England's Las Vegas Awaits Royal Wedding Day

Britain's Royal Wedding is the biggest national celebration in 30 years. Prince William marries Kate Middleton on Friday and the British are planning a big party. Blackpool is in England's north, and residents there embrace a good party.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Preparations are underway in Britain for the biggest national celebration in decades. The British have declared a national holiday for Friday's wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. They're planning a big party - or so we're told - but remember, this is the country that invented the stiff upper lip. NPR's Philip Reeves reports that the word party means different things to different people.

PHILIP REEVES: If you think the British are reserved and aloof, there's a woman you need to meet.

Ms. SUE GARNETT: (Unintelligible)

REEVES: Her name is Sue Garnett. She's what you might call a party person.

Ms. GARNETT: I love partying. Look at me, I love it. And if people look at me and say, oh God, she's got a short skirt, I don't give two monkeys. I'm me. If you don't like it, then it's tough (bleep). You either like me or you don't.

REEVES: Garnett's 53. She's a housekeeper in a hotel in an English town that specializes in parties. Garnett lives in Blackpool and she loves the place.

Ms. GARNETT: I came to Blackpool 22 years ago and I would never go back to my birthplace ever. If you want a good time, come to Blackpool. It's brilliant.

REEVES: We're on the sidewalk outside a cabaret club taking a breather from the karaoke. Garnett has with her a friend called Jason Dafydd. It's mid-evening, mid-week, in mid-April. Tonight's dull by Blackpool standards. Garnett and Dafydd are certain the royal wedding won't be.

Ms. GARNETT: You know, the big day of the royal wedding will be absolutely fantastic here in Blackpool.

Mr. JASON DAFYDD: I mean, we've got street parties. We've got entertainment in all the venues. All day it's going to be absolute royal wedding day.

REEVES: The royal wedding you'll soon see on TV will be drenched in ritual and history. Britain's great, good and not-so-good will parade their silk and feathers, metals and miters, top hats and tails. It'll seem very formal. That'll be in London.

Blackpool is in England's north. People here do things differently.

Ms. ADRIAN THORNTON: Blackpool is the opposite end of the scale. It's the party town. It's the Las Vegas of England - bright lights, you know, lots to do, lots of places to lose your money, to have a good time, let your hair down.

The only thing I've gotten ready apart from putting my nails (unintelligible)...

REEVES: Zoe, also known as Adrian Thornton, is preparing to go onstage. She's wearing a pink dress and a huge blonde wig that makes her look like Ivana Trump. Sequins glitter from her eyelids. For 17 years, Zoe's fronted a transvestite cabaret called Funny Girls, one of Blackpool's most famous shows. She knows what the British are really like.

Ms. THORNTON: When the British party, it mainly means lots and lots of alcohol. Tend to be like the hen party, where the girls come away for their last night of freedom before, you know, the big step of marriage. So they really are the party girls and Blackpool's the party town.

Come on there, ladies and gentlemen, let's hear it...

REEVES: Zoe's show begins.

(Soundbite of music)

REEVES: And soon the party's starting.

(Soundbite of music)

REEVES: Britons have been going to the seaside resort of Blackpool to find fun since Queen Victoria was on the throne. It has a huge sandy beach, its own version of the Eiffel Tower, one of the world's biggest rollercoasters, and lots of pubs, clubs and fish and chip shops. Britain's working class come here to behave badly. The place revels in slapstick humor. Here they sell silly hats, candy in the shape of women's breasts, cushions that make nasty noises.

No town is more British. No town loves the monarchy more.

(Soundbite of horns)

REEVES: Blackpool has yet to forget another royal wedding. Thirty years have elapsed since Prince Charles married Diana Spencer. To Sue Garnett and Jason Dafydd, it could have been yesterday.

Ms. GARNETT: I remember it plain as anything. It was a gorgeous day. She looked gorgeous, didn't she?

Mr. DAFYDD: The sun was shining. I remember that, yeah. She turned up in that carriage, she came out in that Emmanuel dress, she walked up those steps, St. Paul's, yeah, and she looked absolutely stunning.

Ms. GARNETT: She did.

Mr. DAFYDD: And we all thought, that is our future queen.

REEVES: Diana's divorce and then her death in a car crash in Paris in 1997 left deep scars among many of the British. For some, these still haven't healed.

Ms. GARNETT: Charles, for what he did to Lady Diana, I hate, I hate him. The queen, sorry. She hasn't been for us, has she?

Mr. DAFYDD: I can't say that the queen has not been for us. She does have a lot to answer for with Diana.

Ms. GARNETT: Yeah.

REEVES: What about Kate? What do you make of Kate?

Mr. DAFYDD: I think Kate is a very beautiful woman.

Ms. GARNETT: Yes, she is.

Mr. DAFYDD: Yeah.

Ms. GARNETT: Yes, she is.

REEVES: Afternoon tea is served on Blackpool's beachfront in the busy reception of the Queen's Hotel. The proprietor, Pat Mancini, is reclining in a red leather armchair, eating sandwiches and talking about her hometown.

Ms. PAT MANCINI (Proprietor, Queen's Hotel): I think this is, yeah, this is a working class town, and all the money I've had over the years, I'm still working class, you know.

REEVES: Are you?

Ms. MANCINI: Absolutely. I have a Rolls in the back and a Jag in the back. A white Rolls.

REEVES: This hotel has made Mancini rich, so rich that people here call her the queen of Blackpool. Mancini has no time for criticism of the other queen, the one in London.

Ms. MANCINI: She's never put a foot wrong. She's always kept up there and kept the family together as much as she can. It's been very, very hard work for her. However, she's had a bit of a rough time with them all, hasn't she?

REEVES: Mancini produces a package and begins to unwrap it.

Ms. MANCINI: I've got the MBE(ph) in a lovely box. It's got MBE on the front, it's navy blue. Beautiful box. Inside when I open it, there's an orange bow.

REEVES: It's an award from Queen Elizabeth.

Ms. MANCINI: It's for the good work I've done for charity and it makes me a member of the British empire. You know, we had a British empire. We've not got a lot left now, but I'm a member of it.

REEVES: Mancini's 72, and though battling with cancer, she still sings praises of her town - literally.

Ms. MANCINI: (Singing) Come down to Blackpool this year. Take a walk on the pier. Have some fun. See the stars and the shows. Take a walk down the Prom, have a trip on the Ride to Remember. Plenty of fun for the children. Tower and circus in town.

REEVES: Back on the sidewalk outside the cabaret club, Sue Garnett and Jason Dafydd settle their argument about the failings of the royal family. On one fundamental issue they agree.

Mr. DAFYDD: We people, we do want royalty, yeah? That's who we look up to. We're proud to be British. We are proud of our heritage and we are proud that William is going to marry Kate.

Ms. GARNETT: Oh yeah. I can't wait for that wedding day.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News.

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