Thursday, November 18, 2010
A Royal Engagement
London is abuzz about the upcoming nuptials between HRH (His Royal Highness - it took me a while to pick that one up) Prince William and Kate Middleton.
I'm happy for the couple, as happy as I would be for any woman who had been as patient as she (eight years and counting?), but this American is puzzling over at least two aspects here:
1) That so much can be said about relatively so little. The Prince and Kate, or Catherine, as she will need to be officially called in due course, made their engagement public yesterday in a press conference followed up by a lovely 18 minute interview with sky TV. From what I can gather, no other media outlet has been permitted a personal interview, so all footage, pictures, and news copy directly from the couple is deriving from those two sources.
With so little primary information, the media has gone mad speculating on why Prince William chose his mother's engagement ring, where they will nest, where they will wed, and where Kate will purchase her gown. The media has begun to pick through the minutia of all things Kate - her accent (an indicium of class), her posture, the color of her eyes, her hair, whether she's really worked that hard at the family business for the last five years, and whether she is thin or "weighty Katie" (rude! and entirely untrue - the term actually stemmed from "waity Katie," from waiting for so long). But the amount of ink spilled has not been lost on an inattentive public: apparently, the blue dress Katie wore for the engagement announcement has now sold out - everywhere.
The announcement has also begun a discussion of what tax payers will and won't pay for (I think I read somewhere that the cleanup for Princess Diana's wedding probably cost somewhere around 30M pounds), and what this wedding will do for the economy.
Other sources which should have been private and confidential have revealed things such as the specifics of William's proposal and that preliminary inquiries were made at Westminster in August.
2) That us Americans have a difficult time understanding why the royal family is such a big deal. From my tour of Buckingham Palace in September, I was wowed by the grandeur of it all, but didn't quite understand what it was that the queen did that prompted such widespread appeal and adoration. She is involved in several state ceremonies, providing titles and honors to people, hosting tea parties, riding horses for her birthday, and giving very short Christmas speeches. I love that she honors fallen soldiers in November and I think those who built and decorated the palace have impeccable taste.
Yet I must be missing something in her job description which provides the substance to her appeal, because it seems the Queen no longer weilds her constitutional powers.
Perhaps analogizing the Queen to the U.S. Constitution would help me pierce this cultural divide - historical, revered in a way that doesn't make sense to those bred outside the "50, nifty," and the centerpiece of American psyche.
Or, perhaps, I will just need to learn more about the subtleties of British culture to understand what it is about the Queen and her family, including this new, beautiful, classy, and intelligent arrival that captures so much energy and attention.
I was reminded yesterday of a few more royal facts. The Queen is the official commander in cheif of the armed forces and the head of the Church of England. She also calls Parliament into session, which serves, including the Prime Minister, according to her pleasure. I'm not sure what she does in these roles, but, regardless, her chosing not to exercise her constitutional powers keeps the country in careful equalibrium and provides a higher authority to whom all are responsible. Then there is also the philanthropic role - the Princes Trust apparently does more good here for charity than many businesses combined.
As to her being expensive, she apparently brings in much more through tourism than she requires. Makes sense: I find living here attractive in part becaues I enjoy all that comes with the royals - the pageantry, the crests, and the layers of social strata and history.