A Royal Lack of Perspective
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.