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Friday, 19 November 2010

17 November 2010

Just about everyone else has had their say about The Wedding – so I don’t see why I shouldn’t as well.

What interests me, though, is not really what kind of dress The Bride will wear – or even where they choose to go on their honeymoon. No, what interests me is why it interests us.

Here are some suggestions.

First, in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation, the royal family remain something that unites us. Love them or loathe them, they provide us with (i) a head of state, and (ii) endless fascination.

Second, if we are, biologically speaking, pack animals – in other words, if in our natural habitat we are programmed to form close-knit groups around a single leader – then the identity of that leader is of obvious significance. (And, given that Prince Wills is the next Annointed Pack Leader but one, it follows that whom he chooses as his mate is important, since they will together, all being well, in time produce another future Annointed Pack Leader.)

And third, we live in an age that celebrates celebrity. And thanks to Prince Diana, the royal family are now A List celebs, guaranteed to sell magazines every time they feature on the cover. Which applies not just in the UK, but from what I can gather by trawling global media websites, just about everywhere else as well.

The US media, for example, in a nation that was founded largely in order to rid itself of royalty, were far more interested in Prince William’s engagement than in the fact, announced the same day, that the UK government has agreed to pay millions of pounds in compensation to British citizens who were detained at Guantanamo. Strange, you might think, but true.

It is impossible to resist the temptation to refer back to the last fairy-tale royal wedding – of William’s parents, Charles and Diana, in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1981. Impossible, if for no other reason, because he chose to present his fiancée with his late mother’s engagement ring. And, being the size it was, you couldn’t exactly fail to notice.

Then, in their first TV interview together, he came out with what I thought was a tellingly poignant answer when he was asked why he had waited so long to pop the question -- “I wanted to give her a chance to back out if she needed to before it all got too much. I'm trying to learn from the lessons of the past.”

From which, surely, we must deduce that he believes that if his mother had been given a similar chance, she would have backed out. That must be a hard lesson for a son to learn. (Remember, Diana was just 19 when she got engaged; Kate Middleton is 28.)

Soap opera? Of course. But maybe that’s part of their job. For as long as there have been newspapers, the doings of the royals have been staple fare. For better or for worse, we feast on them, just as we do on Susan Boyle, David Beckham, or any other celebrity.

I don’t say it necessarily matters very much – but I do think it’s interesting. Don’t you?

A word about next week: I’m going to be in China to report on how it sees its role as an emerging global power. So do try to tune in on Thursday, and again on Friday for a special programme that we’re recording in Beijing with a panel of Chinese foreign policy experts and an invited audience at Tsinghua University.

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