LONDON — “A ’Who’s Who’ of tyrants and their cronies,” blazed one headline. “Riffraff at the royal wedding but no Tony Blair,” screamed another.
The guest list — who’s on it, and who’s not — for Friday’s wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton has stirred a huge outcry in the British press and among human-rights activists since its release Saturday for including unsavory dictators and excluding two former prime ministers who are members of a political party not particularly popular with Buckingham Palace: Labour.
“It looks odd that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown aren’t on the list,” said Tim Walker, a columnist for The Telegraph who covers the royal family, noting that former Prime Ministers John Major and Margaret Thatcher, both Conservative Party members, were invited (Major is coming; Thatcher pleaded ill health).
The palace says they were invited because both have been awarded The Knight of the Garter, but Walker wasn’t buying it.
“This looks like a snub, and it looks political, and the royal family shouldn’t ever, of course, be political,” he said Monday.
“One sees in the guest list the hand of Prince Charles. We will probably never know if this is something he wanted, but I recall his press spokesman saying how impressed he was with David Cameron shortly after he was elected leader of the Conservative Party.”
Cameron, the prime minister, and his wife, Samantha, of course, are invited.
Palace officials have scrambled to do damage control, noting that the invitations had been vetted by the British government’s Foreign Office. Still, one dictator has already backed out — Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain — who violently suppressed democracy protests earlier this year in that tiny Gulf state. He apologized to Charles, William’s father, for his absence, explaining that he didn’t want his country’s unrest to “tarnish the celebration.”
Nonetheless, protesters are vowing to show up outside Westminster Abbey and various five-star hotels in the next few days where some of the foreign leaders are staying. Among these are Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Britain and the king of Swaziland — all of whom have been accused of human-rights abuses in their own countries. Libya’s ambassador to Britain was originally invited, but had his invitation rescinded after fighting broke out.
Foreign and political figures aren’t the only ones on the list who are under scrutiny. Some see the hand of Charles’ wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, in the omission of some old friends of William’s mother, Diana — Rosa Monckton and Annabel Goldsmith, for example.
“There’s been a very big Camilla influence here,” Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine, told CBS. “There’s a lot of Parker Bowles (family) going and some of (Princess) Diana’s old, old friends are a little bit miffed that they’re not going.”
“But,” Seward added, “I think it’s really more the people that have probably been rude to Camilla that aren’t invited.”
Out of 1,900 guests, about a thousand of them will sit in the coveted section of Westminster Abbey in front of the Quire, a partition in the building that restricts the view of the altar to anyone behind it. The rest will have to be content with watching the ceremony on jumbo television screens placed around the abbey.
There’s no bride’s side or groom’s side — Diana’s family, the Spencers, will sit next to the Middletons in a section in the front of the Abbey known as the “North Lantern,” and across the aisle will be the royal family in the “South Lantern.” They will be the closest to the sanctuary, where the couple will take their vows.
The best seats in the house are reserved for members of the royal family, who will sit with Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, while foreign royalty — both sitting monarchs and those who wish they were sitting monarchs — will be right behind them, front and center. They range from the king and queen of Norway to King Constantine, the former sovereign of Greece, and to the sultan of Brunei. Bulgaria’s Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his wife, Margarita, are among other “pretenders” to thrones that no longer exist who have been invited, about 40 in all.
There is plenty of star power, too: soccer star David Beckham and his wife Victoria, Elton John and Guy Ritchie, Madonna’s former husband and director of “Sherlock Holmes.” Celebrity photographer Mario Testino, who took the couple’s official engagement pictures, is on the list, as is Joss Stone, a singer who performed at the tribute concert marking the 10th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death.
And between the royal couple, nine of their ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends, many of them with hyphenated last names — as is common among England’s upper-middle class — are also included.
Royal biographer Christopher Warwick told Canadian television that it appears to be “an all-encompassing guest list.” Because William isn’t first in line for the throne — his father is — this is not a state occasion, hence President Barack Obama wasn’t invited.
There are some question marks being raised about Charles’ invitees: They include the head of public relations for Audi, the German car maker, who provides cars for the royal family. And the Daily Mail claims that Texas financier Joe Allbritton is being invited to the wedding in exchange for loaning the prince his private jet to fly to the United States for a state trip in May.
And then there’s this interesting insight from The Telegraph: “Another familiar face will be Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, the television presenter and socialite, who has had her nose corrected for the occasion. The proboscis, which was rebuilt in 2006 after years of cocaine abuse, had collapsed. Happily, she is now a reformed character.”
Not clear if they’re referring to Palmer-Tomkinson, or her nose.
Still, this is a wedding, after all.
“At the end of the day, planning any wedding guest list is a quirky, frantic and unfair process; as much as you want to be fair, it sometimes isn’t,” said The Telegraph’s Walker. “As anyone who has drawn up such a list knows only too well, you are always going to offend someone, and anything that is done by a committee tends to be a bit muddled and illogical.”