Thirty years ago, a nation that was a tad more patriotic and compliant with the notion of monarchy was overjoyed to celebrate the ill-starred union of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles. Crowds swarmed over the Capital, street parties and bunting were a happy distraction from the riots of Toxteth and Brixton. It was a huge success.
In 1981, history tells us that Diana, the broodmare, changed the entire Royal ball game. She was a kicker and the House of Windsor quickly found that it had to reinvent and professionalise its media management, or die. It’s come a long way. Friday’s festival was no cliché; there were no heavy-handed implications that Kate was a virgin bride. It signified a relaunch; pretence was dropped as the Establishment attempted to structure a conversation around a new desire to create brand transparency.
The marriage of Diana’s son was the first major step in a new beginning – the Windsor Brand. William is the great white hope, a fresh face with his mother’s heart and compassion. He will, in time, lead the Firm into a new age. The question is when. The relaunch of the brand involved an extraordinary, experiential three ring circus full of pomp and pageantry.
Tinged with a bourgeois romance and a certain playfulness, the wedding was sealed with a snog that adorned the front pages from Stockport to Shanghai. It overwhelmed the globe with its flawless exactitude. The trending topic on Twitter was #proudtobebritish, demonstrating that the public conversation engaged with its authenticity. The vulgar and outrageous ghost of the Mall that many thought might haunt the occasion with all those guttering candles, teddy bears and cellophane bouquets was exorcised by the success of the rebrand: Operation Reconnect.
It wasn’t just any old marriage ceremony of course, it was a carefully orchestrated relaunch operation. The detail was astonishing: acts of high theatre, resonant with past tradition but without the obvious tinge of the Monarchical institution that was being reshaped before our very eyes, complete with endorsement from the good and the great plus the added glamour of luminaries like the Beckham family giving TV commentators and the social space something to talk about.
To prove a point to America, the Hollywood glitterati was not invited. This was an Establishment spectacle which didn’t need Hollywood’s outrageous vulgarity within sniffing distance. Even the black sheep of Middleton’s family were dealt with; in fact, Establishment snobbery was consigned to the dustbin. Somehow it dealt with the bourgeois preoccupations and the big guns held their noses for the good of the occasion.
The managers of Monarchical longevity played every modern trick in the book. Forced into the 21st century, they have listened to the forward-looking Prince William, who believes it is his duty to stop the royal family becoming a true oxymoron.
Of course, the boy became a man very quickly after the tragic death of his mother, but still his healthy disdain and control of the media is something quite impressive. His brand mission is to simultaneously call for reverence and affection, although this might bring its own risks.
The romantic state idyll fused happily with Middle England family values, establishing a new talking point as well as a condition of allegiance with the very folk that one day William will, symbolically, rule. The severe damage wreaked over the years might now be behind the House of Windsor. In William and Kate, the brand has the hope of two emotionally connected guardians, blessed with a type of “ordinariness”.
The Queen and the Queen Mother were once held in huge matronly esteem, but their apparent inability to exhibit the emotion of regular, feeling mums when Diana died caused them much trouble. Over the last 30 years, crisis upon crisis has extinguished any adoration there might once have been, stimulating a chain reaction of appalling media crises. It wasn’t until the two Princes came of age that we got a sense of a new pragmatism. Even Prince Charles has struggled to engage us, despite the amazing work of his Prince’s Trust.
Despite the fanfare and flourishes, the troth-plighting William, whose spirit is so much more the his mother’s, has perhaps raised too much hope? Sadly, it will probably be a very long time before he becomes chairman. Post-wedding he wants to disappear, defiantly searching for some privacy with his new bride, which he deserves.
His grandmother, still at the helm, will in time hand the job down to Charles. Genetics and statistics suggest there will be at least another 40 years before William dons the sovereign vestments. The hype of relaunch frames a certain reality. Rebranding without a vision for the future can be a death knell. It’s a good idea not to be thwarted by hubris.
I hope the arrogance of the Windsor household does not bring about a nemesis*, exacted by the people who have welcomed a new regime. It must listen to William and his inner circle, and allow the UK’s user-friendly dynasty to grow. If not, all the good will and global excitement generated for the rapt TV audience might be wasted, and the therapeutic swoon will be nothing more than a vacuous rebrand.
* Hubris was considered a crime in ancient Athens. It is a severe form of arrogance and haughtiness against the gods. It is always punished with Nemesis, which is divine retribution – usually in the form of the destruction of those who succumb to hubris. Nemesis can also be served by mortals to mortals.