I didn’t hear about the engagement of the latest scion of the Mountbatten-Windsor dynasty until this afternoon. And, obviously, the press has gone irrationally ballistic at the thought of two people actually getting married in this day and age. The BBC carpet bombed us this evening with hagiography and, I’m guessing, there are wet knickers aplenty in the newsrooms of the Daily Mail and Express (not to mention the real comics in Wapping and Canary Wharf). Some of them might even be female.
Before we get carried away in our jingoistic, bread and circuses fervour, perhaps we should stop to think just a second. Two people have become engaged today. That’s it. That one of them may be the King of the United Kingdom one day is almost incidental; the press will not think so, of course and will make it their avowed mission to discover and pore over every single last personal scrap of information from Kate Middleton’s life.
Don’t misunderstand me: I am something of a monarchist. I like the idea of a constitutional monarchy that prevents other, far worse, forms of government existing here. I also like the fact that the Royal Family are actually relatively cost effective and, in most reasonable analyses, are of a high net benefit to the nation. As a result, someone has to be the Royal Family. The current incumbents are no better and no worse than we have any right to expect and, indeed, many of them show a sensible and sober attitude towards discharging their responsibilities.
So do we need an endless soap opera? No, of course we don’t. Are we going to get one? Of course we are. Because the press think that’s what we want. But do we? The nation is now markedly different to the way it was in the early 1980s when Prince Wiliam’s parents strolled out onto the lawn to announce their engagement to a much more deferential, forelock-tugging people. Their wedding was probably the high water mark of a particular kind of royalism: the sort that seems somehow quaint and anachronistic in the modern day.
How many of us will crowd around the TV on the day of their wedding? How many street parties will there be? Fewer, most likely, than there were in the summer of 1981, which (let’s not forget) acted as a brief respite in a summer of tension, discord and economic convulsion. There is something of an irony in the fact that there will be another Royal Wedding during a year that promises the continuing, fractious and deepening schism that seems to be careering headlong in our direction. All I hope is that they are left to enjoy the time before their marriage, in the same way that lots of other couples up and down the country who may have become engaged today, will.
Fat chance. I’m depressingly unconvinced that the media have learned anything at all from the experiences of another young woman who married a prince and didn’t exactly end up living a fairy tale.