Prince William and Kate Middleton’s impending nuptials are more important to the average American than to the average Briton — an unforeseen financial opportunity that, sadly, both the royal family and Prime Minister David Cameron have failed to exploit.
The announcement of the royal engagement wasn’t just news in America; it was a sensation. Americans have proudly claimed Kate as one of their own — after all, she is a distant relative of George Washington. Transatlantic affection for the monarchy is exhibited most literally by the “Harry Hunters”: young American women attending UK colleges for the sole purpose of spending their weekends frequenting Prince Harry’s favorite London hangouts.
In striking contrast, the contemporary British attitude towards the royal family is a schizophrenic mix of disdain and deference. As The Economist recently documented, although the proportion of Britons who want to abolish the monarchy has lingered around 30 percent for decades, indifference and ridicule have risen significantly. Prince Andrew hasn’t helped in that regard. Membership in the anti-monarchy group, Republic, spiked following the engagement announcement.
Ordinary people seem underwhelmed by the sumptuous celebration. Comparatively few traditional street parties have been organized despite Downing Street and several government departments feverishly urging participation. A third of local authorities have received no street party applications at all. The cold reality is that many plan to flee the UK for this particular “bread and circuses” event. Thomas Cook’s bookings for April have risen 35 percent and Ryanair’s bookings are up 65 percent for the period.
What explains this transatlantic disconnect? On the British side, austerity and straitened economic circumstances are making people feel far from ready to party. This may be a national celebration but many Britons have little to celebrate in their own lives. And some clearly feel that this costly event is being used by the establishment to distract them from the hard choices ahead.
There are three reasons why Americans are comparatively enthusiastic about the royal wedding.
First, Americans have historically exhibited an even greater interest than the British in glittering celebrity (especially celebrity drenched in centuries-old tradition).
Second, America’s deeply rancorous red-blue partisan divide has heightened many Americans’ appreciation for a non-political, party-neutral head of state, a figurehead that keeps a country united.
And, third, this particular wedding resonates with the American passion for upward social mobility. It’s hard to think of anything less American than a hereditary monarchy. But what’s particularly appealing to such an aspirational society is the idea of moving on and moving up.
In a recent TV interview, a young American woman observed about the future queen, “She’s not from a higher-placed family; that speaks to the American Dream where you can be anything you want to be.”
But very few Americans know that, in Orwellian fashion, the royal family is “paying” for the £30 million wedding out of its taxpayer-provided allowance, with taxpayers directly footing the bill for the extra policing and road closures, which will total more than £5 million. To add economic insult to injury, Downing Street invested tens of millions of pounds leveraging the wedding by promoting Britain as the tourist destination that foreigners already know it to be.
Then there’s the significant hidden economic cost to local councils and businesses of the paid public holiday the prime minister granted for the wedding. According to the CBI, the extra bank holiday will cost the economy £6 billion in lost productivity.
Nevertheless, a savvy PR move saw the couple ask well-wishers to donate among 26 favored charities in lieu of wedding gifts.
But the savviest approach would have been to seek American corporate sponsors for the wedding.
Such a modern, ethical, and financially prudent move would have saved hard-pressed taxpayers tens of millions of pounds. And, it would have unleashed an unparalleled bidding war among American multinationals for the opportunity to market to a one-billion-strong global TV audience — a pot of gold that could have financed the royal family for many years to come.
As the young couple has no qualms about their opulent lifestyle being continually and involuntarily underwritten by British taxpayers, why should a single act of voluntary patronage by wealthy American corporations cause them sleepless nights on their taxpayer-subsidized honeymoon?
Americans are overwhelmingly drawn to a real-life British soap opera that combines celebrity, heritage, and the promise of a life less ordinary. Hence, the monarchy and the government’s missed opportunity both to democratize and to economize on William and Kate’s big day.