Locals take 'Kate Middleton Country' tours in stride
Bus tour takes tourists to Middleton's hometown of Bucklebury, U.K.
Poutine seems like an unlikely dish to be served at a party celebrating the April 29 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Yet the Quebec concoction of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy will have pride of place at a royal wedding party hosted by Rebecca Peedle, a lawyer from Medley in the northern England district of Sheffield who spent a year in Ottawa on a university exchange.
"My girlfriend has a birthday the same day that Wills and Kate are getting married, so we're all dressing up like royals, doing a bit of a pub crawl and then heading back to my place for poutine and beer," she said as she took a cigarette break during a wedding reception at a hotel near Bucklebury, U.K.
The small village, about 90 kilometres west of London, is where Middleton grew up and has been recently added to the itinerary of a local tour bus company called Mortons, which last month began selling trips through "Kate Middleton Country."
The coach company is operated out of nearby North Hampshire and owned by Adrian Morton, a former coach driver who started his own tour company seven years ago and now has a fleet of 16 buses, including two 100-seat double-deckers.
Morton maintains that the secret to the success of trips through the countryside where Middleton spent her childhood is to keep the operation on a small scale. The Bucklebury coach seats about 50 passengers.
"So far, the villagers are regarding this as harmless fun," said Morton as he supervised the inaugural Kate Middleton Country tour.
He expects his coaches will make regular Sunday forays into the area where the possible future queen (Prince William is second in line to the British throne after his father, Charles, Prince of Wales)grew up and attended primary school.
"As long as we're not sending in lines and lines of coaches every couple of hours, we're absolutely fine," said Morton, adding that he saw the tours as a boost to the local economy.
Morton's family ties to Bucklebury go back several generations, but the coach operator's optimism regarding the reception his tours will get might be premature. His twin brother, who owns a tour operation in Florida, wants to send over busloads of American tourists eager to get in on the frenzy of royal watching. One wag on the inaugural tour referred to these impending hordes as Bucklebury Hounds.
"Strangely enough, we haven't had many queries from Canada, but my brother tells me that the interest in the wedding in the United States is unbelievable," said Morton. "We already have a number of tours planned … at least until the wedding. We'll see how it goes after that."
Tour might disappoint some
Morton could well find himself with a bit more of a public relations challenge than he anticipates — not only from the locals, who might soon become tired of tourists and journalists descending on their village in droves, but also from tour participants, whose expectations could exceed what Morton is able to deliver.
For one thing, the excursion, which is priced at 10 pounds ($16 Cdn) for adults and seniors and 7.50 pounds ($12 GBP) for children, is a bit lightweight considering all the hype it has received from world media. Much of the trip consists of driving down narrow country lanes overhung with tree branches that scrape against the coach's windows as the driver squeezes the vehicle past an oncoming car or truck.
There's a brief stop at the Old Boot Inn, the pub Middleton's parents consider their "local," and another one at St. Andrew's Church for a look at the font where Kate was baptized.
There's also a drive through the grounds of St. Andrew's Preparatory School that Kate attended as a youngster, but passengers cannot stop there or at Kate's parents' home since both are private property.
In fact, as you whiz around a curve on a narrow thoroughfare, you have to take the on-board guide's word for it that the house hidden behind a great deal of foliage is, indeed, the home of Michael and Carole Middleton. William and Kate are currently living in Wales where the prince is training as a Royal Air Force helicopter search-and-rescue pilot.
Still, the locals on the coach who sat stoically in their seats as television crews, print journalists and radio news staff crawled over them to get a better view out the windows seemed to be having a good time.
Local barkeep gets wedding invitation
On one of the two stops on the tour, passenger Tony Riddell, a retired executive from the nearby town of Tadley, quietly sipped a coffee at the corner table where the Middletons generally congregate when they visit the Old Boot Inn.
Off to one side, owner John Haley, who has known the Middletons for 15 years, was telling reporters how his invitation to attend the Royal Wedding had arrived unceremoniously a few days previously. The postman merely pushed it through the pub's letterbox along with the usual bills and flyers.
Riddell said he takes Mortons coach tours on a regular basis and welcomes the addition of Bucklebury to their route.
"It will be good for the local economy, and the wedding is something to celebrate," he said.
But a taxi driver transporting passengers between the Holiday Inn and the coach tour pick-up point said some of the locals are beginning to grumble about the disruption to their lives already caused by the high level of curiosity about anything to do with Kate Middleton.
"They're getting a bit tired of media people sticking microphones in their faces and tourists tromping through their yards," he said. "A lot of them are hoping the whole thing will die down after the wedding so they can get back to a normal life.
"Many of the people who live around here are wealthy retirees or executives who commute to London. They don't need the economic boost these trips are supposed to bring."
Asked why he thought there was such an interest in the royal wedding in North America, the cab driver said it was quite understandable for Canadians to be caught up in it all since Canada is part of the Commonwealth.
"As for the Americans, they envy anything they don't have," he said. "And they don't have royalty."