In the tabloid and reality-television era, this may have financial implications. More than ever, the royal family is a business, and their business is Britain; they are there to promote it. No matter how respectable (read dull) Wills and Kate are, the wedding will certainly be massive. It’s thought that a billion people worldwide will watch it on TV. There was even some talk of broadcasting it in 3-D. That thinning royal pate will be coming at you in high definition. The chief executive of VisitBritain, the government’s tourism agency, predicted that thousands of people would jet in from near and far to join the crowds planning to line the streets around Westminster Abbey and that tourism in England would get “a halo effect,” the warmth of people’s feelings for the happy couple rushing Britain to the top of the desired-summer-holiday-locations standings. Wedding-merch sales—mugs and plates (tea towels are officially banned), an official £5 coin, that sort of thing—could run to £26 million, with a further £360 million in food and grocery sales as families cluster around the flickering screen as though it were still the fifties and there were only one channel on offer. So that’s obviously good. Furthermore, the Middletons have offered to make a quite significant contribution to the estimated £10 million cost of the wedding so that the burden does not fall entirely on the royal family and by extension the taxpayers, particularly when Britain is in such severe economic distress. Apparently they would like their contribution to cover something discrete, the honeymoon or the flowers or something; they want to do more than just write a check.
But it turns out that historically, royal weddings actually are bad for tourism—even when the royals in question were considerably more vivid than the current pair. The wedding of Charles and Diana accompanied a 15 percent drop in U.K. tourism, while that of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson saw an 8 percent decline from the average for that time of year. Perhaps tourists don’t like knowing they’re officially not the center of attention. On top of that historic bad news, the Department of Homeland Security has announced a travel advisory for Britain during that period because of increased fears of terrorism, so that eliminates Americans, and they’re generally thought to be the ones who care. In additional bad news, the economy is predicted to take a £5 billion hit, dwarfing any uptick in mug sales. Prime Minister David Cameron has declared April 29 a national holiday, and as it follows the three-day Easter weekend, the theory is that many people will simply choose to take that whole week as vacation time; airline reservations are way up for that week.
So the royal wedding is not liable to be much of an economic stimulus—but is it good for the brand? If Kate and William follow the example of his grandmother, and if the only people who care about the difference in their respective social standings are a small group of Hooray Henries in West London, and if they don’t seem to be helping the British economy, and if they don’t really help sell magazines in the long run, what are they there for? Or, to put it another way, does England really need Kate when they already have a very pretty, privileged, shiny-haired princess in town? After all, Gwyneth Paltrow lives there.