Why the fuss over the royal couple?
There were a few thousand people jammed up against a security barricade, most with arms aloft. Many were shouting slogans, some were just generally making noise. There was a real sense of excited energy in this mob. Yet this was no normal riot.
This was a royal one.
That meant this loud mob wasn’t shouting protest slogans. They were shouting “Will, you’re bril! Kate, you’re great!” with increasing intensity as the royal golf cart slowly approached the Supertrees grove.
As that happened, some, who were standing towards the rear of the mob began frantically asking each other: “Can you see anything? I can’t see.”
Occasionally, someone would yell out triumphantly: “I think I saw a bit of his head!”
A few feet away, beyond the mass of people, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were apparently shaking hands with their adoring fans.
And there were many: A handful had shown up as early as 5am for an appearance scheduled for 10am. Some had made signs, or cardboard cutouts of the royal couple’s faces. Almost everyone was waving a little union jack.
This was the single best opportunity for an ordinary Singaporean to come up close to Prince William and his wife Catherine Middleton, and clearly many were not passing up the chance. Estimates number the crowd at around 3,000.
For a self-confessed cynic, I struggled to understand what all the fuss was about.
Why were so many people out here braving the late morning sun just for two people whose defining achievement in life was being symbols?
It is perhaps understandable that there were a lot of British there. This is, after all, British royalty. But what to make of the Singaporeans?
Singapore ceased to be a British colony more than 50 years ago. Is this evidence of some remnants of that colonial identity in the same way that so many Singaporeans support the English national football team in the World Cup?
And numerous members of royal families from many other countries have been on official state visits to Singapore before, yet there has never been a mob of this sort. Why now?
I figured the best thing to do would be to ask people at random.
And after a whole morning of this, I think I now understand. It’s basically a mix celebrity and scarcity.
At least two people also said they were there because of all the Duchess had done for charity but I decided to discard this answer because both seemed to understand her charitable contributions more as as a broad concept rather than anything concrete.
“Which charity does she support?” I asked one fan who had cited the princess’ charitable contributions. Silence.
Another lady who cited the charity argument quickly offered a second reason when posed with questions about Ms Middleton’s charitable work.
“It’s all for fun,” she said. “We would be out here for other people as well.”
It was the sort of sentiment I heard over and over again. One of the fans who had waited up to five hours for the royal couple: “You probably don’t understand because you are not the groupie-type. Some people just are.”
Indeed, it seemed people were out here not so much because of some respect to the authority of the crown, but because the couple were celebrities. And many people reacted to them like celebrities.
One student who had stayed up late with her friends to complete a sign that said “Wills and Kate, looking great” was just thrilled to have been able to meet the princess.
Asked if the handicraft effort and time spent waiting in the sun was worth it, she answered without hesitation: “Yes. I got to shake her hand.”
And as I was walking off, two teen girls gave each other a high-five, the way one would if one had just scored a date with a crush.
The fact that the couple are royalty does not matter to anyone that much. What it does though, is enhance the effect of their celebrity.
Explained a colleague who had jogged 4km from her house to Gardens by the Bay in the morning to catch a glimpse of the couple: “I can find out everything I want to know about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie from gossip magazines. It’s not the same for royalty.”
The fact that the Duke and Duchess are royals makes meetings with them a rare opportunity and therefore more special.
And that’s why when very famous people you hardly get to see make a public appearance, everyone goes slightly out of their mind.
I came away from Gardens by the Bay with a little darker, wearier and wiser, not to mention grateful that I am not the groupie-type.
Because all I managed to see was a little bit of Prince William’s head.
Prince William is in there somewhere...