Windsor—I’d been in Windsor less than 30 minutes on Thursday morning when I spotted Hoda Kotb, host of the Today Show, ambling around in a light pink coat. Moments later, CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King passed by, calling out: “Hoda, you have fun!”
It was obvious when the news of Harry and Meghan’s relationship first broke: This would be a huge media story. The royals are a perpetual motion machine from a news perspective—people are interested in them, in part because the media covers them, so the media continues to cover them. There’s ambient appeal that, with the right blitz of coverage, can be stoked into full-blown event television. And lately, let’s face it, there hasn’t been much perfectly fluffy fodder for American morning shows.
I’ve probably wandered through dozens of live shots in the last 24 hours. Frankly, I wish I’d packed a little more thoughtfully.
Thursday morning had the feeling of the first day at summer camp. With another two days to go before the wedding, the sidewalks were already crawling with reporters. Walking the streets of the parade route to familiarize myself, I constantly passed other media people, identifiable by the press credentials around their neck. (NBC and the BBC are the most identifiable contingents, thanks to the consistent branding of their lanyards, although I’ve also spotted ABC and CNN.) Noticing a loud humming, like a large beehive, I realized it was several generator trucks to support the news networks. It might sound like the type of environment that would inspire shark-like tactics—and no doubt competition to secure rights to prime filming spots was fierce in the weeks before.
But early Thursday—six hours ahead and therefore prior to call time for even the earliest American morning shows—the atmosphere was downright collegial. Gayle and Hoda snapped a photo together with fans, posted on their Instagram accounts.
I stopped and introduced myself to a reporter from New York’s local NBC affiliate, who stood out in a bright yellow coat, holding her microphone and testing out angles on her camera. Multiple on-air correspondents wore fascinators, including a woman from Entertainment Tonight. Equipment trucks were being unloaded everywhere; I watched a man almost lose control of a cart full of no-doubt expensive electronics, then laugh, shrugging it off with a simple observation: “Steep!”
Hoda was stopped by another news crew and gave a brief, friendly interview, closing it with a “Party on!” and fist pump. Before I could reach her to ask her for an interview, she—like memories of royal weddings past—melted away into the crowd.
But the mood began to shift over the course of the day, as media from around the world snapped into deadly serious “gotta get the shot” mode. It was rehearsal day; all the various military contingents that’ll join the parade on May 19 were doing practice runs. When I sat down for a quick lunch at the Prince Harry pub (formerly The Three Tuns, but recently renamed—wonder why?), a small contingent from NBC trooped inside to grab some quick video, taking advantage of the fact they’ve got the specially created beer “Harry & Meghan’s Windsor Knot” on tap. We all missed the practice run by the carriage that will carry Harry and Meghan and I felt a little company in my moment of brief panic, as we all wondered whether it was a disaster that we missed it. (Obviously, it wasn’t.)
Noon today, the atmosphere was different. The crowds had built and media pros wove through them, darting like fish for the best interview or angle. There were so many TV cameras and tripods that I’m genuinely shocked I made it through the day without a concussion. A man with an ABC Radio mic and headphones hovered around, eyes combing the crowd. I saw a Fox News camera, and Ryan Broderick from Buzzfeed, who when I said hi, informed me that he was about to go live with AM2DM. At one point I looked up and there was Tina Brown—of course. I overheard a woman on the street say incredulously that there were reporters here from all three local stations in Houston, Texas.
For all that Windsors media attention, I don’t get the impression that many reporters here are necessarily die-hard monarchists. The NBC branding, for example, is pure network sentiment, complete with sparkles. If anything, the American media coverage is hilariously disrespectful of the idea that monarchy is serious business; I wouldn’t really call wearing a fascinator and drinking at a desk with Katie Lee Gifford a form of deference (though if it is, sign me up). Particularly for American media, this is a lark.
But it wasn’t until I turned a corner and reached the Long Walk—the iconic approach to Windsor Castle, which is really a high-octane flex of monarchical power—that the sheer scale of this thing really, truly hit me. Halfway down the walk were announcing stations, entire TV sets relocated to what is essentially the castle’s front yard. They’ve built a two-story structure to house all the media that want the perfect shot of the carriage. Walking along, I passed TV reporter after TV reporter, standing to give their evening rundown.
All over town, there are these cameras on enormous dolly systems, wheeling out over the crowd, disembodied mechanical cyclops eyes. Bright lights shine into the corners of your eye constantly. There are TV sets everywhere I look—earlier today, I got lost when I crossed the bridge into Eton and cut through a publicly accessible field. There in the middle? Giant TV setups with the perfect view of the castle. You look up and suddenly one will catch your eye because itis crammed into somebody’s roof deck. After a while, it started to feel faintly uncanny, like I was getting tiny glimpses of the hide of some huge deep-sea creature with a will of its own.
That feeling receded as the day wound down, however. There was the feeling of a pause being reached. British reporters streamed to the train station, toting their heavy cameras home until tomorrow when shit will, as the royals say, geteth real. Young people with press credentials from American TV networks wove through the crowds with bags of snacks and bottled water. Coffee shops were laden with media types on laptops, sorting through the day’s haul or racing to meet the deadlines. Nevertheless, the European man next to me—wires spilling out of his bag alongside a royal wedding pamphlet—took five minutes to help me get my adapter and laptop plug balanced just right, saving my ass.
Everyone is taking a long, deep breath before tomorrow crashes like a wave.