If you're a republican like me, you're probably wondering how you will escape the wall-to-wall coverage attending the next nine months of the royal pregnancy. But as the BBC, party leaders, and royal well-wishers raised a toast to Kate 'n' Wills last night, I started wondering how this state of affairs came to be.
I can remember as a wee nipper my mum putting this up in the corner of my bedroom and taking my brother and I to a street party round the corner to celebrate the royal wedding. Happy days for royalty and their supporters. But 10 years or so later the House of Windsor was rocked by an unceasing succession of scandal. Remember Squidgygate? And yet, a further 10 years on, by the time of 2002's Golden Jubilee there was nary a dissenting voice raised against the monarchy. And 2010's Royal Wedding, this year's Diamond Jubilee and now the royal babe-to-be, any hint of anti-monarchical irreverence has been thoroughly expunged from the media and body politic.
As we have seen with celebrity culture, there has been an ever-irresistable trend toward irreverence. Celebrities are there to be loved, hated, mocked, praised, derided. They are tabloid fodder and, ultimately, can be exchanged for any other celebrity - regardless of talent (or lack thereof). But what is interesting is how, in many ways, the monarchy has swam against this tide of irreverence in recent years. How so?
Much of it has to do with media coverage and, particularly, press reporting. That changed forever on 31st August, 1997 with Diana's death. The genuine outpouring of public grief, which, in turn, was fed by unceasing wall-to-wall coverage for endless weeks also marked the last occasion the press turned on the Queen. She was pressured by them into flying the flag from Buckingham Palace at half mast. The family as a whole came in for criticism for "being cold" and, of course, there was that celebrated moment at Diana's funeral when Viscount Spencer used his eulogy to put the boot in. But if there ever was a widespread discontent with the monarchy, the occasion of Diana's death turned it all around.
Very quickly the press voluntarily accepted that William and Harry would be out of bounds until reaching adulthood. Remarkably, bar the odd hiccup the press kept a notable distance. In the mean time, the monarchy experienced the death of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother in quick succession. The latter, who commanded wide respect and affection, saw that - in the Golden Jubilee year - pass to the Queen. Just as the Queen Mother was once off-limits, so now became the Queen. Irreverence has passed into cap-doffing reverence.
William has been the primary beneficiary of the 'hands-off' attitude. As anyone who follows the papers knows, there was endless speculation about a relationship between him and Kate Middleton. But this was almost of the innocent 'will they, won't they' variety. For once, salaciousness took a hike. And then came the royal wedding, which was an opportunity for the couple to ascend the heights of media beatification. Therefore when the pap photos of Kate in the altogether surfaced in the summer, there was a tidal wave of hypocritical outrage from the tabloids (who wouldn't have thought twice about printing them had the subject not been royalty). The politicians and celebs joined in the condemnation. There was talk of legal action against the French publishers and implied threats against anyone who would print them here. Who could have imagined the same 20 years ago?
Harry has also benefited from the halo of invulnerability, to an extent. As someone doomed to forever be in his brother's shadow, he has seamlessly combined the roles of soldiering, charity do-gooding, boozing, and womanising. This summer's naked pics, which The Sun splashed on their front pages (thereby breaking the press's gentlemen's agreement), didn't actually do his reputation any harm at all. In fact, he was subtly positioned as yet another red-blooded bachelor. This is Harry as a lad, a bloke, a rogue straight out of the pages of Loaded at its peak. As an army grunt and party animal, he inspires reverence less than identification. Out of the lot of them, Harry is the one most like *us*.
So, thanks to clever marketing and the acquiescence of the press, the Queen stands at the pinnacle of the British state as an aloof figure. She is above politics and the mundane cares of everyday life. She has come to be seen as a dutiful public servant who, while clearly being separate and apart from ordinary people, takes her obligations to her subjects very seriously indeed. She is the rallying point, the eternal and undying social anchor that will not be dislodged. She is, to put no finer point on it, emblematic of stability and security.
Kate 'n' Wills are practically a single entity who now occupy the 'Diana space' in monarchical media positioning. They're young, safe, traditional, glamorous, friendly and photogenic. Provided no scandal attaches to either of the pair as it did with William's parents, it is very difficult to see how their child can't carry the monarchy into the 22nd century.
There is, however, one big problem. We need to talk about Charles.
Unlike his mother, who is wise enough never to say anything of substance publicly, or his sons who are as modern as a constitutional monarchy can be; Charles is different. He is an aristocrat of the old school, a behind-the-scenes meddler not afraid of using his inherited position to push his hobby horses. He is of an England of a bygone age and would have been well beyond his sell by date had he ascended the throne 30 years ago.
The BBC is sure to continue its forelock-tugging ways regardless, but everyone else will have a real difficulty warming to King Charles III. For all the careful work done rebranding the Windsors and strengthening a popular reverence towards them, a marmite monarch like Charles could undo everything. It is quite possible he could do the unthinkable and help bring along a genuinely popular republicanism. The esteem collecting about the House of Windsor could be just a temporary moment of stability before the wider irreverence catches up with them.
It almost makes royal-watching sound worthwhile.