizabeth’s marriage to Philip (who has looked 50 years old since birth), King Edward’s abdication, and Margaret’s wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones (who unfortunately does not look like Matthew Goode.)

Part 2 contained much better style content. Princess Anne had the most ’70s wedding look. The turtleneck dress! The blue eyeshadow! There was an entire segment devoted to how wrinkly Diana’s dress got in the carriage on the way to the church, which felt like a pretty obvious oversight. Prince Andrew’s wedding to Sarah Ferguson also had a lot happening in terms of style; Fergie had bumblebees, thistles, anchors, ribbons, and their initials on her dress. She came down the aisle in a flower crown and left in a tiara! Your Pinterest board could never.

Tuesday, 11 a.m.: Charles and Diana: The First Decade (1991)

First up on the long list of Charles and Diana programming: a documentary made after their first 10 years of marriage. Despite the fact that I, in 2018, knew far more than the experts in the documentary did in 1991, I came out with some questions.

  1. Why has it taken five hours of programming for me to finally get a glimpse of a corgi?
  2. Why does Charles love kilts so much? I know you’re in Scotland, but no one else is wearing a kilt. Why are you?
  3. Charles has like four first names, how dare they blame lil’ 20-year-old Diana for mixing them up in front of millions of people?
  4. Has there ever been a documentary solely about royal nannies?
  5. Has a documentary ever included a style montage not set to a jazzy saxophone?
  6. If this documentary was made to celebrate the first 10 years of Charles and Diana’s marriage, why are these experts so rude?
  7. Is 20 minutes of speculation about whether Charles is bored with Diana’s interests really necessary?
  8. Seriously Charles, what is with the kilts?

Monday, 2 p.m.: Diana: Legacy of a Princess (1998)

The next doc was about Diana’s work in Angola and her attempts to bring awareness to active land mines still affecting innocent people. It begins with the iconic footage of her walking through an active minefield, and then revisits the effects of her work there one year later. I have nothing mean to say about this one; it’s legit.

Monday, 4 p.m.: Diana, 7 Days (2017)

This documentary was made 20 years after Diana’s death, and it includes some surprisingly candid interviews with William and Harry, as well as Tony Blair and other big names in the UK. I don’t think I ever realized how open Harry is about his hatred of the press, and he makes no secret of it here. (Wills is a little more reserved.)

Harry talks about photographers causing Diana’s accident and then taking pictures of her dying in the backseat; he goes on to explain how difficult the following weeks were for him and William, as they were forced to comfort strangers who “didn’t even know her.” He even says that he never cried in public then, and he still couldn’t do it now because it would be like “crying on the job.” It’s very emotional! And now I know to expect no tears on his wedding day. 10/10, highly recommend this one.

Wednesday, 7:20 a.m.: Kate: The Making of a Modern Queen (2017)

Bright and early on Wednesday, I’ve recovered from the sad run of Diana docs and am moving on to Kate! Unfortunately, this title is MISLEADING. I was hoping that “the making of a modern queen” would refer to Kate’s styling, and I’d be given the answers to every question I’ve ever had about her haircare routine. (I have … so many.) Unfortunately, this special started out with a good 20 minutes on the British opinion of monarchy and people losing faith in politics. I did not sign up for this.

The Duke & Duchess Of Cambridge Visit India & Bhutan - Day 1 Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

About halfway through, I finally got to a montage of Kate playing sports in heels, which is what I signed up for. Give me Kate shooting arrows in a billowy peasant blouse! A cricket game in wedges and a dress? Yes please! Playing field hockey in heeled boots? I’ll take it! From here it went on to a lengthy sidebar about Prince Harry’s “rockstar” appeal, which seemed to me like a waste of time better spent delving into whether or not Kate wears extensions, and why she went through that questionable bangs phase.

Another extremely important moment from this special involved a shot of George fully rejecting a high five from another little boy by staring him in the face and straight up turning his back on him. (He snubbed Justin Trudeau in similar fashion.) The future of the monarchy is in good hands.

Prince George Of Cambridge First Birthday Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Wednesday, 8:45 a.m.: William, Kate & George: A New Royal Family (2015)

Extremely important things I learned from this special:

  1. One time, Kate ran on the beach in wedge heels, and people could not get over it.
  2. Kate and Will visited Hollywood in 2011 for a charity event. Jack Black was there.
  3. Bicycle polo is a thing that exists.
  4. William’s group of close friends is called the Royal Circle of Trust.
  5. He also has a group of friends called the Glosse Posse. Leo is shook.
  6. I guess British people call hunting “stalking.” Creepy!
  7. A few decades later, Charles is still weirdly committed to kilts.

Wednesday, 10 a.m.: Prince George: Born to Be King (2013)

All of these specials start out with some sort of celebratory trumpets, and every time I resent them a little bit more. This documentary was made in anticipation of George’s birth, and as such there’s a lot of speculation about what his name will be. To royal historian Kate Williams’s credit, George is pretty much the first name she picks. But more importantly, this segment informed me that Harry’s real name is Henry! Somehow, in eight hours of programming, no one explained the whole “naming royals after kings” habit.

We go from there to a bunch of royal baby history, which includes an incredible shot of Charles doing the Mr. Napkinhead bit from The Holiday. (He didn’t commit as much as Jude Law though; it’s the glasses that really sell it.) I also got another glimpse of ROYAL CORGIS, which is still only the second time they’ve popped up in three days of programming. Unacceptable. This special also has very little to do with George specifically, and I’ve accepted that these titles are just wildly misleading.

Wednesday, 11 a.m.: Prince William and Harry: Into the Future (2011)

Some of the extremely rude things said in this documentary:

  1. On Kate and Chelsy Davy (Harry’s girlfriend at the time): “Can such ordinary girls marry the heirs to the British monarchy?” Unnecessary!
  2. Will’s friends call Kate “Kate Middle-class.”
  3. Kate is called a commoner at least twice in this video. There’s nothing common about that blowout, sir!
  4. Harry is accused of having a “wandering eye.”
  5. On Harry and Chelsy: “You can tell they have a very volatile relationship—tremendous shouting matches, screaming rows, but then they get back together again. I’d say of all the royal romances currently going on, theirs is the real, true thing. It’s the real deal. And I suspect unless something catastrophic happens, they will marry.”
  6. One expert says that whatever Harry does, he blames the media for magnifying it 10x. (Sounds exactly like what someone who “accidentally” dressed up as a Nazi for a party would say.)
  7. Peter Phillips’s wife, Autumn, is described as “nothing special, very ordinary.”
  8. One woman says that Harry has gone from the “spare heir” to “zero to hero.”
  9. And finally, the special ends with a shot of Kate following William down a hallway, with the intonation, “After waiting five years for William to propose, Kate has been nicknamed Waity Katie.” These people love a shady rhyme!

Wednesday, 12:30 p.m.: Prince Harry: Frontline Afghanistan (2013)

Another opportunity for Harry to be way more candid than I expected. This documentary is all about Harry’s time serving in the army in Afghanistan, where he operated Apache helicopters and rescued wounded soldiers. It contains a surprising amount of information about his life and service there; it also includes an unbelievably in-depth segment where Harry tells us all about peeing in bags.

Harry starts out by explaining the logistics of the “piss bags,” and how it’s really hard to spill them, but someone did it once, and it was really embarrassing for them! Then he moves on to how he couldn’t use them at first—he was just too embarrassed, and no matter how hard he tried, it just wouldn’t happen. But worry not—he’s a piss bag veteran now, and he can pee sitting down with the best of them. This segment went on for so long I couldn’t believe it.

Other highlights from this special include the recently memed footage where he runs off and jumps in a helicopter mid-interview. At one point, Harry walks around in a Santa hat with braids! He plays a lot of FIFA! The host’s name is Richard Bacon! There’s a montage of Harry’s naked photos set to “Sexy and I Know It”! But if you’ve only got five minutes, fast-forward to the piss bags.

Wednesday, 3 p.m.: You Had to Be There (2001)

The end is in sight, but I accidentally missed another Charles and Diana documentary on Tuesday, so I had to double back. It turned out to be pretty creative, as old video footage of other people’s weddings goes: You Had to Be There really emphasizes the royal FOMO of it all by talking to the people who lined up in London during the wedding and those who watched at home. There are some genuinely interesting interviews in here—a deaf woman talks about how the subtitles during the broadcast were malfunctioning, but she was so delighted by the spectacle that it barely mattered. A journalist who covered the event talked about his struggle to find a unique angle; he ended up writing about how Westminster Abbey smelled that day. And the standout interview is with a couple who watched the wedding from their home, but had to call the doctor in the middle of the ceremony because the husband wasn’t feeling well. They fight on camera about how his wife wanted him to call the doctor in the morning, so that he didn’t interrupt the event. (It turned out that the doctor refused to see him until after the ceremony ended anyway.) Honestly, a delightful end to the long list of documentaries!

Wednesday, 4 p.m.: The Royal Wedding: Charles and Diana (1981)

I put off the wedding rebroadcasts until the end, because I thought they were going to be hours and hours of footage. So when I steeled myself for the Charles and Diana special, I was thrilled to discover that it was actually just a 30-minute highlight reel. Amateur hour.

The voice-over guy is really the highlight of this one; he had a running joke about Prince Andrew forgetting the rings, which he brought up every time Andrew was on camera. The voice-over paused during the ceremony itself, so thankfully I could hear the Archbishop of Canterbury’s … unique voice. (I feel like he must have inspired the bishop from The Princess Bride?)

Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.: The Royal Wedding: William and Kate (2011)

The light at the end of the tunnel! I haven’t seen any footage from this wedding since I watched it live one morning during my sophomore year of high school. My first impression upon rewatching was total approval of all the style choices. Queenie in lemon-yellow monochrome? Yes, please. Also, since I’d just finished watching Charles and Diana’s wedding, I was very pleased to learn that the new Archbishop of Canterbury has a great and totally accessible voice. I always forget that these things morph into a super-long church service about 15 minutes in, so I spaced out and found myself accidentally shipping Harry and Pippa before I knew it. The rebroadcast ended with not one but two short balcony kisses, and I like to think we can count on Harry and Meghan to put all the other royals to shame in that regard.

Of all the royal wedding pregaming attempts, I ultimately could have done a lot worse. As is, I’m now primed and ready to wake up at an ungodly hour to watch the spare heir marry a Suits star, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. God save the Queen, and also my sleep schedule.