Where the real wedding party's at

Forget official royal invites. You’d rather watch with these ladies.

Patti Renihan and her best friends have always watched the British royal weddings together: when Prince Charles married Diana Spencer in 1981, and when Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson in 1986, the women huddled around a tiny TV inside a screened porch at a family cottage in northern Ontario. They had a similar plan for when Prince William marries Kate Middleton. But when other friends heard about the early-morning gathering, they wanted to join them. “It’s ballooned to 14 people,” laughs Renihan, 65, who made gold invitations that match the official ones—“except instead of HRH we put my initials” and instead of “Westminster Abbey” they wrote “the abbey” at Renihan’s home address in Toronto. Upon arrival, each guest will be introduced by her new name: duchess or lady of the area where she lives. “This party has snowballed,” Renihan admits. “It gets grander by the day.”

The spectacle of a British royal wedding has inspired many Canadians, especially women, to host their own extravagant receptions. No detail will be overlooked: food, drink, flowers, party favours and attire have been planned in celebration of this rare event. And despite the time difference (Will and Kate exchange vows at 11 a.m. British time, and media coverage begins three hours earlier), or perhaps because of it, people like Renihan and Jane Francis of Mississauga will welcome guests to their houses in the middle of the night—starting at 3 a.m.

“I got a new big TV for my birthday, and I was going to watch the wedding regardless,” says Francis, 64, before her friend Marg Shaver, chimes in. “And we were going to be lonely in our basements,” Shaver explains, adding that she had British-flag bunting and serviettes that were crying out to be used for such an occasion. “So we decided to get some others in!” finishes Francis. Over the last few weeks, the self-described “mature, fun-loving women” have traded scores of emails and calls in preparation for the big day. The latest news: “The fine jewels from China have arrived,” exclaims Shaver, who turns 61 the day after the wedding. “Blue sapphire engagement ring replicas for everybody!”

Another key accessory will be fascinators, those fancy, feathery headpieces so popular among women at British weddings. Renihan has borrowed from her daughter the one she wore as a bride. Shaver has made fascinators for guests. (Francis concedes she just learned the word.) Casandra Harding-Whatman, a 36-year-old working mom who has invited six women to her Toronto home at 5 a.m., owns three fascinators. She expects to wear her green one with the black floral dress she purchased especially for the event. It meets the “wedding casual” dress code: “Casual enough to wear in the morning,” she explains, but formal enough for a wedding.

That’s in line with Renihan’s attire: a velvet pantsuit and her mother’s pearls. Francis and Shaver are opting for comfy (not frumpy) apparel: “I’m wearing plaid pyjamas,” notes Francis. “Whatever pyjamas I wear, they’re going to be ironed,” says Shaver. Guests attending a high tea at the home of Janet (who preferred not to use her last name) in Georgetown, Ont., will mix it up: some are scouring second-hand shops for suitable outfits, while others will opt for the mother-of-the-bride/groom dresses they wore to their own children’s weddings. Janet will skip white gloves, though: “I couldn’t possibly cook wearing those.”

The menus planned for these gatherings are fit for a king and queen, indeed: sweet and savoury scones, watercress and cucumber sandwiches, bubble and squeak (a potato and root vegetable hash), clotted cream, shortbread, trifle, Scotch eggs and “Bucking-ham” and eggs, Champagne, mimosas, tea and coffee. The tables will be dressed in fine linens, and adorned with fresh flowers. After the royal wedding is over, Harding-Whatman and her friends, who’ve taken the day off work, plan to go for lunch. Francis and Shaver joke that they will be asleep by 9:30 a.m.

In every case, the hosts are motivated by a love for the “pomp and ceremony” of a British royal wedding. Nostalgia has its place too: Harding-Whatman says being dragged from bed to watch the wedding of Diana and Charles is one of her earliest memories; Janet recalls being carried as a young girl on her father’s shoulders to see the Queen during a royal visit to Canada. Francis and Shaver feel a maternal hope for “Diana’s boys.” “I don’t know that I’m a staunch royalist,” says Shaver, “but you hope good things for them.” The party-throwers also hope that this British royal wedding will have a different, happier ending than some of the previous ones.

It won’t all be different or new, though. Renihan and her best friends are still going to the cottage ahead of the wedding. But this time it’s for supplies. “We’re going to get all our mother’s tea sets so we have all the right cups.” Tradition prevails.

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