Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s nuptials, while steeped in centuries of tradition, are still precedent-setting in a number of ways — not the least of which is that this is the first time “out” gays have been invited to a British royal wedding. Sir Elton John and his husband, David Furnish, snagged one of the heavily embossed invitations from Buckingham Palace, as did heartthrob Gareth Thomas, who also happens to be the first openly gay professional rugby player. Let’s hear it for the lavender crack in Westminster Abbey’s illustrious doors.
But change brings anxiety, doesn’t it? If manners are supposed to do anything, they’re meant to calm our anxieties — when lorazepam and Xanax aren’t sufficient, that is — by providing a guiding hand through the darkness (or in this case down the long abbey aisle).
In the interest of helping the occasion come off without a hitch, here are some dos and don’ts for Sir Elton and his husband, with a special etiquette advisory for Gareth Thomas. While minding your manners, remember that these cautions apply not only to the royal wedding but also to any ceremony uniting two lovers.
• Be discreet and don’t criticize. It really wasn’t so wise for Sir Elton to share his thoughts on William’s decision to give his fiancée Princess Diana’s blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring. “I thought it was a little odd,” he reportedly told the media.
Real life: If you don’t like a friend’s choice of partner, the best advice is to keep it to yourself — unless you know of a secret life of crime, addiction, or other real menaces.
• Bow to royalty. Although it isn’t exactly butch, Sir Elton should be careful to give a quick bow of the head when greeting Queen Elizabeth. If he needs a quick refresher, this is usually done with a distinct bobbing movement, with the upper body kept straight. As one British manners expert advises, “Nothing too theatrical!”
Real life: Bowing is really about deference, whether to crowned royalty or to your homegrown queen who is about to march down the aisle. Don’t forget that it’s the marrying couple’s day — not yours. Do not outshine the brides or grooms.
• Follow the rules for introductions. When presenting his husband to the queen, Sir Elton should say, “May I present David Furnish, Your Majesty.” That’s basic protocol for presenting “inferiors” to “superiors.”
Real life: This translates into: Introduce exes to your current partner, your partner to your parents, younger people to older folks, a colleague to your boss, and so on. It’s not so difficult, and it’s the polite thing to do.
• Wear this, not that. Fortunately, the royal wedding invitation is very specific in stating the dress code for the occasion. “Dress: Uniform, Morning Coat, or Lounge Suit.” A lounge suit is what the Brits call a business suit. As for the morning coat, that’s a long coat with a front cutaway, which in this country we call “tails.” The final touch for two gentlemen attending a royal wedding is pair of umbrellas; it is London, after all. By the way, the mention of uniforms refers to military ones — not any skanky leather accoutrements hanging in the closet.
Real life: Two men or two women attending a wedding or ceremony of commitment needn’t be all matchy-matchy. Just remember: Dress for the formality or informality of the occasion. You don’t want one of you in a tux and the other sporting an open-collar shirt with jeans (no matter how much your designer denim may have cost). You will be seen and photographed together; think about that as you plan your outfits.
• No tweeting, please. Even though Gareth Thomas has 21,000+ followers on Twitter, he should be sure to turn off all his mobile devices as soon as he enters the church.
Real life: No phone calls. No tweets. No texting. No Facebook updates. Not during the ceremony.
• Leave the kid at home. It’s fantastic news that Sir Elton and David have adopted a baby boy, but unless little Zachary is named on the invitation, he is not invited.
Real life: When you receive a wedding invitation, pay close attention to the names on the envelope and the details inside. Never assume you can bring your little one.
• Leave the boyfriend at home. For Gareth Thomas, who is reportedly not in a committed relationship right now: Don’t make the mistake of bringing a casual mate as your companion, unless your invitation says “plus one” or “and guest.” With the 1,900 seats in the abbey so coveted on that day, I can guarantee that Gareth has been invited solo (although I’d be happy to join him if I’m wrong).
Real life: Even the most casual ceremonies have a formality about them; don’t mistake a wedding invitation for a dinner invite. Nor should you e-mail your hosts to ask whether you can bring your sweetie along.
And one last pointer for both Sir Elton and Mr. Thomas: Please don’t be late. This is good advice for all weddings (you should arrive about 20 minutes early, in fact). At Westminster, every step will be timed to the minute, and “homosexual standard time” is no excuse for tardiness.