Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Royal wedding fit for a recession

Another day, another detail. Since the announcement of the upcoming Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April 2011, the tabloid media have page after page and thumping great supplements full of photos. The ‘quality’ newspapers also cover the wedding preparations in exhaustive detail, supposedly in an ironic way by reporting the tabloid obsession. The bloggers who are not interested blog about not being interested and how stupid all the fuss is. So there is no escape. The latest trivia is whether David Beckham will get an invite, the hardly earthshattering revelation that Kate might have done her own make-up for the engagement photo shoot, and the media in a navel gazing loop, never happier than publicising itself, with the Telegraph reporting the non-story that BBC anchorman David Dimbleby will be replaced with Huw Edwards. Good luck to Will and Kate, but I’m a republican myself. The Republic website has good information about the true scale of the monarchy’s constitutional powers, and the cost to the British taxpayer.

Royal weddings are usually eye-poppingly lavish occasions, but there is speculation that, for Will and Kate’s do, the usual conspicuous consumption might be toned down in order to show sensitivity to UK citizens who are hard up in these times recession and could do without fitting the bill for a royal wedding. There is a big fuss that Kate Middleton is a commoner, although with millionaire parents she cannot be categorised as average middle class. In marrying a commoner, Prince William, is following in the footsteps of Sweden’s Princess Victoria, who married her personal trainer, earlier this year, on 19th June. Over half of the $2.5 million cost was met by Swedish taxpayers, but there was widespread opposition with membership of the Swedish Republican Association doubling to 6,000 people in the year between the announcement and the actual wedding.

cut flowers
 The Swedish royal wedding was decorated with an abundance of cut flowers. All cargo airline Cargolux flew a Boeing 747 freighter from Colombia to Europe, full of 40,000 flowers from 24 flower farms, including roses, lilies, hydrangeas and carnations. The flowers met the Floraverde label for social and environmental production standards. This is a positive step, but there is a blindness to the post production impacts of the lengthy supply chain from Colombia to Europe. I am not sure of the exact greenhouse gas emission of the flight, but the maximum fuel capacity of the plane is over 216,000 litres. Like heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, Prince William’s dad, the Swedish royal family expresses concern for the environment while wielding a gargantuan carbon footprint with private jets, yachts etc. So, step one for a British royal wedding fit for a recession and with a lower environmental impact, ditch the flown in flowers. It will be spring time in England so they could easily fill up Westminster Abbey with seasonal flowers like tulips, bluebells and daffodils from nearby countryside.

Expenditure on the royal wedding is likely to be presented as a stimulus package for the UK tourism industry. It is argued that the monarchy is a cornerstone of tourism, but this revolves around the claim that the monarchy is at the heart of our culture and heritage. The most recent research that the tourism board, Visit Britain, could come up with to substantiate the claims is that tourists visiting Britain in 1981, nearly 30 years ago, cited Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding in as the main reason for their visit. The places tourists visit, the castles and estates are historical. Apart from the occasional wedding, all the current monarchy does for tourism is attract a small crowd for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I was in Paris in 1989 for the 200 year anniversary of the revolution which overthrew the monarchy. The city was buzzing with events and celebrations. I’m not advocating putting the royals under the guillotine to boost tourism, but historical evidence of social change is what proves interesting to future visitors, not preserving the status quo in aspic. The Republic website points out that the royal palaces - Buckingham Palace, Balmoral etc. do not rank highly in attracting tourists, partly because they are largely closed to the public. Windsor Castle attracts fewer visitors than the Legoland down the road.

The royal wedding is anticipated to give the UK economy a boost with related commemorative merchandise, but it will take more than tacky tea towels and mugs to get the UK out of its economic morass. Last month, Pricewaterhouse Coopers estimated that the total UK private and public debts will soar to more than £10 trillion by 2015, driven by property related borrowing and increased lending between financial institutions. Apparently, the royal wedding will lead to increased purchasing of other goods due to some mysterious ‘feel good factor’. Even if this turns out to be the case, it is a risky way to rebuild the economy. Yet again, we are exhorted to buy the world out of recession, our role limited to that of consumers. Then, if we do our duty and buy all this tat, we will be berated for imperilling the economy by going into debt.

When I got married I was organising events at the time, and my now husband put up with me moaning that the preparation was just another conference, minus the flip charts and PowerPoint presentations. I cut a page with a list of supposedly essential items to buy for your wedding out of a newspaper, and crossed about 90 per cent of it out. I figured if it did not mean something to us it was just mindless ritual, bringing unnecessary stress and expense. Yet more and more of these items become embedded in our culture as part of ‘what you do’. So a wedding is supposedly incomplete without themed napkin rings, colour co-ordinated everything, commemorative stationery, matchboxes to place on each table and the dreaded ‘wedding list’ (so inappropriate when most of us are fortunate enough to already have more household goods than we really need) which many of my friends have ditched and invited guests to give to charity instead.

Weddings flowers have proliferated to a myriad of arrangements specific for each attendee and visible surface of the venues. A popular church can host several weddings in a single day. For each wedding the church will fill up with flowers which are thrown away in time to refill the church for the next ceremony. One of the supposed must haves for wedding receptions is ‘centrepieces’ for tables – finicky little vases filled with flowers. In my experience these just get in the way of guests seeing and talking to each other across the table, and frequently get knocked over.

These centrepieces for tables became a point of contention for a New York couple in 2007, who sued a florist for allegedly supplying wedding flowers which were the wrong colour. Apparently, the centerpieces, at $465 a pop, were ‘predominantly pastel pink’ instead of the dark fuchsia, rust and green coloured flowers which the couple had ordered to coordinate with their wedding. The couple had such an over-inflated sense of consumerist entitlement that they sued, not just for the $30,000 cost of the wedding flowers, but for $400,000, claiming that the mismatched flowers had caused them ‘extreme disappointment, distress and embarrassment.’ If a couple are so traumatised by an unexpected flower colour, how will they cope with the serious commitment of marriage, the ‘better for worse’ etc?

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