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A Royal Lack of Perspective

April 30, 2011

My plan had been to avoid the wedding altogether. Nothing unusual in this. William and Kate seem like a very sweet young couple and I wish them all the best. Hundreds of thousands of people I don’t know get married every year in the UK. The little dinghy that I call my life manages to navigate a course around these happy events with no complications.

A few days ago, I had the first indication that I would not be allowed to do so, on this occasion. Having lost my Oyster card, I was handed this replacement.

I don’t “get” monarchy. I don’t understand the popular support for an institution which marks every citizen from birth as second-class. It seems to me that acceptance of the monarchy, necessarily involves acceptance of a hereditary system of privilege, of aristocracy and of class division.

When I was told that I would be rehearsing on the day of the wedding, a little voice inside me cheered. My plan was back on track. But as I was quietly sitting in the Green Room enjoying Arthur Miller’s Timebends (one of the best biographies I have read), a seemingly unaccompanied television set on a food trolley appeared. It started squeaking its way toward me. Was this it? Had Skynet developed consciousness? Had the machines taken over? Did I have time for a quick sit-ups-and-weapons-training montage to prepare?

As the angle changed I saw the tiny dinner-lady propelling this behemoth. She plugged it in and turned it on at full blast. “Brilliant, hey?” she beamed at me. And with all my republican pedigree, faced with the overflowing happiness of this tiny northern woman, all I could manage was “very nice”.

For the next three hours, while I prayed for my call to rehearsal to come, I sat there part-glancing at the screen, part-reading my book, part-echoing that sweet woman’s “Aww, luvly” noises. I frittered time tweeting some humorous, but bitter comments: “1 in 6 Royal marriages ends in beheading. Good luck Kate.” and “Tony Blair just appeared in a puff of smoke and said something about their first-born, a curse and a spindle.” All the while a little red pilot-flame burned inside me.

Then some BBC pundit said, in a terribly sombre tone: “This is a three-way wedding. It is not just Prince William getting married to Kate Middleton. It is also the British public getting married to the monarchy.” And something cracked. The thought that this baboon had been paid out of my TV license made a tiny tear of rage appear in the corner of my eye. My companion mistook this for a tear of joy and looked at me with unadulterated love.

I shared across a variety of social media the comment: “So, funding the Arts is a luxury. An orgy of spending on a state wedding is necessity. Everyone clear?”. What followed was a steady stream of abuse. I was called “Grumpy”, “Grouchy”, “Bitchy” etc. (when the truth was that I had spent the majority of the day “Bashful” and a little hay-fever-“Sneezy”). A friend on Facebook instructed “Stop hating on the happy couple, you miserable git.”

Others made more considered, but equally misconceived, comments: “Not a good comparison. The wedding has been financed by the Monarch and has strengthened British soft power.” and “We’ll make it back 10 fold in tourism! I’m obviously against arts cuts but not a fair comparison.”

So, let me explain my position.

The timing and tone of the wedding in grossly insensitive. Last year the deepest programme of cuts in living memory was announced. Most of them take effect this month. We are constantly being told that the country is broke. It is indefensible to decide that April 2011 is the right month and year to put on this disgraceful display of wealth. If the timing was crucial, they should have announced a small private wedding, recognising the state of public finance. If a big wedding was important, they should have waited for better times – like thousands of couples across the UK are having to do in this year of austerity.

The argument that the monarch financed the wedding, is ridiculous. These people are not entrepreneurs or engineers. They did not go into property development and made a success of themselves. They did not invent the ipod. Their fortune comes from a feudal history dripping with sweat and blood. Prince Charles was given the Duchy of Cornwall when he came of age. Most of us, are given a card that plays Stevie Wonder and a bottle of booze. He was given Cornwall. So, please don’t tell me that their paying for the ceremony and the parties, in which Champagne flowed like water, somehow makes it better.

And of course the real cost of the wedding is not in the dress or the flowers, grotesquely extravagant as they were. The real cost is in the extra bank holiday. The CBI estimates that it will cost the Economy £6 billion in lost productivity. Even taking into account the positive retail and tourism effects, the impact is still expected to be £5 billion. They estimate this by reference to the extra bank holiday on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (the Diamond Jubilee is coming next year, too). We are trying to drag the Economy, tooth and claw, into growing, still it has flat-lined over the last six months. The extra day off, hugely mistimed between two other holidays, is predicted to have a negative effect of 0.25% on this quarter’s growth.

Now, I like an extra day off as much as the next man, but most people I know get married on a Saturday, so that their friends and family don’t have to take a day off they can ill-afford. Why do the Royals not do the same?

And so, to point out that, while we are being told we don’t have money for education, health, the disabled and students, we seem to have money for a war and to give the entire country the day off, is not bitchy or grumpy. It is absolutely valid and relevant. It provides much needed perspective. A counter-balance, if you will, to being told that Will and Kate represent a new kind of monarchy which is “down with the people”, because he elected to drive away in a £450,000 car instead of a gold carriage.

Those that suggest I am “hating on the happy couple” by trying to discuss these issues, should reflect on whether the hysterical coverage helps or hinders them as they start their life; whether it helped or hindered Charles and Camilla, Andrew and Fergie or Charles and Diana. I ask for a flicker of recognition that the driving force behind it is a voyeuristic need to peek into the lives of the rich and famous. It has very little to do with being proud to be British or loyalty to the newly-weds and more to do with Katie Price – The Next Chapter on ITV2.

William is a lad who said in 2001 that he did not want to become King, because he found the treatment of Diana by the Windsors appalling. He is the same person that has consistently blamed the media for his mother’s death. He is the same person that threatened legal action against paparazzi two years ago. These are legitimate points. Their quashing and William’s assimilation into media royalty is to be lamented, not celebrated. Remember how Diana talked about her wedding day in interviews, years later? This may have been your fairy-tale wedding, but chances are it was William’s nightmare.

I am certainly not anti-marriage, either. Yesterday’s coverage rendered superficial the nature of their union, by making it all about the hats, the dresses, the celebrities, the cars, Pippa’s arse, the flowers and the cakes. It will be the source of disappointment for many brides-to-be and debt for many parents in the next 20 years, by setting a glossy Hello-magazine-standard, which ordinary people will never be able to match. The word “intimate” was mentioned dozens of times on the BBC throughout the afternoon. They need to look that word up. It means informal; private; personal. What was put on display yesterday was a hugely expensive show that we cannot afford. And entirely the opposite of “intimate”.

I watched the news this lunchtime. There was nothing on Libya, nothing on Syria, nothing on the natural disaster that killed 300 yesterday in the US, nothing on the bomb explosion in Morocco. There was, however, a 16-minute conversation on how moist the wedding fruitcake must have been.

So, don’t call me grumpy and miserable. I am deeply romantic. But also quite sane.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2011 2:40 pm

    Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

  2. April 30, 2011 3:24 pm

    i choose not to engaged with with the inevitable media onslaught and although i share where you’re at, such a murky family past indeed but the key hold they have over ‘their subjects’ was staying here to keep up the nation’s morale during the blitz even with a few embarrassing hiccups along the way.

    my stand point was ‘fuck that wedding’ even though i know that i will see ‘that kiss’ or see such an ‘esteemed’congregation, standing whilst singing their hearts out to ‘god save the queen’…

    whilst kate middleton sits.

    a never ending story.

    dig you’re eloquence .
    keep sharing

  3. kristenmchugh22 permalink
    April 30, 2011 3:41 pm

    With all of the hubbub about the wedding, there are a few questions which have sprung to mind. I was a wee lass of 9 when Charles and Diana were married, and it wasn’t until much later that I had the perspective to see their courtship and wedding for what it was: a form of statecraft, that now, in the 21st century, we can ill-afford. The funny thing is this: watching the incessant US media coverage of the event, I began to wonder how much of the spectacle is driven by public expectation. Have we become so inured to the concept of bread and circuses, that in some Pavlovian way, we demand them, because we can’t bear to look at our own reality? I looked at these two people, who’ve built an actual relationship over a course of years, that seems to merit a wedding, and who seemed pleased to be getting married to each other, but who also seemed to be just as trapped by the pomp and circumstance as those of us who object to it. What protocol officers and public relations wonks decided that all of this fuss would be required by the public? Were they wrong? There are terrible things that occur in the world every day, and most of the time, at least in the US, there’s not really a reason to avoid covering them, aside from the corporate quest for ratings and advertising dollars. The prospect of a Royal Wedding seemed to set global media on a slobbering orgy of puff pieces, sops tossed to a starving mob, who will do anything to avoid being reminded of how bad we’ve actually got it. Are William and Kate a sort of sacrificial offering to the cult of personality that has been bred into western culture for the last fifty years?
    One of the things that struck me, as US media were covering people who traveled from the US to London, and then camped out for days, for the wedding, is that there are probably a staggering number of people in my country, who would describe themselves as, “Tea Party,” members, who were slavering over every detail about the wedding, with no sense of the irony. That we fought a revolutionary war, to break the shackles of the monarchy and tariffs, falls by the wayside, in the flurry of fairytale fluff. The tragedy is, that populations are so enthralled by the spectacle, that they don’t stop to think that politicians, (in both the US and UK,) prefer it when we’re distracted, because it keeps us from being effective in protest, and most importantly of all, keeps us from asking the questions they don’t want to answer.
    That the Windsors have oodles and oodles of money and assets, from a blood-soaked history, bothers me less than the fact that they haven’t turned much of it over to the people of the country they are meant to be honour-bound to protect. People can do what they want with their own money, but to be the figurehead of state, when people have consistently sacrificed for the state,(the story about people donating their ration coupons toward the Queen’s wedding, has been endlessly reported in the US,) while the state accepts the sacrifice and calmly asks for more, is obscene. That Prince William and Ms. Middleton requested donations to charity rather than gifts, is lovely, but I would hope they would further make a donation of the resources they already possess, and not just encourage people who are already financially strapped, to do it for them.
    It terrifies me that we’d rather stick our heads in the sand about the world we live in, than deal with it. This is just a symptom.

  4. enfrance permalink
    April 30, 2011 3:42 pm

    Here in France our neighbours are all closet Monarchists! (Why the capital m? I don’t know, just habit I suppose)

    They love Diana and hate Charles presumably due to the sort of rubbish written by the English press and then regurgitated by the French media.

    I’m not sure what they think when I suggest that on balance Charles ain’t too bad bearing mind the Prince Charles Trust whereas Diana was a vacant empty headed grouch – witness some of her household employees, despite her ‘campaign’ against mines.

  5. Spencer Allnatt permalink
    April 30, 2011 4:04 pm

    Thankyou and amen, that summed up my feelings exactly what a relief there are others that haven’t had thier brains scrambled. Bread and Circuses seems to work for so many though.

  6. rogerglewis permalink
    April 30, 2011 5:55 pm

    There was one here in Sweden last year too I didn’t watch that one either.
    Monarchy as part of the dream Factory of Corperatocracy?Constitutionally, curiously? I think having a monarchy and house of lords does kind of help in giving hope that we can get back to a system based on Human Values and not units of production/cost. Who knows Maybe its to late and monarchy is now just another Global Brand.
    Would be churlish not to wish the young couple all the best of British maybe our Prince has come in the shape of young William, I doubt it but you never know.
    Enjoy the Bank Holiday the GDP figures are not real measures anyway everyone needs a break and if people feel happy for a while we can’t put a price on that but its more real than the economic statistics which are really worse than useless and part of a worse construct than any monarchy ever was.

  7. April 30, 2011 9:00 pm

    Very well said.
    However, I must admit that having a connection flight through Heathrow yesterday evening, was as “normal” as in any other day. I did expect much more security paranoia. UK is a very strange place in the world: it has on one hand Monarchy, Royal Wedding, circuses, to fill the media space with, but also a very desirable and strong balance, so not let these kind of events invade every single square yard of its territory.

  8. April 30, 2011 9:11 pm

    You managed to encapsulate all my thoughts in your beautifully written post (once again).

    I also got to thinking about the three titles that Willie was given on top of the numerous ones he already has, and compared that with a lad of around the same age coming back from Afghanistan minus a limb or two, having to fight for some sort of deal from the MoD, and dependent on a charity for his rehabilitation.

    One of the massive costs of Friday was security, for which we paid, and the exact amount is kept secret… most probably because we would kick off if we knew how much it was. Frighteningly the police and Clarence House decided to ban peaceful protest for the day, a worrying development.

    This government has been extremely accommodating to the royal family. They have completely removed the Queen Charles and William from prying eyes of the FoI Act. No matter what, we will never more know how much government time Charles wastes with his incessant letters to ministers, which of course, given his status, take priority over anything else they are doing. Osborne has also accommodated Charles’ 30 year long wish to have the full funds from the Crown Estates handed to the family, which I read will make him the richest king ever, in addition to the fortune he will inherit and the one he has amassed from his ownership of Cornwall on top of his “grant in aid”.

    I expect that even for the selfish and disagreeable Charles there had to be some payback, and marrying his son and snubbing both the living Labour ex-prime ministers on the day that the April pay cheque (NI increase and Tax Credit reduction included) was landing on desks was a very good way of distracting “ordinary” people’s attention. It was also a good day to hide the bad news that the cuts in the English NHS will be double what was expected and the cost of the aircraft carriers, for which there are no aircraft, has increased by between £1 b and £2 b EACH.

    Still, everyone had a lovely time looking at rich people showing off their wealth, and just for once, probably Cameron was at home with his job.

    • Dumpcameron permalink
      May 2, 2011 5:05 pm

      You are absolutely right. Bravo!

  9. May 1, 2011 12:41 am

    I dont come up with much opposition on facebook or twitter nowadays, I thought most people I knew agreed with me but I was ‘told off’ this afternoon for my views on the wedding. I was told to stop complaining about the cost to the tax payer and pay more attention to benefit cheats! WTF?? Funny when the person who ‘told me off’ used to commit benefit fraud herself! The points you have raised were gently explained to her. She appears to have had second thoughts about commenting on my links now. My partner has lost wages because of this wedding, he’s an agency worker on nights. He has just 2 days pay to look forward to next week. I thank my lucky stars we’re not living together untill next month, our children would be the eyed over ones suffering while others go all gooey eyed over 2 people who don’t even know they exist.

  10. Lady ellie permalink
    May 1, 2011 7:51 am

    Bless you for feeling 2nd class x

    • May 1, 2011 8:21 am

      I wasn’t born here. Your condescension is, nevertheless, much appreciated. Ma’am.

  11. Jon Risdon permalink
    May 1, 2011 10:11 am

    Thank you very much for that; I wish ‘the rest’ could look at this logically and unemotionally, but how likely is that? Drink up lads, the game’s about to start!

  12. May 1, 2011 1:11 pm

    Thank you for writing this! Here you have written my exact sentiments. I was getting looks for being “grumpy” and “unfestive” too.
    Excellent post, many thanks again!

  13. Clear Voice permalink
    May 1, 2011 5:33 pm

    I completely agree. What irritates me is the idea that William is somehow a new kind of royal man because he is marrying a commoner. When my mother married “above her station” a kindly aunt of my father’s told her that no amount of education would ever make up for lack of “breeding”. Happily Kate’s education has done exactly this, but at the cost of some £30k per annum. As someone who attended Oxford during that limited period when an Oxbridge place was available on merit and entirely free of charge to “commoners” from state schools, I would truly rejoice if a levelling education was available to all, just as I lament the increasingly prohibitive costs faced by the current generation of gifted students. Add the cost of the non-wars, the police overtime bill, the long term costs of the terrible cuts etcetera…

  14. Dumpcameron permalink
    May 2, 2011 5:01 pm

    I think the wedding was splendid for showing history, pageantry and style at its best, and it is wrong to assume that doesn’t have a place in the hearts of the British people. It was all very nice, and the Brits do it better than anyone else. That said, I cannot disagree with a word of this eloquent blog. And the writer is absolutely correct that to put the poorer people of this country through the hell they’re currently going through and slash spending for the arts as well as the all the welfare budgets, and yet suggest it’s fine to spend a bloody fortune on a wedding is a crime and a grotesque insult.

  15. rogerglewis permalink
    May 2, 2011 5:18 pm

    Take a look at this its outrageous.

    Stalag Luft Camoeron 2011

  16. Steve Finney permalink
    May 2, 2011 10:18 pm

    Ha !! thank God. people who are on the same wavelength, I cannot for the life of me find any redeeming feature for this huge splurge at the countries expense. It really helps to know I am not alone in a sea of drooling sycophants.
    Now the Neo-liberalism can really start to kick in, 60 people arrested prior to the wedding for conspiracy to demonstrate or cause a nuisance or whatever,is not a good sign. Gadaffi would have been slated for adopting these methods, systemic hypocrisy as per usual.
    I am proud to be a mongrel, I have a nice mix of DNA & I don’t look like a horse or have any relatives locked away in mental institutions, when I hear certain people talk about breeding, I just think of the IN word.
    I do wish the couple well, as I would any other, I think, more so than most of us, they are victims of circumstance.

    I feel better for that, thanks.

  17. rogerglewis permalink
    May 3, 2011 5:32 am

    Has anyone else here read Thomas Paines Pamphlet on Common Sense from the Second American Revolution 1776. He is very good on his rejection of Monarchy especially as it applied to an exploited colony.
    The problem we have isn’t the Monarchy itself its that we have the Boy David who would be King or Blair famously wanting to be presidential and of Course Margaret Thatcher famously got up Queen Elizabeth ii’s nose for wanting to wear the Crown ( figuratively).
    Then we had Bush who wanted to be Caesar and Now Obama lets cast him as Othello.
    http://www.ushistory.org/paine/commonsense/sense1.htm

  18. Nicky permalink
    May 3, 2011 8:39 am

    Well said, Alex. It’s grotesquely funny in a way that all those people had a go at you for being ‘grumpy’ and ‘bitchy’. Your take was the clear-sighted and thoughtful one. It’s as if something about the royals turns some people’s brains into slobbering mush.

    What’s particularly poignant is that I sense that William himself really didn’t want a big flashy wedding – and perhaps Kate didn’t either (her mum and sister certainly did, though). I think this couple were quite happy tucked away in Anglesey, but as Kate’s 30th birthday approached there was pressure on them to tie the knot. This must have been a major factor because as you say, the timing was very insensitive otherwise, given what else is happening with the cutbacks.

    Cameron no doubt wanted to milk the situation for the ‘feel good’ factor. That makes me despise him even more, if that’s possible.

  19. Enfrance permalink
    May 5, 2011 10:21 am

    Don’t worry. With the fickle nature of the British public that was all yesterday. Needless to say the media et al will milk it for all its worth but today is the chance for Brits to have their say about the coalition.

    No doubt they wil vent their spleen on Clegg who is really a bit player albeit a shit.

    I will be sitting here in SW France hoping to see the Tories cop it but dare I say it will only be the LibDems who will suffer.

    For anyone who needs rescuing in North Wales let’s hope His flying skills are as good as we are led to believe. Damn, that cap H just slipped in.

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