By Dr George Venturini
The wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle is another example of stage-managed event, from the announcement of their engagement to their union.
It may be worth considering it not so much because of the un-usualness of the bride, but above all for the extravagant display which seems inconsistent with what could be intended as a new show put up by the monarchy.
Of Harry and Meaghan this should be said at the very beginning: nil nisi bene [dicendum]. “[Of them] say nothing but good”, as Chilon of Sparta (@ 600 b.c.e.) might have said.
The latest ‘Royal wedding’, presented as fairy tale for the twenty first century by most of ‘the world press’; was played before some 10,000 spectators who had descended upon the riverside town of Windsor for the biggest wedding the world has seen since Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011. Hollywood had finally come in real life to town – truly a combined fakery. According to the Australian press, it was going to be ‘the soap opera staple, a wedding, [which would be] pulling Americans in’ (The (Melbourne) Sunday Age, 13 May 2018). There was more: ‘Some parts of the media [it seems that the target was Vogue] have dubbed the ‘People’s wedding’, harking back to Tony Blair’s resonant response to news of Harry’s mother’s death: “She was the people’s princess and that is how she will stay.”
Time magazine went overboard with a ‘commemorative issue’ on 4 June 2018. It came out with “credible theories that at least one and possibly two previous English queens may have had African heritage.” (A. Hirsch, ‘The meaning of Meghan – The monarchy finally caches up with multicultural Britain,’ TIME, 04.06.18, 28 at 31) One may well wonder what Phillip thought of such discovery – that Phillip to whom the late Queen Mother referred, very privately of course, as ‘the Hun’, because his family name was Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg! On the ‘purity of the race’ one would do well reading: Rodrigo Garcia-Velasco’s, ‘Meet the Muslim princess Zaida, Spanish ancestor of the British royal family’, 17 May 2018, theconversation.com (Zaida was a Muslim princess living in 11th-century Seville).
In Australia the three main colossi of women’s magazine publication, News Corporation of Rupert Murdoch (The Australian and connected supplements), Bauer Media Group of Heinz Bauer and daughters and Condé Nast Inc. of Robert A. Sauerberg Jr. (Brides, Glamour, Vogue, Teen Vogue) periodically provide the incantation of royal pictures – not only of ‘The Family’, but of anyone and anything royal, down to the most prosaic details. This is the stuff which feeds the ‘day dreams’ of many Australian women. Woman’s Day, Australia’s highest selling weekly magazine, owned by Bauer Media Group, on 28 May 2018 put out a special royal souvenir issue – something to be preserved for future respectful reference. The full wedding album headlined: “The magical moment Harry and Meaghan changed the monarchy forever.”
Some parts of the media have dubbed this the ‘People’s Wedding’, harking back to Tony Blair’s resonant response to news of Harry’s mother’s death: “She was the people’s princess and that is how she will stay.”
But “People’s Wedding” is a misnomer: “Hardly any ‘people’ will be involved in it”, Johnson [Robert, royal editor at London Evening Standard and an old hand at pomp and pageantry] said – compared to big royal weddings of the past such as Charles and Diana, William and Kate, even Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, who all married in Westminster Abbey, paraded through huge London crowds and who followed the tradition of kissing on the Buckingham Palace balcony to the roar of the well-wishers.
A few thousand people had been invited inside to the castle lawn, but “It is not like say William and Kate’s or Charles and Diana’s. There’s a carriage ride on the street but that’s the only nod there is to the public.” The same Robert Johnson said.
The relationship with the media has not been helped by some tabloid roughing up to Meghan, with her dysfunctional family dissected, and some crude analysis of her racial background and divorce.
On the other side of the Atlantic, thanks to the TV cameras, Americans glossed over certain details: they were satisfied because Meghan is their ‘American princess.”
Even before her engagement to Harry, America was sweating through a severe bout of Anglophilia – The New York Times noted that people are even starting to say “cheers” to each other. Downtown Abbey and The Great British Bake Off are big, but the biggest obsession is with the royals.
There would be a spate of specials on American TV, from Fox’s Meghan Markle: An American Princess to PBS’ five part nightly Royal Wedding Watch, to CNN’ s America’s second ‘princess’: Why Meghan Markle is a modern Grace Kelly.
Ms. Meghan Markle would emerge from St. George’s Chapel as Harry’s princess, the latest in a series of metamorphoses which took her from south-central Los Angeles to Hollywood’s red carpets and now a 950-year-old castle. For Americans she is the twenty-first century Grace Kelly, a typical Hollywood remake, with a contemporary plot and casting.
Royal stories are not supposed accurately to reflect real life. They are myths. But simple people like myths.
And on the day of the wedding, to document that myth, there would be some 5,000 members of the British and international media in and around Windsor, including 160 photographers, and 76 international TV networks to broadcast from the town, including 46 UD affiliates, from seven purpose-built studios.
Well before the wedding the press and other media were ‘unleashed’ – as it were, and the rhetoric got louder by the day.
So it was not Ms. Meghan Merkle “an American divorcée” to marry, but “a revolutionary kind of royal”. And “The fact that a woman of Markle’s background can become a royal duchess makes the House of Windsor a lottery rather than a cabal.” Meaning? Hard to say. More correctly, “If the royal family is to survive, it has to continue to be a global brand.” That is much closer to both ‘vision’ and ‘mission’ – to put it in corporatese – of ‘The Firm’. So Meaghan was no longer a “woman of color”, but had become a “glamorous brunette.” To be biracial – or mixed race, as it is more commonly known in the United Kingdom – was not always a talked-about phenomenon. Especially in a society which “is highly racialised but also deeply uncomfortable talking about race.” By some portentous magic Harry and Meaghan would become “a metaphor for the state of multicultural Britain.”
In an excess of controlled enthusiasm – which should not be difficult amongst people afflicted by serious emotional constipation – someone discovered that “there are credibly theories that at least one and possibly two previous English queens may have had African heritage.” Were Prince Phillip to come to such tosh, he could suffer a stroke!
Thirty-nine per cent of the world’s population’ was expected to watch the wedding, Meghan’s dress will set global trends for a generation. (And how such percentage would be calculated remains a mystery).
Dr. Sudeepta Varma, a board-certified psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University Langone Medical Centre, told Huffington Post that Americans who grew up on Walt Disney fairy-tales were programmed to fantasise about princes and princesses. And Meghan’s story would be the dream become real: an American woman from an unremarkable family swept off her feet – by a prince to a wedding in a castle. But there’s also an escapist element: amid a stressful news cycle, royalty is a welcome distraction and a link to romantic past.
People who closely follow the ups and downs of the royals – or any other celebrity – feel as they were in a kind of relationship with them, that they share, albeit in a small way, a part of their lives and accomplishments.
And for all that now they get that soap opera staple, a wedding.
While some were painting this as a new era for the royals, in many ways it was nothing new for the establishment.
Meghan, a self-described feminist, was giving up her career, would be erasing much of her online persona and even adopt the religion of her new husband. Yes, of course, much was being made of her bi-racial background – and how she might push for more diversity among palace staff – the Royal Family would remain attached to its almost traditional foreign habits.
This was not going to be Hollywood conquering the castle. It was a fine piece of casting which nicely set everything up for the next series of one of England’s longest-running shows.
So with a little bit of imagination and a lot of dreaming 19 May 2018 would become a day for the biggest myth and the union of Harry and Meghan would be presented as the ‘people’s wedding’, a log-line seized on because Harry’s mother was the ‘people’s princess’.
The monarchy needs this new polish to its charisma – and badly. By the late 1990s, ordinary Britons felt increasingly alienated from what was described by Mark Leonard, co-author of a 1998 report which recommended swift and comprehensive modernisation, as “a ‘privileged, inward-looking, inbred royal family that was obviously dysfunctional.”
A former senior courtier at Kensington palace said the Royal Family has one supreme talent: “They have always been able to maintain relevance.”
In every aspect on Saturday 19 May 2018 their plan succeeded.
When the Royal Family marries Hollywood one can count on high production values.
The wedding was calculated to help Britain’s bottom line, too, though the figures are disputed – and not only by republicans.
Experts were predicting it would add 1 billion pounds (AU$1,783,821,550 billion) (All the following conversions of 1 British Pound = 1.78366 Australian Dollar, as at @ 30 June 2018, unless otherwise indicated) to the British fashion economy alone, let alone tourism, merchandise and ‘soft power’ – the in-vogue name for old-fashioned cultural influence.
Business valuation and strategy consultancy Brand Finance said that the wedding broadcast, online and print coverage had an ‘advertising value equivalency’ of almost half a billion pounds (AU$891,910,775) and that it expected a tourism boost for Britain lasting at least another year, especially from the United States.
Coverage of the wedding in the United Kingdom was shown on B.B.C. One, I.T.V., Sky News, C.N.N. (International) and E! (Europe). The wedding was also streamed live online on YouTube via the British Monarchy‘s official The Royal Channel.
Peak viewing figures of 18 million were reported in the United Kingdom, making it the most watched event of 2018 thus far. About 29.2 million were reported to have watched in the United States, up from the 23 million Americans who watched the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. The global audience was boasted to be in the hundreds of millions.
In Australia channel Seven Network won the night, its broadcast of the ceremony capturing an average of 1.95 million viewers across Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Channel Nine reached an average 1.47 million viewers across the five cities during the main event. The A.B.C. was a long way from those figures, the news proving more popular than nuptials. The channels pulled in half a million viewers for the ceremony, 5,000 less than the 7 pm bulletin.
The coverage by S.B.S. did not feature in the top 20. It reached an average of 128,000 viewers in the metro cities. The wedding received 4 million views in Australia.
In 2011, 4.09 million Australians across three channels had tuned in to see Prince William and Kate Middleton get married. (‘TV ratings – Seven crowned winner for wedding coverage’, The (Melbourne) Age, 21 May 2018).
Other numbers were impressive – and so was the cost of the whole shebang.
Wedding planning website and app Bridebook.co.uk has expertly calculated that the overall cost – excluding security, whatever that may mean – is expected to have been over £2,099,873, equal to AU$ 3,746,551. And that is over 100 times as much as the English national average, which is £17,913, equal to AU$31,957.22.
‘Security’ was calculated at £30 million (AU$53,520,718), Meghan and Harry’s royal wedding cost some £53,520,718 (AU$95,482,243).
A total of 600 guests attended the ceremony and lunchtime reception, followed by 200 at a private evening reception for family and friends at Frogmore House. 2,640 members of the public had also been invited, which makes it for a rather expensive wedding.
And here is a breakdown:
Venue – £350,000 (AU$ 624,450). Harry and Meghan tied the knot at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and luckily, they did not need to worry about paying for the privilege. While their first reception was held at St. George’s Great Hall, their second reception was held at Frogmore House, near Windsor Castle. Frogmore House is where Harry and Meghan hosted their intimate evening reception in a marquee.
Catering – £286,000 (AU$ 510,183). Catering was needed for the formal lunch reception for state guests and the intimate dinner reception for close family and friends at Frogmore House. London caterers charge at least £100 (AU$ 178.38) per guest for a lunch reception and £300 (AU$535.15) per guest for a dinner reception, all included: food, chefs, staffing and crockery hire.
Drinks – £193,000 (AU$ 344,330). According to Bridebook, the wedding standard is to serve one glass of champagne for every 30 minutes of the drink’s reception, in addition to a minimum of half a bottle of wine per person during dinner. They estimated around 1,700 bottles of vintage champagne and 650 bottles of fine wine, whiskey and cocktails to accompany dinner and dancing for the 800 plus guests were used. While Buckingham Palace’s wine cellars – which boast contents worth a reported £2million (3,568,189) – is likely to have provided the champagne and fine wines for the wedding, they still will have set the Queen back substantially. Incidentally, the Royal Family’s favourite champagne is Bollinger and that sells for £80 (AU$ 142.73) per bottle, and thus for a total of around £136,000 (AU$242,599). Prince Charles’ favourite drink is 15-year-old Laphroaig Scotch, while Meghan’s favourite wine, Tignanello, described by the makers, Marchesi Antinori, S.r.l. Florence, Italy as “a very intense ruby red in colour with purple highlights, Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico by Antinori shows aromas of great ripeness characterized by notes of such red fruit as cherries, raspberries, and red currants along with liquorice and vanilla. When available it sells in Melbourne for between $125 and $205 per bottle.
Dress – Meghan’s Givenchy gown, designed by Clare Waight, which is estimated to have cost anything between £300,000 (AU$535,226) and £400,000 (AU$713,635).
Flowers – £110,000 (AU$196,249) was the cost estimated for flowers at two locations.
Photography – The country’s top wedding photographers would charge no less than £4,500 (AU$8,027). Meghan and Harry recruited well-known portrait photographer Alexi Lubomirski, who also took their official engagement photos.
Cake – £50,000 (AU$ 89,207). It was also expected Harry and Meghan would go for more than one cake, which will only serves to increase the cost. After all, it is a royal wedding ‘tradition’ to have a fruitcake on offer, too.
PA Stationery – £30,000 (AU$ 53,524). From save-the-dates to the invitations to name cards, menus and signage around the venue – weddings require a lot of stationery. And this was not common paper for a common invitation. Harry and Meghan have used Barnard and Westwood for their beautiful, bespoke invitations to guests. A 200-piece Bespoke Stationery set from Barnard and Westwood exceeds the £10,000 (AU$ 17,841) mark. The invitation, which featured the Three-Feathered Badge of the Prince of Wales printed in gold ink, went out to 600 guests.
Music – £300,000 (AU$535,290). Music featured heavily at the wedding – from bell ringers to the organist and choirs in the church, to musicians for the reception and a top wedding band and disc jockey.
Trumpets – £90,000 (AU$160,587). There were twenty of the silver-plated fanfare trumpets, each of these being stamped with the Royal Coat of Arms as requested by the Ministry Of Defence, they amounted to between £3,000 (AU$ 5,352) and £6,000 (AU$10,704) per trumpet.
Decoration and Production – £130,000 (AU$ 231,929). There was an early-morning fireworks display following the private dinner at Frogmore House.
Wedding Rings – £6,000 (AU$10,704). Meghan’s wedding is a Welsh gold band – a tradition the Royal Family have held since 1923: The Queen holds a small amount of gold in the royal vaults. Harry also chose a band of platinum for his ring, unlike his grandfather Prince Phillip, father Prince Charles and brother Prince William, who do not wear rings.
Bridesmaids Outfits – £6,698 (AU$ 11,949). While Kate only had sister Pippa Middleton as her bridesmaid and then younger flower girls, Meghan was expected to have several, as is the growing trend in both the United Kingdom and the United States. A designer bridesmaid dress may cost as much as £1,000 (AU$ 1,784).
Church Fees – £175 (AU$312). Harry and Meghan were expected to pay their marriage fees just like everyone else.
Groom’s wear – £8,000 (AU$ 14,270). Harry was expected to wear a tailor-made Royal Air Force uniform for the wedding, and later a custom tuxedo from Savile Row.
Hair and makeup – £10,000 (AU$17,838).
Entertainment – £55,000 (AU$98,109). Anything from a grand firework display to photo booths to children’s entertainment and even a display from the Royal Air Force could take place at a ‘royal wedding’.
Wedding favours – £3,000 (AU$ 5,351).
Toilets – £35,000 (AU$ 62,438). Given how many guests were attending their wedding – 800 plus 2,640 members of the public – plenty of toilets was an absolute must.
Transport – Free, as it were. The Queen’s State fleet of three Rolls-Royces, three Daimlers and two Bentleys were used on the day, meaning they can save a few pounds in the transport department.
The Honeymoon – £120,000 (AU$ 214,048). Bridebook predicted that Harry and Meghan would opt for some alone time before the wedding, then whisking their closest friends away for a party-filled holiday to celebrate with them after their big day.
Security – £30 million (AU$ 53,512,218). Harry and Meghan’s wedding required the same amount as was necessary for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.
That makes a total expenditure of £32,099,873 (AU$57,257,847). (How much did the royal wedding cost and who paid for it … , metro.co.uk).
Now, how many people are in poverty in the United Kingdom?
According to the late statistics available as at 23 April 2018 from the House of Commons Library, in 2016/17:
- 10.4 million people, 16 per cent of the population of 66 million were in relative low income before housing costs are deducted, BHC.
- 8.9 million people, 14 per cent of the population, were in absolute low income BHC, down 500,000 from the year before.
- 14.3 million people, 22 per cent of the population, were in relative low income after housing costs, AHC, up 300,000 from the year before.
- 12.4 million people, 19 per cent of the population, were in absolute low income AHC, down 400,000 from the year before.
Looking specifically at children:
- 2.7 million children, 19 per cent of them, were in relative low income BHC, about the same as the year before.
- 2.2 million children, 16 per cent, were in absolute low income BHC, down 200,000 from the year before.
- 4.1 million children, 30 per cent, were in relative low income AHC, up 100,000 from the year before.
- 3.5 million children, 26 per cent, were in absolute low income AHC, down 200,000 from the year before.
(Department for Work and Pensions, Households below average income, 2016/17) Poverty in the UK: statistics – Commons Library briefing, researchbriefings.parliament.uk, April 23, 2018).
The wedding of Harry and Meghan was held on 19 May 2018 in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. On the morning of the wedding, Queen Elizabeth II conferred upon Prince Harry the titles of Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel. On her marriage, Ms. Markle became Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex. It was instant investiture, worthy of a Hollywood production. In fact, there is much of such make-belief both in Hollywood and in Windsor.
Now, bringing the reader down to earth, the original castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. It may be a royal residence now, but it has no connection whatsoever with the Battenberg-Mountbatten who presently occupy the throne of England. And the 1917 renamed ‘Windsor’ are last moment Hanoverians.
The House of Hanover (German: Haus Hannover) was formally named the House of Brunswick-Lüneburg, a former state of north-western Germany. The Haus occupied the throne of England between 1714 and 1800, to be extended to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland between 1801 and 1901, at the end of the long reign of Victoria. The new occupier was Victoria’s eldest son Edward VII, he himself a member of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, another German family: Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha, originally coming from the House of Wettin (German: Haus Wettin).
Elizabeth II is now the longest-reigning British monarch. The ‘Royal Family’ or ‘The Firm’ is a ‘brand’ which is seeking to build on the successes of public display of wealth, such as the latest ‘Royal Wedding’, to capitalise on ever-increasing global interest in the monarchy through the use of both ancient pageantry and up-to-the-minute technology. The head of ‘The Firm’, the prodigal squanderer of public money, is the ‘Capo of the Family’: Elizabeth II.
As in the past, it was ‘tradition’ on one hand, television on the other.
One of the hagiographers specified: “The jubilees are an invented tradition, which allow the monarchy to dominate the crowded news agenda of a busy country.” As in television, everything would have been planned to the second.
Early in November 2017 the ‘Royal Family’ announced that it would have paid for the wedding. The overall cost was estimated to be around £32 million (AU$57,085,011). The security costs were expected to be lower than those of the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Approximately 250 members of the British Armed Forces were involved in the wedding, the majority coming from units that have a connection with Prince Harry. Members of the Household Cavalry formed a staircase party at the chapel, and also rode as escort. Street liners came from: 1st Battalion, Irish Guards; 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles; 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps; Royal Navy; Royal Marines and RAF Honington.
Security called for the largest single expenditure. At the time of the marriage between William and Kate an estimated 5,000 police guarded the public, and there were reports of a dispute between London and Britain’s home office over who should pay. In that case the final bill remains unknown, but the government provided the police with a special £3.6 million (AU$6,421,352) grant which was used to cover overtime pay for officers.
The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead reportedly spent £2.6 million (AU$4,637,643) on cleaning the town and roads. It was estimated that the wedding would trigger a tourism boom and boost the economy by up to £500 million (AU$891,854,447).
The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, too, was a multinational celebration throughout 2012, albeit of a somewhat different kind. It marked the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February 1952. Queen Elizabeth is queen regnant of 16 sovereign states, known as Commonwealth realms, including the United Kingdom. The only other time in British history that a monarch celebrated a Diamond Jubilee was in 1897, when Queen Victoria celebrated hers.
Commemorative events were held throughout the Commonwealth of Nations. Unlike the Queen’s Silver and Golden Jubilees, when the Queen toured most of her realms around the world, Elizabeth II and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, toured only the United Kingdom. Other parts of the Commonwealth were toured by her children and grandchildren as her representatives.
Continued Wednesday – A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 3)
Previous instalment – A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 1)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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