Peter Rhodes on a royal fantasy, unreported dissent and folk who change their names

Forty years ago today I awoke in a hotel near London's Green Park, washed, dressed, breakfasted and walked out to join a vast tide of happy humanity making its way towards St Paul's for the Charles and Diana Royal Wedding. And yet, to tell the truth, the goodwill was patchy.

The doomed Royal Wedding
The doomed Royal Wedding

For example, the night before in the hotel bar, one woman recalled how Diana's finger nails, as she showed off her engagement ring, were gnawed almost to the bone in anxiety. A man who ran a small factory told us he was furious that he had to give his employees a day off with pay to mark this wedding. Why should he subsidise the celebrations?

But back in the summer of '81 we didn't report such things. In fact, we didn't report any dissent. The official line, eagerly soaked up by us hacks, was that this coolly arranged exercise in dynasty-building was a fairy-tale romance, a love story that would last for ever. If you wonder why today's newspapers and broadcasters are so suspicious of any announcement from the House of Windsor, it can be traced back to that grand illusion 40 years ago when the Palace spun the lie and we were all right royally suckered.

I wrote recently about working with “a lady called Flo.” The strange thing is that she was Flo only in the office. In private life, her friends all called her Hilda, which was curious because her real name, which she had hated and rejected from childhood, was Doris. I could never meet Flo / Hilda / Doris without being reminded of the character in the Beatles' song, Rocky Raccoon: “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.”

There was a time when such name-changing was commonplace, for all sorts of reasons. Some people simply disliked their birth name, others were renamed in honour of a relative killed in war and some, in the great social-mobility revolution of the 1950s, decided Justin was a cooler name than Percy. And where did all those Beryls go?

Do people still change their names? I doubt if it happens on the same scale as before, possibly because these days parents choose more imaginative names. Once a River, always a River?

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