To an American living in London, the public lovefest following the announcement of Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton was more than a little bit baffling. The mood among Londoners has been extremely dreary of late: Serious budget cuts and sky-high unemployment have left the British masses drained, unhappy and bitter about the mess in which the ruling classes have landed them. So, it's curious that this pronouncement of pending royal bliss should stir such good will and pleasure.
For most Brits, complaining (about the weather, taxes, politicians, the national soccer team or anything else) is a national sport. Yet many of them sound naively jubilant at the joyous prospect of their future King's wedding. This weekend, BBC radio host Vanessa Feltz fielded a call from a listener named Tony, who proclaimed, "I can suddenly see a beautiful spring next year!"
And he's not the only one. The public's recent resentment toward wealthy compatriots who are seen to be splashing out on big-ticket items at a time when others are struggling to pay their mortgages and deal with rising taxes seems briefly to have lifted.
Warming the Hearts of Nearly Everyone
Only hours before the wedding announcement, the airwaves and and blogosphere were brimming with hostile remarks toward the rich -- not just bankers reaping lavish bonuses from banks that the public has been forced to support, but toward politicians, too. The revelation by The Times that 18 of Prime Minister David Cameron's 23 Cabinet members are millionaires was met with pure rage. "Think of that the next time you see Nick Clegg (total worth: £1.8 million) ($2.9 million) traveling on the tube, or Cameron (£3.4 million) ($5.4 million) insisting MPs must freeze their pay," Miranda Sawyer wrote in the Mirror. "Budgets? Deficits? What would they know about those?"
Why, then, would Brits' day be brightened by the prospect of watching a wedding that some estimate will cost a startling £80 million ($128 million)? You might expect the cash-strapped subjects to be fuming over their rulers' insensitivity and profligacy. But no, the news that party girl Middleton, daughter of a former air hostess, will enter a life of luxury, exotic travel and palace pampering, seems to have warmed the hearts of just about everyone. "We're just a very nice country," explains my very British mother-in-law. "We get pleasure from other people's happiness."
Should I read deeper into that?
Hoping the Royal Couple Will Go "All Out"
Of course, there's the feel-good factor of the fairy-tale storyline: Common girl dreams of becoming a princess, meets a dashing prince and wins the crown. There's also a widespread sense that William deserves a bit of family happiness, having lost his doting mother, Princess Diana, in a horrific car crash.
Less sentimentally, there's also the promise of a day off work to celebrate the wedding. Even if it falls on a weekend, Prime Minister Cameron is virtually guaranteed to grant a public holiday in honor of the event. Cameron, who has already proclaimed it a "great day for our country," revealed that he slept on the street for a night at age 14 to ensure that he'd have a prime spot from which to watch the (ill-fated) wedding of William's parents, Charles and Diana.
On radio station LBC, one caller said she hoped Will and Kate will go "all out" for their wedding because everyone is in need of "cheering up." Astoundingly, some are so gleeful that they're even willing to help foot the bill. One retired woman told the Associated Pressthat everyone should donate £5 or £10 ($8 or $16), gushing: "I'm excited for this wedding, and I'll surely help out." One young chef said, "I'd pay £50 ($80) tops," adding, "If everyone did, it would certainly help."
Who'll Foot the Bill?
Although the palace promises that the celebration will be appropriate for the current economic climate, who knows what appropriate means to a young royal who carried a ring worth some £86,000 ($138,000) around in his rucksack before proffering it to his girlfriend?
Questions as to who'll foot the bill are already swirling. The Queen, whose personal fortune is estimated at £290 million ($465 million), can certainly afford the tab. Note that the family also receives a £7.9 million ($12.7 million) stipend, earmarked for costs such as official functions.
Of course, Kate and William's moment in the sun is also a lucrative opportunity for Britain's beleaguered retailers. Purveyors of kitsch souvenirs are already hatching plans to cash in on the mood by hawking everything from commemorative plates to mugs and paperweights. Others are salivating at the prospect of hefty profits from sales of champagne and beer in a country that's always quick to grab any excuse for a few drinks.
TV viewership will surge, offering broadcasters a rich advertising windfall. Newspapers and magazines will leap off newsstands. And betting shops will dream up odds for everything from the wedding date to the designer of Kate's dress.
Given the scale of Britain's economic woes, this all adds up to a very welcome financial bonanza -- and that's worth more than a mere national outbreak of giddy sentimentality any day.