Guests attending the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton next month will be expected to refrain from tweeting, blogging or snapping images on their mobile phones during the ceremony.
‘Guests in the Abbey should be concentrating on the wedding, not [using social media],’ head of communications for Westminster Abbey, Duncan Jeffery, told The Media Online. While it would not be ‘practical’ to try to enforce a ban and have offenders ejected, ‘frankly, I would hope that people realise the importance and solemnity of the occasion – that it’s somebody’s wedding, not a Hollywood press conference. We’re relying on the good taste of the guests,’ Jeffery said.
When Prince Charles wed Lady Diana in 1981, the world was a very different place, not least for public figures. While that wedding was very much a public spectacle – it was broadcast live on TV across the world – the social media revolution that has since turned every member of the pubic with a smart phone into an eager, potential reporter was unimaginable. Managing privacy issues – not only for Prince William and his bride, but also for guests attending the wedding and receptions – could be a serious challenge.
Journalist, royal expert and author of The Windsor Knot and Fergie – Her Secret Life, Christopher Wilson, expects that guests will be asked to switch off their phones before the service. ‘Which will mean that guests, there at the invitation of the royal couple and the Queen, would have to disobey a gentle order from above [should they wish to tweet, photograph or blog], which I suspect most would not want to do,’ he says. ‘Phone activity of whatever kind in a church or cathedral draws attention to the individual concerned, and I don’t think any invited guest would want to be seen to be flouting the decorum of the occasion.’
Jeffery expects even the voracious UK press to respect the no-tweeting request. No unobtrusive corner has been set aside for reporters hoping to tweet live from the Abbey itself – although approximately 100 media representatives housed in the adjacent St Margaret’s Church will be free to do so, as this will not be ‘disruptive’.
Only about 16 reporters will be present in the Abbey itself. Of these lucky few, ‘we sincerely hope they will realise that they are there to soak in the atmosphere of the occasion and write about it afterwards,’ Jeffery says. TV channels (including the BBC, which is host broadcaster, and a number of others – over two billion people are expected to watch the ceremony) and 15 or 16 stills photographers will also gain entry.
Wilson, on the other hand, thinks the press will report using the new mediums. ‘They are not personal guests. They have a job to do and I have no doubt that words will flow from the Abbey while the service goes on, just as radio and TV commentary will do.’
But he also believes that in terms of quality visual coverage, social media is not much of a threat. ‘Don’t forget too there is a live TV feed from the ceremony which will outdo in terms of quality and multiplicity of shots anything anybody could do with their iPhone or BlackBerry, so you might say what’s the point?’
Where social media will come into its own is when capturing the mood on the streets and crowd reaction – or any unexpected incident, from a protest to the unthinkable possibility of a terrorist attack. Remembering the 1981 royal wedding, Wilson says ‘When [Diana] said “I do” … I was standing on a balcony [in Fleet Street] and could witness the visible ripple of applause, followed by cheers, which swept slowly from the Cathedral down to Ludgate Circus and then up Fleet Street towards the Strand. That’s the kind of thing that might be captured by individuals blogging and tweeting which wouldn’t be picked up by the main broadcasters.’
Clarence House itself is making good use of social media to keep the public informed of all developments in the lead-up to the wedding. An official site (www.officialroyalwedding2011.org) has been created, and is regularly updated – with exclusive content such as childhood photographs of Kate.
The website brings together ‘all the official social media around the event, including the Clarence House and Buckingham Palace Flickr account, Twitter (@Clarence House), The Royal Channel on YouTube and the British Monarchy Facebook page, providing direct easy access to all channels of communication,’ information on the site says.
A live web stream of the wedding itself may be provided, while it’s promised that the site will be ‘the first place’ anyone will see information about Miss Middleton’s wedding dress.
That’s provided no one has managed to snap the garment on their phone first, of course.