Perplexing Popularity: Reasons for the never-ending Popularity of Britain's Royals
When Harry met Meghan he didn’t know that their wedding would captivate the nation, and the world.
Working for Historic Royal Palaces, I was able to catch more than a glimpse of the madness which revolves around an event such as a royal wedding. On the morning of the event, which was also streamed live at the Orangery – Queen Anne’s beautiful greenhouse next to Kensington Palace – one could spot women walking in Hyde Park with heels, as if attending the wedding themselves, middle aged men wearing St George’s cross flag, waving the Union Jack with crowns on their heads and bottles of champagne in their hands.
It was Britons’ 4th of July.
The event was also streamed worldwide and people from every corner of the world rekindled their sleep schedules to tune in. Twitter went ballistic, with an overwhelming 6 million tweets, of which 5.2 million bore the hashtag #RoyalWedding and social media was, to say the least, buzzing.
There is something about the British royal family that makes it undeniably more appealing than the royal families of the rest of the world. Take, for example, Monaco’s royal family. They have witnessed fairy tale – with the American Grace Kelly marrying into the family; tragedy, with the Princess and Stefano Casiraghi’s deaths, while the exceptional beauty of Charlotte and her contribution to fashion is reminiscent of Diana’s wow factor. However, Monaco’s royals scarcely receive the media frenzy that the British royal family does, and it’s hard to imagine mugs and towels with the face of Prince Albert of Monaco.
So what makes this monarchy, an anachronistic and obsolete institution of medieval origins, so ceaselessly popular, that too in what is arguably the birthplace of modern parliamentary democracy?
The answer is linked with the history and geography of the United Kingdom. The Queen is head of the Commonwealth – formerly, the British Empire – which is an intergovernmental organisation of 53 sovereign and independent nations. Additionally, she is Head of State of not only the United Kingdom, but also of 15 other states, including New Zealand, Canada and Australia. As the British scholar John Balmer said she embodies “sixteen queens rolled into one”.
As a consequence, to identify with House of Windsor as with the power structures in your country, you don’t necessarily have to be British, but just a part of the 2.4 billion people (roughly a third of the world) who form the Commonwealth.
With such a wide number of people to represent come State visits and royal tours, so often that - according to a YouGov study - one third of the United Kingdom has personally seen or met the Queen. Incidentally, the Queen was on a Royal Tour to Kenya in 1952, when her father passed away and the crown was passed onto her.
The rest of the family is very visible as well, with Prince Charles, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and now, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex sent on behalf of the Queen to visit various countries.
But not only is the royal family engaged in state visits, its members also attend the more informal ceremonies and events – say for example, Wimbledon and the Olympics. Who can forget the Queen playing the Bond Girl next to Daniel Craig at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony?!
The branding of the royal family is now as popular as ever thanks to TV series and movies, who are building a growing interest in the royal family in the younger spheres of population - traditionally less enthusiastic about the monarchy than the over 60s.
Series like The Crown on Netflix are not only exploring the political crises and the relationships of the Queen, but also illustrating them to a younger generation that at the time was not born yet or was too young to witness them.
There is also another factor that has contributed in making the royal family so popular: all countries of the Commonwealth are constitutional monarchies, with the consequence being the neutrality of the Head of State. Despite being head of the Church of England, Commander in Chief of the military, and possessing theoretically limitless power, the Crown stays above all political matters.
In addition, unlike other royal families in Europe, whose downfall came also because of their liaison with Nazism and Fascism, the UK, and its royal family, are a symbol of global resistance to fascism, with Churchill and King George VI being the flag-bearers of determined leadership.
Luckily enough for the Windsors, the only member against whom evidence of intrigue with Hitler did emerge was King Edward VIII, brother of King George VI. However, at the time that evidence, known as the Marburg Files, came to public domain, he was already widely discredited for having abandoned his family and the crown. King Edward VIII abdicated less than a year into his reign because as Head of the Church of England, he could not, at the time, marry the woman he loved, the divorcee Ms. Wallis Simpson. The Duke of Windsor, as he was called after the abdication, eventually left England so he could marry her.
Today, the royal family’s impartiality has paved the way for Nye’s notion of soft power, a tool used successfully by all members of the family - from the Queen being a symbol of all things British and using her allure to promote diplomatic relationships all around the world, to last month’s royal wedding’s coverage, which, in times of Brexit, was a breath of fresh air and an inversion of trend to promote Britishness in Europe – and the world.
Remarkably, the royal superstar who used her charm to draw attention to her favourite causes and charities was Princess Diana. Seen as Britain’s true ambassador to the world, her impact on philanthropy and social work is incalculable.
It was following her famous trip to Angola (pictured), where she was pictured walking at an active landmine site to learn how workers removed the explosive, that in 1997 anti-personnel mines were banned by the representatives of 122 governments in the Ottawa Treaty. The trip was so remarkable because, in the 90s, the military still valued mines as valuable warfare means – ignoring the effects they would have on civilian population long after the end of the conflict.
The affection that the public had for Princess Diana has been inherited by her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry – with many linking the media frenzy of the two royal weddings and the royal babies directly to Diana. Her tragic death in 1997, and the shots of the two young Princes walking behind their mother’s coffin filled the public with emotion. It is perhaps being reminiscent of this emotion, that the public – probably not without a sense of guilt - in the UK and in the world has begun to perceive the Princes like their own sons, being especially forgiving in the case of Harry’s bad boy controversies and scandals.
It is hard to imagine the United Kingdom without its monarchy and, given the surge of energy that three royal babies and two royal weddings have brought in recent years, we can be sure that the family’s persona around the world is not expected to decrease anytime soon.
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About The Author
Giorgia Faranda holds a Masters in International Relations from the University of Westminster and also works at Kensington Palace, London. She is an outspoken activist for feminism and has found recognition in many renowned publications. Among her writings, Giorgia has received considerable acclaim for her views on the role of NATO as the focal point of Europe's security architecture, and the empowerment of women in the Middle East.