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Opinion

John Bird: Monarchy as a benign money-spinner. What a princely idea

"It’s extraordinary that the UK can still garner such interest for its royalest of royal families. They put the world’s 25 remaining monarchies in the shade"

Prince Harry Meghan Markle

I missed the royal wedding. I’ve missed all of them. From Princess Elizabeth marrying Lt Philip Mountbatten in 1947, I’ve lived through 14 of them. And not once, even when I lived minutes from Kensington Palace – and was therefore a neighbour – was I asked as a Notting Hill street urchin to join the celebrations.

Nor later, as I grew to maturity and became one of London’s most prominent washers-up at a hotel close to Kensington Palace. And nor when I was washing up for democracy in Parliament. I was overlooked and not allowed into that inner or innermost circle of people who make up the backdrop of any royal wedding party.

The family and I went for a long cycle on that day that Britain became Great Britain again. When cleaned up of homeless people, Windsor became a bunting haven.

Millions of pounds was added to the economy by the ‘Meghan effect’. That’s good news for hotels, pleasure grounds and London’s West End. For chambermaids on zero-hours contracts. For the burstingly full Big Mac restaurants.

It might even make up for some of the disappearing Russian money.

The economy of royalty is mentioned in nearly every critique of royalty and the thrones and wealth they sit on. Their stupendous privilege, for me, expresses itself best in the electric Jaguar that the Sussexes drove to Frogmore House for an evening of fun after a day of rigorous ceremony. What sky did that car drop out of? Which fairy waved their wand to make it appear in time for the gambolling between one secure outpost to another?

Once again I was not invited to a royal wedding, even though Prince Charles opened two of our buildings in the Nineties and, for a very slim window of time, I was seen as a new expression of innovative social Britain. Still, no weddings! The Big Issue hasn’t been good at cultivating links with the posh and powerful. I couldn’t even keep in with Tony Blair. In the end, he thought I was a trout (and I can’t quite remember what I thought he was).

It’s extraordinary that the UK can still garner such interest for its royalest of royal families. They put the world’s 25 remaining monarchies in the shade.

Being possibly the last thing left to us, it’s what you might call our unique selling point. A kind of acceptance that the UK has only the past to sell.

The only other time I can remember the nation as feeling incredibly special about something other than royalty was the SAS storming the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980. It made the country look feisty and tough for a while; perhaps even special.

And before that was The Beatles in the early to mid-Sixties. Wow, that was bigger than Elvis Presley, sweeping all before it. And ever since then, we’ve been kept afloat by our creative industries (another kind of royal blessing), which now generate £92bn a year to the economy.

Over the years, I’ve been asked if I am a republican. Do I want to wash away royalty and consign 1,147 years of monarchical rule to the dustbin of history (that is, if you start with Alfred the Great)?

I reply by saying that I’ve lived in one monarchy and two republics; République française and the United States of America. I would rather be poor in the United Kingdom than either of the two republics I’ve lived in. The USA is the most monarchical place imaginable, aside from Russia. Though they dress them up as republics, appearance denies reality.

Our monarchs seem to bring more cheap jobs to the UK. More footfall along Oxford Street. More tinsel. At least they don’t have the power in their hands to destroy every tree, bush and blade of grass in the world. Supposed republics are assigned that power.

Pray! And carry on with the royal parade! At least the head of the House of Windsor doesn’t have her finger on the button.

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