Foreign media hordes descend upon London for royal wedding

LONDON — The Globe and Mail

State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry, who will perform at the Royal wedding, speak to the media at the Knightsbridge Barracks in central London, on April 15, 2011. (JOHN STILLWELL/AFP/Getty Images)

At a recent royal wedding briefing, one major American network wanted to know if it might be possible for viewing audiences to get a peek at Kate Middleton's dress a couple of moments - not long, you understand - before her groom did.

It would not, a palace spokesman said gently but firmly. British tradition ensures that the groom sees the dress at the same moment as everyone else. Okay, then. What about lighting up Buckingham Palace all night, for the benefit of hundreds of news crews?

Story continues below ad

Afraid not, came the rueful reply from the impeccably suited press officers at Clarence House, who are handling the waterfall of requests from foreign journalists covering the royal wedding. Pretty much anything else they'll try to arrange: Want to see a carriage, a cadet, a cake?

When you've got upward of 7,000 journalists in town covering the largest television spectacle in recent memory, the requests come thick and fast, and the logistical demands would give General Eisenhower a headache.

The April 29 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (or Catherine, as she is now known in rarefied circles) may draw a worldwide viewing audience of up to two billion people, and as the day approaches, it feels as if that number of journalists have arrived in London.

At Canada Gate, just east of Buckingham Palace, a makeshift media city has sprung up, bristling with generators and temporary studios, each costing £60,000 ($94,000) to rent for the week before the wedding. A photographer's spot on the Victoria Memorial - the perfect place to capture the first matrimonial lip-lock on the balcony of Buckingham Palace - costs £1,000 ($1,560).

These expenses - plus hotels and travel costs for dozens or hundreds of producers and crew - have not proved prohibitive. While the home country is largely greeting the nuptials with a stifled yawn (almost half of British respondents to a recent poll said they weren't planning to watch the wedding) there is near frenzy from overseas media.

"I've been taken by surprise by the demand. It's been extraordinary," said Christopher Wyld, director of London's Foreign Press Association, who is helping co-ordinate the international media. "I think in the U.S. it's being hyped big time, whereas here - we get the day off, we might watch it on telly or we might go to the seaside. We're a bit blasé."

For the big American networks, the hunt for ratings requires sending out the elephant guns: Anderson Cooper will be here for CNN; Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters for ABC; Katie Couric's CBS swan song will take place near Tower Bridge. CBS is sending around 100 people to London - in addition to the bureau that is already here - and CNN puts the figure at 125 (not quite the 400 predicted in a recent Wall Street Journal story.) Even the Weather Network is coming - with or without umbrellas.

Those already tired of wedding stories may have to turn elsewhere for their news. All the major American networks plan to broadcast their evening shows live from London for a few days before the wedding, and the morning shows have already arrived.

Canada is not going to be lapped in the royal enthusiasm stakes. Beginning April 27, Peter Mansbridge will host The National live from London, while CBC News: Morning with Heather Hiscox will be broadcasting from the city beginning Monday. CTV is sending eight on-air personalities and dozens of crew, and its main shows - including CTV National News and Canada AM - will be live from London starting April 25.

Countries that would seem immune to the sparkly lure of gold braid and carriages are coming in droves. One Australian network is sending 48 staff, and Norway's TV2 about 30 people: "This is the biggest foreign news story of the year for us," said TV2 reporter Hilde Gran, adding that Norwegians had a particular interest because their royal family is distantly related to Britain's. Ms. Gran said that there had been grumbling from colleagues about the amount being spent to cover the wedding of two foreign twenty-somethings: "Yes, some people said, 'Why are we spending all this money, all these resources?' But I think it will get a good audience."

Viewing this on an iPhone? Get the Royal Wedding App

While perhaps a pain for London's famous cabbies, the wedding has proved a boon for hotels, freelance cameramen and anyone who once met a royal and can pronounce "ascot" (a hint: it rhymes with "basket"). The U.S. networks have enlisted colour commentators such as India Hicks, who was a bridesmaid at Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding in 1981, and former royal butler Paul Burrell.

"I think what North Americans like is that it's a Grade 1-listed soap opera," said Peter York, co-author of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, who has spent much of the past month providing his plummy accent to foreign broadcasters and who has a full dance card on April 29. "It's an unbeatable combination of all the places people have heard of - Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace. And that means that modern, cosmopolitan London can go hang."

Follow on Twitter: @lizrenzetti