The harsh light of reality

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According to those who take an interest in these matters, a royal wedding ought to be good news for the monarchy.

According to those who take an interest in these matters, a royal wedding ought to be good news for the monarchy. The lavish spectacle is designed to evoke warm feelings of patriotic pride and affection for Britain's oldest institution. That, at least, is the theory. Next week's marriage between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles was never likely to achieve all that. The fact that both of them have been married before somewhat sullies the romance of the occasion. As does the fact that a significant proportion of the population regards the relationship as a betrayal of the memory of the late Princess Diana.

If that did not make the whole affair fraught enough, a succession of public relations disasters has befallen the preparations. First, it emerged that they would have to get married in a public register office. Then we learnt that the Queen would not be attending. Then came a tedious debate about whether Ms Parker Bowles would be granted the title of Queen when the Prince of Wales becomes King. And finally, Prince Charles opened his mouth and made everything worse.

Posing at a photo call in Klosters with his sons, he was overheard referring to reporters as "bloody people" and professing his particular dislike for one unfortunate BBC royal correspondent. It was the latest in a long line of howlers involving members of the Royal Family and modern communications. And, as always, it revealed so much more than any number of staged press calls.

Our view is that Britain's constitutional monarchy is useful on a purely pragmatic basis. If it did not draw a degree of affection from the public, it would be entirely redundant. But a series of tawdry scandals has undermined public affection for the House of Windsor - and they have occurred over a period in which it has been actively managing its own publicity, trying to retain the upper hand in its curiously symbiotic relationship with the media. With notable exceptions - such as the Queen herself - the royals have emerged rather badly.

The Royal Family, particularly the Prince of Wales, needs to learn some lessons if it is to retain any semblance of legitimacy in a fast-moving world. The most basic one is that if you play with fire, you can get burnt. But even if this wedding does, in the end, win a few favourable headlines, the fact remains that the Royal Family is still stumbling down the path to obsolescence.

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