by Rachel Campbell
The anticipation is over! Season Four of The Crown has arrived on Netflix, prompting binge watching and escalated viewing figures. The tedium and trauma and anxiety of the last few months have been alleviated by episodes of well-crafted, lavish escapism. Months of tantalising trailers have prepared devotees for the age of Diana. And with each episode watched, recollections are stirred; recollections of the royal drama itself and perhaps of our own interactions with it.
After all, Diana captivated us from the start. We imitated her dress style and layered our hair in that iconic way. We absorbed all the details of the wedding as the press drip fed the minutiae to an eager audience. But the biggest detail of all, what the dress would look like, remained a secret until the wedding day itself. When that July day dawned, 750 million people in 74 countries sat fixed to their TV screens. Thousands more, standing several people deep, lined the route from Buckingham Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral. Coveted positions, with the best views of the procession, were the reward for nights camped out on the streets of London.
As I watch The Crown with my seventeen-year old daughter, interjecting with added details accrued during my adolescent obsession with royalty, it is easy to be transported back to that wedding day – July 29th, 1981. To quote Abba,
I can still recall,
Our last Summer…
Living for the day,
Worries far away.
Memories that remain…
The train guard told us we were the largest crowd that he’d had through the station that morning, later than we wanted to be after attempting to sleep off the excitement of the night before when talk of countrywide recession and record-breaking unemployment had been temporarily eclipsed by a firework display like no other. I felt so small among the crowds who made the streets of London themselves pulsate with an energy that rivalled the glorious explosions above our heads. These were diverse crowds who spoke in different languages and accents; there were families like ours, and groups of young people, and couples in evening wear who spilled out from exquisite boutique hotels.
The delight of the night before was compounded by the joy of what was to come. And clad in red, white and blue, we retraced our journey of the previous evening into the centre of London, perhaps the centre of the world that day, and certainly the centre of a young girl’s imagination.
Of course we were too late to get a good viewing position, until a kind police officer took pity and allowed us children to sit on the kerb in front of the barrier. The palpable excitement was less chaotic than the night before. Nevertheless, well-marshalled eagerness grew with each red-tunicked military band that marched along the bridal route. Then came the state landaus with members of the royal family. As the glory of a post-imperial Britain was displayed before our eyes, our wait was nearly over.
And then she was there, the twenty-year old bride, Lady Diana Spencer, framed in the window of the Glass Coach. If the portrayal in The Crown is to be believed, the seeds of sadness that eventually led to her tragic death had already been sown, but that isn’t what we saw that day. We saw a smiling, beautiful, resplendent bride on her way to meet her prince.
The images of that day remain strong in my mind, and pictures are important on so many levels. Marriage itself is an illustration of the covenantal union of God and His people. And perhaps that majestic royal wedding, more than any other, gives us a vision of a Greater Wedding to come, when the whole of history will be resolved in the glorious union of the Prince of Heaven and His resplendent bride, the Church.
Prince Charles chose St Paul’s Cathedral over the more conventional Westminster Abbey because of its stunning acoustics, and certainly the music that July day was sublime, indwelling those privileged souls who had had a royal invitation and who sat in their finery within the church itself. Music will feature in that Greater Wedding too:
And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Rev 5:9)
The new heaven and the new earth will reverberate with exquisitely harmonised music sung by the unified people of God, the Bride. And why will we sing? Well, we will sing because we can’t help but sing, caught up in the worship of the One who paid for our invitation by the shedding of His blood.
As the final outriders passed us on the on their return from St Paul’s, the crowd began to follow, moving towards the Palace to get a glimpse of the bride and groom on the famous Buckingham Palace balcony. But we turned in the opposite direction, and headed towards St Paul’s where the enormous cathedral doors admitted us into a very different atmosphere, one of solemnity and peace.
My senses were drawn to the enormous floral displays and the heady scent they released. Countless rows of now vacant chairs were dwarfed by the vaulting splendour of the Cathedral itself and a regal red carpet, which lined the main aisle, focussed attention on the altar. Nestled to the side of the altar was a small chapel where, encased in a glass display, was a register in which a bride and groom had recently written their names; physical evidence of the marriage covenant newly entered.
That register of names presages another marriage register, an eternal book where the names of the Bride are recorded:
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21:27)
And, in these traumatic, tedious, anxious days, there is comfort in an invitation received, a name engraved and an eternal crown anticipated.
Rachel Campbell enjoys musing on, and writing about, events and memories that offer illustrations of the biblical message. She lives with her New Zealand husband and three children under significant Covid restrictions in the North West of England. She can be found on Twitter @OurRachToo and on Instagram @rachel-e-campbell.