Saturday, April 16, 2011

One hundred and seventy metres of red, white and blue bunting. A stack of sponge cakes. Two hundred Union Jack paper plates. Forty flags, 22 good-natured cricket players, several men in morning suits and monocles, one bingo-caller and far too many plastic hats to count. Freddie Lancaster says there is no reason to quantify the value of the royal wedding to British society and its economy, but he knows he has to get the numbers right for his South London street party on April 29.

Lancaster, associate director of London group Tea House Theatre, is one of 4000 organisers of parties planned in Britain to celebrate the nuptials of Prince William to Kate Middleton (pictured right). On face value, 4000 might sound like a lot, but given Britain's population of 62 million and the tens of thousands of parties held for the marriage of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer in 1981, it was considered low enough for PM David Cameron to urge the nation to make merry: ''My message to everyone who wants to have a street party is: I'm having one and I want you to go ahead and have one too,'' he said this week.

Could it be that most Britons are not bothered about the marriage of the second in line to the throne, particularly at this time of economic insecurity?

Graham Smith, the campaign manager of Republic, the anti-monarchy organisation, says Britons are, very wisely, not getting behind the event because they know that the royal family is a political institution, with power exercised in the Queen's name ''by men in grey suits''.

''The scale of the wedding is a PR exercise to promote their institution. It's not a national celebration, it's a royal celebration, and it is going to cost the taxpayer many millions of pounds at a time when we're making teachers and nurses redundant. It will also cost the economy billions of pounds in terms of having the day off.''

Smith is no party pooper, though: Republic is holding its own anti-wedding party on April 29. But the group has had to battle Camden Council, which initially approved its permit application for the central London event, then revoked it after opposition from local businesses - some of whom are selling royal wedding merchandise, though probably not the Will and Kate sick-bags that are on the market.

Lancaster says of Smith: ''Gosh, he's a miserable man. That's a fascinatingly limited point of view … It's a bit disingenuous to say the royal wedding is a PR exercise on behalf of the royal family. It's about time William got married; it was going to happen at some point. Because more people care about the royal family than don't, people are going to celebrate.''

The William and Kate fever that is taking hold appears restricted to the southern parts of the country: more than 500 parties are planned for London, but Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle have only 28 planned between them. Glasgow's has been cancelled owing to lack of interest.

While the average Brit may be more concerned with the rising cost of living or job security, the media, bereft of major news since William and Kate's final pre-wedding appearance on Tuesday, have begun focusing on minutiae.

In case you missed it, Middleton has re-sized her engagement ring - the diamond and sapphire sparkler that previously sat on Princess Diana's finger. We know a little more of the invitees: among those who have made the cut are Middleton's notorious cocaine-loving uncle, Gary Goldsmith, as well as the North Korean ambassador and six of the couple's exes. The bride's mother lost 1.8 kilograms in four days on the Dukan diet.

The already lithe Kate has become noticeably thinner in recent weeks, with many commentators expressing concern. Given Diana's renowned eating issues, this promises to be an enduring focus.

While Brits have not yet made the wedding a national cause, their cousins across the pond appear to have embraced it. The Americans made William and Kate: The Movie (which was described by one critic as ''the naffest royal movie ever made'').

Vogue has shot three separate bridal covers in honour of the blushing bride. Middleton's sartorial style has attracted comparisons to Jackie Onassis and Michelle Obama, and of course, the wedding would not be the same without the presence of American TV royalty: Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer are both flying over to cover the event.

Public apathy isn't stopping those with a commercial interest from exploiting the festivities: fancy ''glamping'' on Clapham Common with hundreds of other revellers over the royal wedding weekend? Well you can, with prices for the deluxe tents starting at £3500 ($A5400).

The London Eye has launched a promotion giving a free ride and champagne for married couples called William and Kate. And in perhaps the biggest act of faith, the erstwhile king of British pop, George Michael, is probably hoping that a tribute song he is recording for the royal couple will kickstart a career hampered by incidents in toilets and bushes and a number of drug-fuelled car crashes.


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