5 April 2011
‘Will the forthcoming Royal Wedding expose republic fissures in British society?’ By Dr Richard Berger, a Reader in Media and Education in the Media School at Bournemouth University.
The British have always had an uneasy relationship with the Royal Family, and they in turn have had a very difficult - and often contradictory - relationship with us. Research conducted at the Media School, Bournemouth University has shown that the Royal Wedding is at first glance exposing divides along Republican and class divides in British society.
Firstly there is the representation of the bride herself. The popular tabloid press in the UK generally portrays Kate Middleton as a fairly ordinary (although quite posh) girl who possesses all the qualities of her future husband’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. The UK media can’t help themselves in making comparisons between the then Lady Diana Spencer, and Miss Middleton. The fact that Kate now sports the late-Diana’s own engagement ring further cements this somewhat maudlin narrative.
Former acquaintances of the couple have been quick to complain that their invitations have not arrived yet, while at least one former girlfriend of the Prince has gone to ground in France while her mother gives countless interviews about their alleged (brief) relationship while at the University of St. Andrews.
The right-wing media are more snobbish, and use the moniker ‘Waity Katy’ to describe someone who had her heart set on bagging Prince William from the start. A recently published biography of Kate ramps up the ‘ordinary girl’ narrative, but in a much more negative way, and newspapers such as The Daily Mail are quick to sneer at Kate’s rather eccentric uncle, her mother’s former career as an air-hostess and the fact the wedding banquet will be more of a buffet.
There is a north/south divide too, where far more local authorities in the south of the country have received requests to close roads for street parties, than in the north. Travel companies have also seen an increase in people booking holidays, eager to get away from the event completely and take advantage of a few extra days national holiday.
The media itself is in high-frenzy as the BBC prepares to send 400 of its key personnel to Westminster Abbey for the big day. At a time when the broadcaster is cutting jobs and moving parts of its production to the north of England, all eyes are on our state broadcaster, who have eschewed trusty old hands for younger presenters, more familiar to Britain’s teenagers, than to retired colonels.
The House of Windsor is at pains not to overdo it, and to spend all of the currency it has accrued since the death of Diana in 1997. Much has been made of charitable donations in the place of wedding gifts and the austere nature of the proceedings, compared to other Royal Weddings - Kate will arrive by car, rather than horse-drawn carriage.
Prince William and Kate have received a warm reception on their recent round of public events. Television Royal correspondents have been barely able to hide their surprise at the ease Kate has taken to her first Royal engagements - cue yet more comparisons with her fiancé ‘s late mother.
So, will this wedding show that Britain is becoming less enamoured by the monarchy? Probably not. There were similar divisions when Prince Charles and Lady Diana married in 1981. At that time, like now, the nation was toppling into recession, government cuts were on the horizon, rising unemployment was on the way and we would soon be engaged in an unpopular war in the South Atlantic.
Today, the UK media presents rather a mixed take on things, but then it always does. It is likely though, as the big day approaches, more will get onboard and even the most hardened Republican critic will cheer the young couple. It is clear that the British public want a new ‘people’s Princess’ and are looking to Kate, and the 29th April could well be a ‘people’s wedding’. Diana was always more popular than the family she married in to. In short, the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton is a shot in the arm to the Royal Family, at a time when they most need it, and will in all likelihood fuse together the divisions that have temporarily divided the nation.