Becoming royalty was once the stuff of fairy tales.
Now, upward-climbing regular Janes or Joes actually have a shot at a palace suite. And it's not only happening on shows like "Gossip Girl," where Blair is marrying the fictional prince of Monaco: It is becoming reality.Story: Tiny kingdom of Bhutan prepares for royal wedding
Kate Middleton, the daughter of two former flight attendants, became the most high-profile commoner to hit the big time when she married Prince William and became the Duchess of Cambridge this summer.
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And on Thursday, 21-year-old student Jetsun Pema, the daughter of an airline pilot, married Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the 31-year-old king of the Himalayan nation of Bhutan.Royal wedding fever grips Himalayan nation
Bhutan, a remote country of 700,000 tucked in between India and China, only allowed television in 1999. As such, the royal wedding is not expected to reach the hysteria level of Will and Kate’s nuptials — but it's still a significant event. And the commoner/royal pairing is not so outlandish in the Buddhist country that invented the concept of “Gross National Happiness,’’ where the mental well-being of its people is more important than material wealth.Story: Prince Harry arrives in US for military training
“In this case, nobody is blinking an eye, and nobody is saying anything negative,’’ said Lisa Napoli, the author of “Radio Shangri-La,’’ which details a year she spent in Bhutan. “They wouldn't even do that anyway because they just got media in 1999, so there isn’t a lot of the media trappings that exist in the West. I don't think people feel anything other than incredible delight.’’Slideshow: Fairytales do come true... (on this page)
Wangchuck’s wedding is a little tamer than that of his father, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who married four sisters simultaneously in 1979.
“There’s not a lot of royal people (in Bhutan),’’ Napoli said. “There’s one royal family that has reigned for over 100 years and there hasn’t been that many offspring. Of the 10 kids of his father, (Wangchuck) is the eldest son, and he is marrying as close to royalty as you can get.’’Slideshow: The life of Prince Harry (on this page)
Last year, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden married commoner Daniel Westling, her former fitness trainer, to the initial horror of her father, King Carl XVI Gustaf. This summer, former South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock married Albert II, Prince of Monaco, eleven years after having met him at a swimming event in 2000.
And just last week, the 85-year-old Duchess of Alba in Spain married Alfonso Diez, a civil servant 25 years her junior. Will and Kate, of course, met while attending St. Andrews in Scotland.
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“It's just modern ways, really,’’ said Camilla Tominey, royal editor and columnist for the Sunday Express in London. “In the old days they had rules about only mixing with other royals, but now you have royals like William who went to a normal school, then went on to university and lived a normal student life. Marriage isn’t as set up. The royals are on a different level on one respect, but there’s not the class divide there once was. Royals like William and Harry have normal jobs and are mixing with civilians, and that makes it different.’’
One of the most notable commoners in the modern era to first live the fantasy was the actress Grace Kelly, who in 1956 married Rainer III, Prince of Monaco and became Princess Grace. In 1959, Hope Cooke, a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College who was on a summer trip in India, met 36-year-old Palden Thondup Namgyal, the Crown Prince of Sikkim, in a bar in Darjeeling, India. In 1963, she married him and had two children with him before the couple divorced in 1980.Story: Royal oops! What William forgot on his wedding day
In 2004, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark married an Australian woman, Mary Donaldson, after meeting her at a pub in Sydney at the 2000 Olympics.
Some couplings with commoners have been more scandalous. Princess Stephanie of Monaco, the daughter of Grace and Rainier III, married her bodyguard before divorcing him in 1996 after barely over a year of marriage. She ran off and married Adans Lopez Peres, a circus performer, in 2003 before divorcing him a year later.
In England at least, the royals see these relationships as a way the monarchy is adapting to the modern world.Story: Class crown? Duchess Kate taking royal lessons
“The queen is a modernizer and so is her husband even though they are 85 and 90 years old,’’ Tominey said. “The queen has witnessed enough history to know that you have to keep up with the times. You can’t be too detached from the rest of society, and Kate Middleton is a very welcome addition because she’s very well brought up, but she has that ‘girl next door’ quality that opens up the British family to the British public and the global public. She gave the monarchy relevance.’’
“The British royal family is adept at being an ordinary family writ large,’’ said Peter Stansky, a Frances and Charles Field Professor of Modern British History, Emeritus, at Stanford University. “What they are clever at is playing both sides of the street of, ‘We’re just plain folks, and we are extremely grand.’’’
Compared to the over-the-top wedding of Will and Kate, “normalcy’’ has a different meaning in Bhutan, where no other members of the royal family or heads of state are even invited to Thursday’s wedding in Bhutan’s 17th century Punakha Dzong. Wangchuck himself, after all, is a pretty low-key guy. Crowned the king of Bhutan in 2008 after his father abdicated the throne, Wangchuck is an Oxford graduate and a mountain-biking and basketball enthusiast.
“This wedding will resemble Will and Kate’s wedding in no way, shape or form,’’ Napoli said.
Still, thousands of Bhutanese are expected to attend, and the ceremony will be shown live on the Bhutan Broadcasting Service, which came to the country, along with the Internet, in 1999.
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“Marriage there is not like it is here or in England,’’ Napoli said. “It’s very casual. It’s only because they’re royalty that there’s a big deal because huge, lavish parties at weddings are very rare there. They’re going gaga over the royal couple in their own way because they don’t do it like in the West.’’
The nuptials are expected to be a colorful, sacred event steeped in symbolism and tradition rather than one filled with pomp and circumstance.Story: Rich Spanish duchess weds for third time at age 85
“It’s a nice break from the ‘What is Kate going to wear?!’ insanity,’’ Napoli said. “I'm sure it's astrologically divined because they don't do anything in Bhutan without asking the astrologer what day to do it.
"It's not the day that they could get the hall, let's put it that way.’’
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