The Secret Weapon Of The Royal Family's Mystique

How British royals manage to maintain their popularity among commoners despite divorces, sex scandals and inappropriate outfits? Essayist Diane Roberts thinks it's the tiaras.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Much of the world will be in front of the television to see Kate Middleton wed Prince William. Essayist Diane Roberts will be among them. She's had practice watching royals.

Ms. DIANE ROBERTS: I come from a land of princesses. Oh, not the kind you'll see walking into Westminster Abbey on Friday - the kind with five or six names, the kind descended from Charlemagne or William the Conqueror. The princesses I'm talking about rule over peanuts or watermelons or pine trees.

They are queens of the Cotton Festival or the Peach Parade. In the South, we grow princesses. Girls learn early how to walk in high heels and Vaseline their teeth. There are whole shops dedicated to sequined pageant dresses, ruffled hoop skirts and long white gloves.

Maybe that's why I consider myself a connoisseur of princesses. I cut school to watch Princess Anne's wedding in 1973. She wore a sunburst diamond tiara - the same one her mother wore to marry Prince Philip. When Lady Diana Spencer married the Prince of Wales, I was at university in England. Everybody drank a lot of cheap champagne and pretended to be ironic about the whole thing.

For a bunch of people who divorced themselves from kings 200 years ago, we Americans sure are into royalty. Queen Elizabeth II has been the cover girl for Life or Newsweek over a dozen times. Her sister, the sapphire-eyed Princess Margaret, appeared often in Time or Vogue, wearing some fantastic tulle dress or drinking a martini on a beach in the Grenadines. Then there's Princess Diana. She's been dead nearly 14 years, and she still sells magazines.

Now Diana's boy is getting married to a nice, middle-class girl with long legs and a pretty smile. Like all weddings, this is a family occasion - it's just that two billion other people will also be watching it on TV.

Maybe it's the mystique royals have managed to hang on to through divorces, sex scandals, inappropriate outfits, and the strong suspicion that they are wildly out of touch with the 21st century. Maybe there's some fairy-tale gene buried deep in our psyches.

I think it's the tiaras. There's something both completely absurd and completely gorgeous about wearing a big old mess of diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds on your head. Miss America looks good in a tiara. Your seven-year-old niece looks good in a tiara. Kate Middleton will look good in a tiara as she walks down the aisle of the Abbey, preparing for a lifetime as a beautiful anachronism.

HANSEN: Diane Roberts practices her court curtsy in Tallahassee, Florida.

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