July 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
If nothing else, the recent royal wedding was a fluffy distraction from all the other grim goings-on around the world. And helped by the blanket media coverage, a lot of people lapped it up. The nobs’nuptials have been the most-watched TV event of the year, netting 11 million viewers, around four million more than the FA Cup final later the same day. The Scottish Cup final was also held on 19th May, at which thousands of Celtic fans made their own tribute by chanting ‘you can shove your royal wedding up your arse’.
Predictably, the mainstream media was abuzz for months before the big day itself, finding any angle to draw in the punters. For instance, the tabloids and the telly thought we’d be on tenterhooks over whether Meghan Markle’s father would attend, with brash headlines like ‘Meg Dad: I’ve Got Heart Op Today’. Thomas Markle himself thought we’d be fascinated by him, having staged paparazzi-style photos and been interviewed for money. Also reported, and more deserving of our attention, was the bus which offered a refuge to rough sleepers in Windsor being impounded by the police just before the wedding. Although Thames Valley Police said that The Ark Project’s bus was taken off the road because its paperwork wasn’t in order, it’s easy to assume that the real reason was to airbrush away people who don’t fit in with the occasion’s fairytale image. The local council’s Conservative leader had previously told the police he thought that rough sleepers should be removed ahead of the wedding.
On the day, the event itself took over much of the BBC, Sky News and ITV (without adverts, unusually). Sycophantic presenters such as Huw Edwards, Kirsty Young and Phillip Schofield interviewed people swept up by the knot-tying, including guests from charities connected with the royals. And between the interviews and footage of the flag-waving crowds and photos of people dressed up at their own wedding-themed parties, there was celeb-spotting whenever a Beckham or a Clooney was around. The word ‘modern’was used a lot by the pundits, especially when saying how ‘diverse’the wedding was, partly through the mix of guests and officiators, but largely because of Meghan’s heritage. Munya Chawawa of Reprezent Radio even suggested that she represents ‘a massive thumbs up from the top’for the rest of us to make progress towards ‘equality’and ‘inclusivity’. But it’s a massive thumbs down for Chawawa for thinking that Meghan’s different shade of skin stops an elite from being an elite. During the TV coverage, there was some discussion of whether she will face challenges as someone who claims to campaign for equality entering a privileged, exclusive club. Either way, she’s being used to help rebrand the royal family, to make an outdated institution appear more relevant and inclusive.
But in a sense, we are all part of the royal wedding, because it’s ultimately the profits we produced which paid for it. The event was funded through the Windsors’coffers, which gets its income from profits of the Crown Estate, the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, a parliamentary annuity, and income from private investments. Another wedding which broke the tradition of being paid for by the bride’s family was William and Kate’s, which was officially state funded, which still means worker funded.
So how much did it cost us? The average price of getting married, including the service, catering, dress and décor is £17,913, already more than a year’s income for many. Harry and Meghan pushed the boat out a bit, though, including £90,000 going onbespoke silver plated fanfare trumpets. The bill for their wedding was around £2 million, although even this is only a small part of the overall estimated fee. Security arrangements cost a whopping £30 million, including a couple of million on ‘drone destroyers’to target any craft used by terrorists or journalists. However, the occasion is predicted to rake in £500 million to the economy from tourism and souvenirs, so overall it was quite a lucrative investment for those at the top.
As well as a financial lift, the royal wedding probably also gave the system a psychological boost. Events like this stir up patriotism, reinforcing a blinkered acceptance of the status quo. Even a cynical socialist might find something to admire in the spectacle of it all. Beneath this is the rather sad view that we can live vicariously through people enjoying pampered lives we’ll never be able to have. The costs of the wedding alone highlight the gap between them and us. For all the talk of ‘inclusivity’, ‘diversity’ and being ‘modern’, the royal family is about as far as you can get from a beacon for equality.