The Very Reverend Dr. John R. Hall had the best seat in the house as William and Catherine exchanged wedding vows. As the Dean of Westminster Abbey, Reverend Dr. Hall stood before the royal couple – and up to two billion people watching worldwide – to officiate the ceremony in the majestic church where he lives and works. During the Dean’s visit to New York City, NewsFeed sat down with him to find out how such a monumental event came together.
(PHOTOS: Royal Wedding Day At Westminster Abbey)
The wedding was only announced in November, and surely there’s a huge amount of planning that must be done to get the Abbey ready in time. How did you manage the preparation?
It was demanding, it was exciting, but it wasn’t frenzy. We thought about everything beforehand and everything was planned down to the last detail. So when the time came it felt really smooth and comfortable, and more or less completely as planned. But in the run up to the wedding, it wasn’t the all-consuming thing, because there was Holy Week and Easter and regular services. The wedding was an important part of our lives, but it wasn’t the whole of our life for that period.
Did you do anything differently knowing that a purported two billion people would be tuning in to watch?
How do you estimate 2 billion? In the church at the time, you have no concept of that. I couldn’t possibly imagine what 2 billion people looked like or felt like. So I said to myself, ‘Just don’t worry about 2 billion; each one is an individual, so it’s just like an extra person watching.’ I was able to focus in on the couple themselves, and it was happening in a place that I love and feel very comfortable in.
Your most famous line while officiating the ceremony was the “Speak now, or forever hold your peace” phrase. What would you have done if someone did indeed speak up?
As a matter of fact we had prepared for that! It was extraordinarily unlikely to happen and we knew that it wouldn’t happen, but we did have a church lawyer in the wings waiting just in case. That was the degree of preparation we had for it.
You were responsible for walking Kate Middleton down the aisle, and you were among the first to greet the Queen upon her arrival. How do you manage your duties while being such an elite member of society?
I’m not an elite, I’m a humble priest. I happen to live and work in a place which has an extraordinary reach, so for me it’s an amazingly privileged position to be meeting people and greeting people and I hope that their experience at the Abbey lifts their spirits and brings them a bit closer to God.
The Royal Wedding shed much light on the tourism behind Westminster Abbey. How do you balance the Abbey as a tourist attraction versus a house of worship?
Because we were a Benedictine monastery for 600 years, hospitality is very important to us. But we don’t actually have money of our own, so we have to charge the visitors for coming as tourists. And a million tourists come in the course of the year. But first we’re a community of prayer and worship. The tourists are very welcome, it’s great to have them there, and what I hope is that every single one coming to visit the Abbey, whether they come as a tourist or a worshipper, will go away revived and refreshed and just moved a little bit closer toward Heaven.
(SPECIAL: TIME’s Complete Royal Wedding Coverage)