A Royal Wedding at a Time of Austerity

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
By Njoki Wamai

News of Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton was quite a breath of fresh air at a time of austerity. Although this royal engagement and wedding comes at a very difficult time, it is a welcome announcement that will have profound repercussions not only on the Royal Family, but also on the City of London. 

It is estimated that the wedding will boost Britain’s economy to the tune of GBP£620 million with tourism, merchandising and broadcasting among the sectors to benefit from it. Hordes of tourists are expected in London both in the countdown and during the wedding to witness an event which can only be likened to the 1981 royal wedding. Tourism will continue to improve in the coming years as London hosts one event after another: the Royal Wedding in 2011, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics in 2012. Moreover, an increase in coverage in the media will generate newspaper sales and exceptional advertising. The wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer attracted almost a billion television viewers across the globe and Prince William is expected to draw four times as many. The tourism department has started making plans to capitalize on the wedding's broadcast to attract tourism.

It is further expected that the announcement will increase tourism in Kenya, where Prince William made the proposal. The royal romantic Rutundu Cabins on the slopes of Mount Kenya next to the picturesque Rutundu Lake might become the next popular lovers’ getaway, coupled with a visit to the Lewa Downs to engage in conservancy efforts. The Lewa Downs Conservancy is a private wildlife sanctuary owned by Ian Craig, a Kenyan of British descent. It hosts some of the rarest species of white rhinos in the world. One striking feature that draws attention is the expansive land the Craig’s family owns in a country where unequal land distribution was at the heart of its 2007/2008 electoral conflict. According to the Who Owns Kenya, a report by the online accountability initiative Mars Group, Craig’s family is one of the biggest landowners in Kenya. Their grandmother was given the 45,000 acre land by the British Government for her assistance during the First World War. The future king may want to reconsider holidays with the Craigs until they have supported implementation of the new Kenyan constitution, which plans to radically alter such ostentatious land ownership in the midst of poverty. 

Back to London’s changing fortunes and the royals have read the austerity signs right and decided to foot the wedding bills. The wedding day has been announced for 29 April 2011 and a holiday has been declared. The monarchy will pay for the wedding expenses excluding the security and policing which the taxpayer will pay for. Jenny Jones, the Green Party Member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, warned that “in this age of austerity, it is unrealistic to expect the taxpayers to pay millions of pounds for policing a wedding, however beautiful”. This is not the first royal wedding at a time of austerity. The current Queen Elizabeth got married in 1947 when Britain was recovering from the debilitating effects of the Second World War, and she obtained extra ration coupons required to buy the material that created her wedding dress. The wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer in 1981 was by any standards a very lavish wedding, which was acceptable by the spending standards of the Thatcher’s years.

After all the merry making has ended, the future king will be at pains to reinvent the monarchy to dampen the many zealous critics who have questioned the continuing role of a constitutional monarchy. The monarchy’s supporters see this event as a chance for the monarchy to reassert its critical role in creating stability, revamping Britain’s economy while demonstrating its unique history and tradition. Despite its perceived fading glory, conservative estimates say that the monarchy generates GBP£500 million a year from overseas tourists. Prince William and Kate’s wedding is also seen as an opportunity to sanitize the Royal Family’s image, turning a new page from its dreary past to a fresh institution that is in touch with modern times. The fact they even announced their engagement on Twitter is a further proof of their “freshness”.

For now, however, we can only dream that the celebration of the wedding will boost Britain’s economy out of recession, while we return to the reality of austerity. Cuts! Cuts! And even more cuts!


26 November 2010

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth