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John Metzler Archive
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This week's royal wedding — Why the world cares

UNITED NATIONS — Why shall Americans across the fruited plain rise in the wee hours of Friday Morning to watch a Royal Wedding in London to see a British family which has thankfully not ruled America for 228 years? Why moreover are Americans, with strong republican (small r) sentiments as we mostly are, so willingly enchanted and enthralled by the marriage of Prince William (second in line to the Throne) and Kate Middleton?


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In a few words: tradition, pomp, ceremony. Let’s face it, the regal portrayal of Britain’s classy monarchical grandeur is still something with near global appeal. The House of Windsor (originally the House of Hanover and later Saxe-Coburg) re-branded with a more John Bull British theme in 1917 during WWI, embodies an enduring legacy of excellence, stability, and tradition.

While naysayers, including a strong a vocal minority in the United Kingdom itself, complain about the Monarchy’s cost, let’s face it, the Windsor Brand is wonderful for tourism, the tabloids, and a kind of national euphoric symbolism.

In a world of often crude showbiz and screen idols, where vulgar ostentatious wealth passes for class, and tawdry bling-bling values dominate the social scene, there’s something very reassuring about the elegance and continuity of the British monarchy.

Ask the obvious question. When Kansas school kids visit London what will be among their first stops? Buckingham Palace to view witness the changing of the guard along with other royal regalia.

Royalty does have a certain gilded “attraction,” even though the British monarchy is subject to strict constitutional constraints and does not have actual power to rule. Perhaps Queen Elizabeth II’s stoic sense of duty and commitment to tradition has reinforced the role of the Royal Family.

British Union Jack flags are pictured on London's Regent Street on April 20, in preparation for the royal wedding between Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton at Westminister Abbey on April 29.
AFP/Ben Stansall

The attraction of a Royal Wedding is that of pageantry, history and pure glam; this is nothing new really, and in fact may hit a high water mark as the 24/7 media presents William and Kate’s marriage to well over a billion people worldwide, most of them from Republics.

To be sure there are a number of venerable European monarchies; Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden. For example, in Holland, the Royal Palace in the Hague is understated and decidedly low key. But the British Monarchy has managed to control the golden rule of publicity, despite past princely scandals (great for the London tabloids), and faux pas and still present the message as magna magisterial. Royal Weddings have always been popular. The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana became a global media sensation in 1981, with 750 million TV viewers. The Wedding of Prince Andrew and Sara, Duchess of York in 1986 equally made headlines.

The subject has always captivated Americans at the box office too. In 1951 the movie Royal Wedding with Fred Astaire a big hit. A few years back, the movie The Queen, a portrayal of current Queen Elizabeth II, facing the tragedy of the untimely death of Princess Diana, offered a poignant inside look at the personal side of the Royal Family. Recently the film The King’s Speech presented a very sympathetic portrayal of George VI, the wartime King who was also father of Elizabeth.

But despite being able to choreograph the pomp and ceremony on demand, today’s Britain is a vastly changed and different country than that which George VI inherited at his Coronation in May 1937. Then Britain ruled one quarter of the world’s people including much of Africa, all of India, Burma, Malaya, and the West Indies. That is long past. Among the few reminders remain Bermuda and Gibraltar.

A memorable scene in The King’s Speech shows his Address to the Empire where BBC studios (I presume Portland Place in London) are ready to broadcast to Canada, Kenya, Jamaica, Malaya, etc. Today the BBC through a series of foolish and penny-wise cutbacks have trimmed most of the overseas shortwave services, including important language services to China, former Portuguese Africa, and Russia.

Despite a conservative government (very small c), Prime Minister David Cameron presides over a British economy in the doldrums as the undertow of a social welfare state has crippled the nation and moreover private initiative. British Banks are massively overextended in bailing out bad loans to European debtors in Greece, Ireland and Portugal to the tune of about $300 billion. British military forces are dangerously cut back in the name of economy, and are precariously overextended in carrying out operations in Libya and Afghanistan.

So in a year a trauma, tragedy, tsunami and conflict, the Royal Wedding offers a glimpse of fairy tale majesty, if only for a day.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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