British royal wedding: Will You Watch This?


By Rashmee Roshan Lall

Royalist or republican, Indian or British, randy clubber or boring couch potato, the future king of England’s wedding to Kate Middleton has something to suit every taste. As befits a product from a trusted-and old-brand, the royal wedding offers the perfect consumer experience. Consider this:

For royalists, the biggest prize of all is the big day itself and the prospect of perpetuation because more little princes and princesses-the offspring are bound to people tomorrow’s world.

Anti-monarchists can order young English artist Lydia Leith’s limited-edition, screen-printed royal wedding sick bags titled “throne up” at £ 3 a pop, worldwide postage extra. That’s cheap considering they might be collectable someday.

Indians can watch 24-year-old Londoner M J Delaney’s Bollywood-style version of the British royal wedding. It reprises “Bobby” right down to the songs and dance moves and uses Asian lookalikes for William and Kate. Go to

The British get a four-day weekend starting Friday, April 29, day of the wedding. They can also look forward to longer pub opening hours on the happy day, order in Papa John’s pizzas bearing a salami-flecked portrait of the newly-weds, and drink Royal Virility Performance, the world’s first beer to be laced with Viagra. “This is about consummation, not commemoration,” leers the legend on the beer bottles.

The naturally virile can treat themselves to commemorative condoms from Crown Jewels, “presented in a timeless souvenir heirloom collector’s box (and combining) the strength of a Prince with the yielding sensitivity of a Princess-to-be.”

Stay-at-home television addicts can choose the BBC, CNN or even the avowedly anti-Western-imperialism Al-Jazeera English because almost every media outlet anywhere in the world will be covering an event expected to be watched by two billion people.

That’s a staggering one-third of the planet. When William’s parents, Charles and Diana, married almost exactly 30 years ago, the television audience was a comparatively modest 750 million. William’s great-aunt, the late Princess Margaret’s equally ill-fated union with Anthony Armstrong-Jones in 1960 was the first televised royal wedding. It drew a relatively tiny audience of 20 million. Is our ever flatter world building up an ever bigger appetite for royal consumables?

Yes, but it is commerce that is king really. Till last week, America’s Natural Sapphire Company was reporting it had sold more than 1,000 copies of the sapphire and diamond engagement ring that William gave Kate. That’s a big number considering the commercial copies are priced anywhere between $1000 and $ 1.5 million. Back in 1981, when Charles originally gave that ring to Diana, just 30-something knock-off versions were sold. A delighted Michael Arnstein, chief executive of the 72-year-old Natural Sapphire Company, says, “Never in our company history did we experience such demand for sapphire engagement rings. Demand has maintained at record levels since the end of November 2010, when the engagement was announced, making this the highest sold piece of sapphire jewellery ever.”

Clearly, the 21st century global village is a huge market-and hugely in the market-for material possessions with some royal association, howsoever slight. That includes tat like McVities’ limited-edition, specially designed biscuit tin featuring William and Kate and the limited-edition wardrobe sliding door system with an enormous two-tone photo of the couple for upwards of £448.

Everything, it seems, is that marketing paradox: limited-edition and mass-produced. Everything is a commercial success. It has never been easier to market the talentless fame and theoretical power of the British royal family and grow rich on the proceeds. Sales of the future Princess Catherine’s preferred footwear—knee-high boots— have soared 663% in Britain this month. Like a mall-ready Helen of Troy, Kate Middleton’s face launches a thousand credit card swipes. Like Midas, Greek mythology’s king with the fabulous and fateful golden touch, almost anything associated with William and his bride can be sold. Does this signify real popularity, born out of loyal affection for the House of Windsor, or a vulgar plasticized attempt at familiarity with high-born strangers on the swipe-strength of a credit card?

Broadcaster Stefan Simanowitz, who lives in London and will help pilot Al-Jazeera English’s coverage of the royal wedding, says that “no other monarchy captures the global public imagination like the Windsors”. He may be right despite the blunt truth that Europe’s other royal families are in surprisingly good condition, perhaps better than Britain’s Windsors. Most European royals have survived war, tragedy, scandal, nearby revolutions, the rise of the tabloid and of tabloid thinking. Except for Monaco’s soignée, perma-tanned, free-loving princesses, most European royals have a tranquil and mutually respectful relationship with their press and public. Harried by the media and hating it, Britain’s Windsors haven’t got there just yet.

But the global market is betting on the Windsors. Six months ago, just days after Prince William announced his engagement, Britain’s national tourism agency gleefully reported the UK expected “a huge boost” in visitors from the fastest-growing nations of the world, Brazil,RussiaIndiaChina and South Africa. VisitBritain’s head described the research as “fascinating” and indicative of the “Britain’s monarchy (being) a crucial part of the appeal this country offers as a tourism destination”. It was a thoroughly commercial restatement ofWalter Bagehot, the 19th century businessman who went on to become editor-in-chief of “The Economist”. He said a princely marriage is a “brilliant” version of a universal event “and as such it rivets mankind.”

Amy Odell, who edits the New York Magazine’s fashion blog, The Cut, underlines America’s unfathomable and deep fascination with Britain’s royal family and disinterest in all others. “I mean, we’re all wild about Kate. I’ll be up at dawn to watch. But the other European royals? I don’t think so. I mean, sometimes. There was one, recently, a princess got married, from I think Sweden, whatever. That was kind of nice. But just for one day. We kind of forgot which country the next day. There’s a bit of interest in Princess Letizia of Spain, and in (France’s first lady) Carla Bruni, though I suppose she’s not actually royalty.”

Odell’s reference to being “wild” about Kate says it all. The British royal family is seizing the chance to “go viral” with this wedding and it is using the new media. The first royal mobile phone app ever has been launched for the wedding. It will be on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, streamed live on YouTube’s royal channel and royal aides are gearing up to figuratively drop their aitches and blog about the ceremonies lasting four hours.Author Lucy Mangan once suggested that the architects of Prince William’s wedding will “have to market it as a sequel or a re-imagining” of the ill-starred Charles and Diana fairytale. There is every sign that process is well underway.

But WillKat, in the tabloid vernacular for celebrity couplings such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Brangelina), will be less a sequel than a full-scale reboot. In the style of the James Bondfilm “Casino Royale” that took an interrupted-even discontinued-story forward, this royal wedding marks the real death of Diana, 14 years after the world mourned her passing.

British writers are already comparing “wholesome” Kate and her “loving supportive family” background with the emotionally needy Diana and her dysfunctional, fragmented home. They predict Kate will be a “better princess than Diana”, the right kind, the stand-by-your-man variety. Nothing revives a brand more than putting a “new, improved” product on the market. Consume.

Rashmee Roshan Lall /  World Report