The romance in the royal marriage

Prince William and Kate Middleton
Prince William of Great Britain (l) and his fiancee Kate Middleton, at Royal National Lifeboat Institution naming ceremony and service dedication, Trearddur Bay Lifeboat Station, Anglesey, Wales
AP Photo

As you may have heard, the royal wedding is set for Friday morning ... and anticipation is mounting on both sides of the Atlantic. Our official royal watcher is Tracy Smith in London:

The choirboys are ready to sing their young hearts out. The carriages, dusted. The hats, selected. The fans ... out in force.

"One day when I'm 80 I'll be telling my grandkids I was here," said one woman.

The truth is, Friday's royal wedding is expected to be like every other British royal wedding you've ever seen, more or less. But this time there's just a bit more fascination.

That's probably to be expected when the son of the world's most celebrated princess gets married to someone who's already become something of an icon herself.

Special coverage: The royal wedding

The bride, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, was born in 1982 to a middle class non-royal, upwardly mobile family.

Kate met her future husband at college, and is said to have ignited their romance back in 2002 by wearing a little see-through number at a charity fashion show he attended - kind of a first for a future queen.

Kate's also the first royal bride with a university degree, and the first to actually live with her husband BEFORE the wedding.

The groom, William Arthur Phillip Louis, also born in 1982, the first child of Charles and Diana.

Like his mother, Will is hugely popular, and Kate Middleton's appeal - in Britain and beyond - is off the charts. Right now, they're a golden pair - and it's crucial to the monarchy that they stay that way.

"What's riding on this wedding is they can never divorce," said royal watcher Hilary Fordwich, at the Hillwood Museum and Estate in Washington, D.C.

"They cannot be divorced because of what happened with his parents, and that would be too much for the royal family to bear," Fordwich said. "They must be happy and they must live forever together. That's part of English history."

And what an interesting history it has been.

There was, of course, the much-married Henry VIII, who beheaded two of his six wives ... and rejected his fourth as too ugly.

"He claimed her breasts sagged," said Michael Farquar, author of "Behind the Palace Doors." "Like his weren't!"

"Charles II had scads of bastards by a lot of different mistresses," Farquar said. "The Duke of Buckingham said about him, 'The King is supposed to the father of his people, and Charles was certainly a father to a great many of them.'"

Then there's Edward VIII, who famously gave up the throne for the woman he loved - but he might not have been a great king anyway.

"The fact of the matter is, behind Edward's very appealing exterior - he was handsome, he was charming, the British people loved him - was a real lightweight who had no interest in being king," said Farquar. "All he wanted to do was pursue a playboy lifestyle. He liked to be dominated. Many of his girlfriends attested to that, and he married the ultimate dominator in Wallis Warfield Simpson."

"She bossed him around?" Smith asked.

"She bossed him endlessly," Farquar said. "She made him feel like a worm. And there's something about him that he enjoyed that."

"Not quite as romantic as we think," Smith said.

... Which brings us to Diana's marriage to Charles in 1981. It seemed romantic enough at first: barely out of her teens, she floated down the aisle in a cloud of white silk to marry her prince.

Fifteen years later, they divorced amid a million sordid media revelations.

For Diana, happiness seemed elusive, and privacy was out of the question. She was considered the most photographed woman in the world, and in 1997 died in a Paris car crash as she reportedly tried to escape the ever-present cameras.

William said goodbye walking behind a gun carriage that bore her casket - again, in full view of the world.

So it's no surprise that after all he went through with his mother, William is now said to be hell bent on keeping the press at arm's length, and keeping his new bride's life as normal as possible.

"He witnessed firsthand that tumultuous experience of the media's infatuation with Princess Diana," said Fordwich. "And he, to this day, hasn't wavered from being protective of Kate Middleton. And most people believe that his delay in their becoming engaged was his concern for how her life will be impacted and affected by the spotlight."

And consider this: While there have been plenty of royally bad marriages, there have also been solid ones: Will's grandmother Elizabeth II has been married six decades. Queen Victoria adored her husband, Albert. And some see the same traits in the couple who will tie the royal knot later this week.

"I think this royal couple is like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in that they are totally and utterly in love," said Fordwich. "Every photograph, every caption of them, he is protective of her and she is devoted and in love with him. They used to call it the Nancy Reagan gaze. Well, she has that gaze when she looks at Prince William, and I think that bodes well, as well as any marriage any of us have ever witnessed, for a happy future."

For more info: