On the eve of the royal wedding, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed I wrote celebrating the entrepreneurship of Kate Middleton’s parents and pointing to their good fortune in business as an example of how economic life in Britain has improved— largely due to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s reforms — since Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981. Similar points about increased British prosperity were made by the London think tank Centre for Policy Studies.
In my Journal op-ed, I also made the point that Prince William’s wedding to the daughter of entrepreneurs represents an elevation of the status of entrepreneurs in British culture. “For centuries in Britain, commercial activities were looked down upon by many in the aristocracy, whose wealth lay in landownership and who would not deign to dabble in trade,” I noted.
However, a few days ago The Washington Post proved that cultural snobbery against entrepreneurs doesn’t just exist on the other side of the Atlantic. In its daily Express, a tabloid that is handed out on weekdays at Washington subway stations, The Post deigned to dabble in bashing the Middletons’ business.
An April 22 blurb in a section on the royal wedding (not available online) headlined “Party with the parents” noted royal family-themed items on the website of Party Pieces, the Middletons’ family business, such as Union Jack chocolates and “God Save the Queen” napkins. It then scoffed, “Yes, the parents of a soon-to-be princess really sell this junk.”
“Junk” is exactly what describes this blurb, which betrays the Post writers’ incredible ignorance. Even the trashiest British tabloids have long stopped running stories about the Middletons’ “merchandising” off the royal romance.
And with good reason. The charge is completely absurd given how tight-lipped the Middletons have been during the ups and down of William and Kate’s nearly decade-long romance.
As for selling the items, Party Pieces prides itself on selling prepackaged party favors with just about every theme kids would love, “from Barbie to the Transformers,” as I noted in my WSJ piece. And these days, a lot of British children, particularly girls, want party favors related to the royal wedding.
As good business people, what should the Middletons do? Should they sell every possible party theme except anything that has to with their daughter and new in-laws? Just say, “Sorry, parents and kids, you’ll have to do without because The Washington Post may give use a hard time for even appearing to exploit our precious daughter.” That doesn’t seem like a good example for entrepreneurs, whose first rule is to cater to the customers’ needs.
And the Middletons, even if Prince William had never met Kate, would still be outstanding examples for aspiring entrepreneurs in Britain and across the world. As has been oft reported, Carole and Mike Middleton started out their careers working as a flight attendant and flight dispatcher for British Airways, respectively.
When Kate was five, her mother, like many aspiring entrepreneurs, saw a niche that could be filled to help others in her situation. As described on the website of the family business, PartyPieces.co.uk, “Carole Middleton founded Party Pieces in 1987 after finding it difficult to source fun, simple party products for her children’s parties.”
Somewhat like successful American firms from Microsoft to Google that had their beginnings in residential garages, Party Pieces started out in a shed in the Middletons’ garden. There, mail orders were taken for boxes with pre-selected party favors to fit a certain theme.
Princess Catherine, I suggested in The Wall Street Journal, should embrace her entrepreneurial heritage, utilizing it to help the royal family “encourage and spread this culture of entrepreneurship.”
And entrepreneurs need all the encouragement they can get. The Post shows that cultural snobbery against those who try to better their lot isn’t just a British thing. A few weeks ago my Competitive Enterprise Institute colleague Christine Hall noted The Post’s elitist rant against coupon clippers.
The irony of the preachy Posties is that the royal “junk” sold by Party Pieces will provide a lifetime of memories. By contrast, the junky Post Express isn’t fit to line the Middletons’ birdcage!
John Berlau is director of the Center for Investors and Entrepreneurs at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.