Nearly 23 million Americans watched Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011.
Royal families, especially royal weddings, mimic fairytales, Katherine Jellison, a professor of history and a wedding expert, said, and they represent a “distant family fantasy figure.”
“I think its an escapism; it’s a fantasy,” Jellison said. “Very few people in the world have the financial resources to have a wedding like the royals do.”
Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle announced their engagement in November, and with an American joining the British royal family, Jellison said more people will be paying attention to the family leading up to the wedding.
“We seem to have a need for there to be an official ideal family that’s sort of it’s own fantasy that makes us think, ‘Oh, that could me if I had a lot of money and a castle,’ ” Jellison said.
The modern idea of the traditional wedding came from England, starting with Queen Victoria when she got married in 1840. Queen Victoria started one tradition when she wore a white dress to her wedding.
Queen Victoria also changed how the British royal family did things, John Brobst, an associate professor of history, said. Since Queen Victoria’s time, the family has become more of a figurehead or symbol for the country while creating a good public image, Brobst said.
“For Americans, I think they represent something the United States doesn’t have,” Brobst said.
The closest thing Americans have ever had to a royal family were the Kennedys, Chester Pach, an associate professor of history, said.
“People were fascinated with the Kennedys in part because they lived the kind of life that people were fascinated by,” Pach said. “People had vicarious fulfilment by watching them.”
Despite many of the modern royal traditions being started by Queen Victoria, a lot of the fascination with the royals started with Princess Diana, Pach said.
“Diana was fabulously popular because of who she was and the kind of melodrama and the tensions in her marriage with Prince Charles,” Pach said.
Brobst remembers when Diana and Prince Charles got married in 1981. He had classmates waking up at 2:30 a.m. to watch the ceremony, which was in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
From what Pach remembers, Diana dramatically changed things for the royal family. Pach compared the marriage to “the stuff of a reality show.”
“She had social issues that were important to her,” Pach said. “She knew how to get attention, and she used the media to her benefit.”
Americans get more excited about royal families because it is a romantic idea, Jellison said.
“We like to fantasize and think, ‘What if I were a member?’ ” she said.