For all the media hoopla surrounding the upcoming nuptials between Prince William and Kate Middleton — which, if you haven’t already been told a zillion times already, happens tomorrow, April 29th, at Westminster Abbey — few people have bothered to ask the really interesting questions. We’ve heard ad nauseum about the wedding dress and the celebrity guest list and how much the bloated ceremony will probably end up costing (thanks again, British taxpayers). But do you honestly give a shit? I know I don’t. I’d rather find out if any of the guests will be drunkenly doing the Electric Slide during the reception, or if the court jester will be invited to sit at the head table, or if the Royal Family even employs a court jester anymore. I called India Hicks, the model and occasional host of Bravo’s Top Design, to get the lowdown on the details that matter. Hicks is something of an authority on Royal Weddings, having been a bridesmaid in the weddings of the Duke of Westminster, Lady Joanna Knatchbull and most famously the 1981 wedding of Charles and Diana. (She waxes nostalgic about the experience in the Learning Channel special Untold Stories of a Royal Bridesmaid, which airs tomorrow at 2pm EST). She’s also technically royalty, both a second cousin and goddaughter to the Prince of Wales. Depending on which Google result you believe, she’s either 495th or 521st in the line of succession to the British throne. Her odds of ever wearing the crown may seem slim to none, but if I know nothing else about the British monarchy, it’s that they’re not opposed to strategic regicide. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hicks was at this very moment planning the downfall of everybody in the Royal Queue, poisoning or orchestrating their respective assassinations as she slowly works her way up to the top spot. And then, of course, she’ll be wracked with guilt, walking the castle grounds at night and scrubbing the symbolic bloodstains off her hands, muttering, “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” Of course, everything I know about the Royal Family comes from Disney movies or Shakespeare plays, so it’s possible that my assumptions about Hicks and her nefarious plots aren’t in any way accurate.
I spoke with Hicks while she was at home, on a small island in the Bahamas, surrounded by her four children, three dogs, a parrot and a cat. She confessed that she’s clueless about her rank in the line of Royal succession, but insisted that it’s “so remote there would have to be a nuclear bomb before I had any chance of getting my bum seated so royally.” So consider yourself warned, rest of the Royal Family. As long as Hicks doesn’t get access to enriched uranium, you’re safe. But watch your back!
Eric Spitznagel: After all the Royal Weddings you’ve attended or been a part of over the years, are you happy to be sitting this one out, or do you have an itch to get back in the spotlight?
India Hicks: Oh god no. I don’t think I’ll be wishing I was dressed in a frilly dress, following the bride down the aisle. I’ve outgrown that. At the time, when I was a part of Diana and Charles’ wedding, I was very, very honored and proud to be a part of it. I’m 43 now, and I’m much more comfortable being on the sidelines. I’m taking the role of television commentator for this wedding, which is a role I feel much more suited for. And I will have what I hope is a rather good seat for the festivities.
I heard that William and Kate sent “save the date” reminders to their guests by fax. Is this wedding actually happening in 1998?
[Laughs.] I think that was just a way of saying the inner circle were being alerted.
But why not email? Wouldn’t that have been easier?
It probably would’ve been, yes.
Does everybody in the Royal Family have email addresses?
They do have email. We have all the modern conveniences.
Obviously you can’t share it with us, but could you give us a hint about the Queen’s email?
I really couldn’t.
Just the first few letters.
I would not know.
Is it QueenBitch23@aol.com?
I have no idea.
I cannot begin to speculate, and I’m not going to be drawn.
Okay, here’s something I’ve always wondered. When you’re in the Royal Family, is it more difficult to identify spam email?
I wouldn’t think so. How do you mean?
Say you get an email from somebody claiming to be a Nigerian prince. The rest of us know it’s bullshit. But if you’re royalty, you might pause for a minute and think, “Do I know any Nigerian princes? Shit, where did I meet this Mr. Kumalo guy?”
You’re not thinking this through. Of course they would all have personal emails, which they would share with their inner circle. But they also have press secretaries and assistants who would handle their general email, as with any celebrity.
So you’re saying this possibly fictitious Nigerian prince would have to go through Elizabeth’s flack?
Obviously. Our sovereign wouldn’t personally be checking her email.
Let’s talk about tomorrow’s wedding between William and Kate. Being an American, Royal Weddings seem like fantastical, larger-than-life events. I just assume it’s like that final scene in Star Wars, where everybody gets a medal from Princess Leia except Chewbacca.
[Long pause.] Yes, that’s probably not very accurate.
Explain to me the differences between an American wedding and a British Royal Wedding.
I think the main difference is that with a Royal Wedding, the streets are lined with thousands of people cheering and screaming, all of them excited and waving flags. The wedding is a national holiday, and there are street parties all over the countryside, probably around 500 in all of England. It’s a big tradition. There are bonfires across the countryside the night before, one after the other after the other, across England. And then there’s a display of Royal Fireworks set to Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks.”
That’s quite a production. The last wedding I attended, I was just happy it wasn’t a cash bar.
Well, a British Royal Wedding is all about pomp and circumstance. It’s what we’re good at.
You’ve been a Royal Bridesmaid several times. What kind of responsibilities come with the gig?
Aside from the wedding itself, where a bridesmaid’s job is really to accessorize the bride, there’s also the buildup to the wedding. You’re with the bride for all the dress fittings and the rehearsals. My main job as a bridesmaid, at least for Diana, was looking after the train of her dress, which was 25 feet long.
Why did the train need to be that long? Is it like when hip-hoppers wear pants that hang too low? When Diana’s dress was dragging on the ground, was she like, “Whatever, bitches! I’m gangsta!”
Um. [Long pause.] I think it was a statement. I think it was really to compensate for the size of that incredible building. If you’re getting married in St Paul’s Cathedral, you certainly have a little bit of competition. And I think in retrospect, when you look back on some of the arial shots of their wedding, you begin to understand how the scale works. Having the big long train coming out of that carriage made a certain kind of sense.
What about the Royal “Stag” Party? Was it very different from an American bachelor party?
What’s so extraordinary about William’s stag party is that they held it in a private estate in Norfolk and it was over before the press even found out about it. I have to say, that was brilliantly maneuvered.
We may never know what happened, but an unnamed source told Us Weekly that there were “legendary activities.” Do you have any idea what a British royal bachelor would consider a legendary activity?
I couldn’t begin to guess. We can only wonder what that generation would call legendary activities. But I rather imagine it would be the same as an American stag night. They’re a bunch of kids having a good time, thank god without the press interfering.
I wouldn’t think it’d be anything like an American bachelor party. To me, a “legendary activity” for a British monarch would mean William killed Grendel’s mother and then bragged about it over some mead.
[Laughs.] Oh god no. I think they’re more normal than that.
We all know planning a wedding can be stressful. Is it possible that William and Kate might be tempted to blow the whole thing off and jump on the first plane to Vegas?
Oh no, not at all. It’s not nearly as stressful as you would think. A Royal Wedding in England is a fairly well-oiled machine. They know who they need to invite, they know where they need to sit, they know in what order of appearance they will come into the church and leave. It is a very manicured and beautifully organized event.
That sounds awful to me. You have no control whatsoever. Do they even get to invite their friends?
Some of them, of course. But you also have the diplomats and members of the government and all the other reigning royal families and the representatives of every religious sect. So of the 1900 guests in attendance, you probably only end up with 300 of your own.
What about the seating chart for the reception dinner? From what I remember about my wedding, that was one of the most stressful parts. You have to decide which personalities mesh with each other.
For a Royal Wedding, it’s done in a slightly different way. It’s not done by character, it’s done by seniority. The Duke of Belgium is more senior to the Duke of Luxembourg, so he would possibly be seated at a table closer to the bride and bridegroom. However, in the wedding between William and Kate, they’ve taken a rather modern approach in that they’re not having a seated lunch.
Is there a dress code? If I somehow got an invitation to the Royal Wedding, what should I wear?
It’s very modern now. On the invitation it will say “morning suit or lounge suit.” And that is a change in recent years that came with our Labour government. Up until then, everybody had a morning suit, which is a top hat and tails. And now there is a more modern option of a lounge suit. In the past, you would always wear a hat to a Royal Wedding. And gloves, of course. But now we’re seeing what people call “fascinators” on their heads.
Is that like the headpiece Lobot wears in Cloud City?
[Long pause.] I don’t know what that means.
Sorry, I’m making too many Star Wars references. For some reason British Royalty always reminds me of the Star Wars trilogy. Go on, you were saying about fascinators…
They’re more of a head ornament, which is sort of a modern version of a hat. My mother is terribly shocked by the fact that people are now wearing leather gloves, which she said would never have been done in the past. It always would have been a very soft suede gloves, and for the evening a long white glove over the elbows. She is not amused by the idea of leather gloves coming into fashion.
Etiquette’s obviously a big part of any Royal event. But because it’s a wedding and hopefully a joyous occasion, does everything still have to be so painfully formal and proper?
Of course it does.
Even for the immediate family? You can’t be passive-aggressive to your relatives, like we do in American weddings?
Absolutely not. When Kate and William leave Westminster Abbey, they will stop in front of our monarch and do a very low curtsey to the ground. She will curtsey with her knee bent to the ground. If it was just a simple reigning princess, she would only do a small bob. Even Prince William will bow to his grandmother. He would bow to his grandmother in private.
Let’s say hypothetically that I’m at the reception, and I’m introduced to somebody who I think might be royalty but I’ve never seen him in a tabloid or at an Elton John concert so I can’t be sure. Should I just call everybody “Your Royal Highness” to be on the safe side?
You should call the women “Ma’am” and the men “Sir.” That is how you would address someone anyway.
But what happens if you call somebody “Your Excellency” and it turns out he’s actually “The Right Honourable”? What are the chances you’ll get smacked with a white glove?
It is unlikely that you’re doing to be locked up in the tower and beheaded if you call somebody by their wrong title in this day and age. And certainly the Royal Family are very modern, very warm-hearted and very forgiving.
I understand that it’s fine to accept a handshake from the Queen, but you should avoid any other form of touching.
Yes, that’s very good advice.
What about at a wedding? Are the touching restrictions a little more relaxed?
It’s like with any other person. If you know them well, you can kiss them. And if you don’t know them so well, you shake their hand.
What if I’ve been IMing the Queen on AOL or exchanging faxes with her or we’re friends on MySpace? Can I can go in for a cheek kiss?
I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s up to you.
There’s alcohol at a Royal Wedding, right?
So what if the Queen’s in her cups, and you’ve had a few cocktails so you’re feeling no pain, and everybody’s doing the Electric Slide… ?
Well, I don’t know about that.
There’s no Electric Slide at a Royal Wedding?
It depends what kind of wedding it is. The Queen’s was a lunchtime wedding, so there was very little dancing. At Charles and Diana’s, they had a ball afterwards and there was a full orchestra. Kate and Williams are planning a very intimate evening with just their closest friends, so I imagine there will be a disco.
What if somebody initiates a congo line at this disco, and you end up behind the Queen? Can you grab her by the waist without being arrested?
I don’t know how to answer that. The queen is always our monarch and there is always a feeling of enormous respect when you’re around her. However, at Charles and Diana’s wedding, I do remember seeing her and the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret running across the courtyard at Buckingham Palace after the carriage. That was an unusual sight. And it did signify, at the end of the day, that a Royal Wedding is still a Royal Wedding but it’s also a family wedding.
Remember that Beatles song from Abbey Road, “Her Majesty”?
I do, yes.
[Sings.] “I want to tell her that I love her a lot/ But I gotta get a bellyful of wine.” Was that good advice?
How do you mean?
If I drink enough wine at the wedding reception, is it okay to tell the queen how much you love her?
Eric, possibly you might. But as for the rest of us, I couldn’t say. I wouldn’t recommend it. When you’re in the palace, you should be on your best behavior. But it’s becoming fairly obvious why you weren’t invited.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)