On Saturday, the United Kingdom is poised to make an utter fool of itself as it watches Prince Harry marry Meghan Markle. In many ways, the event will, I suspect, show the worst of this country and of the people lucky enough to live in it.
“Wait a minute Alan!”, I can hear your sputter, “Didn’t you just write an article laying into republicans and championing the British monarchy?”
Well, you have me there – sort of.
In a recent HuffPost blog, I did say that the British monarchy is a good thing and needs defending (you may choose to read it here, if you like).
However, it is possible, and necessary, to be in favour of our constitutional monarchy and to feel the most awful sense of cringe at royal events. One does not negate the other; in the same way as it is possible to defend the the House of Commons while hiding your gaze whenever Mr Corbyn or Mrs May says something cheap during Prime Minister’s Questions.
So, with a suitable set of parameters established, it remains to true to say that the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, which will dominate our newspapers, TV, social media, and other media sources, will show the worst of us as a society and it has nothing to do with legitimacy of monarchy.
Firstly, we’ve seen those poor souls, decked out in their best (see most nauseating) Union Flag clothes, tacky royal memorabilia, and unflattering cagoules, sitting on the side of the Mall awaiting the few seconds when they can get a ‘good’ view of the newly weds as they speed by in their carriage.
One has to sympathise with such a sad, depressing, and hopeless group who feel it necessary to sleep rough on a temporary basis for something so fleeting – in the same way as any sane person would rightfully scoff at, but still sympathise with, the line of harmless morons who wait for the newest iPhone to go on sale.
It really makes one wonder about the other ways in which our society has failed.
Secondly, there is the obsession with celebrity that tinges each and every royal event – but especially births and marriages.
As the tawdry discussion around whether or not Ms Markle’s father will be in attendance (I suspect that HuffPost will not allow me to tell the joke I would like to here, email me if you want to hear it) has shown, this wedding has nothing really to do with monarchy or the part it plays in our country. Prince Harry, while a fine ambassador in the slightly befuddled way that all but the most senior Windsor is, is highly unlikely to be king and will, most likely, see very little change in the rest of his life in that regard.
His impending wife - ditto.
However, the interest in them is not as part of an ancient tradition but rather as individuals and personalities over which the public claims ownership. This is not to say that there is anything particularly wrong with celebrity culture, it’s as subjectively valuable or worthless as any other part of the zeitgeist, but it should at least have the decency to stay as far away from the affairs of state, and their connected goings-on, as possible. It, like its line of inevitable crappy merchandise that will litter attics for many years to come, just feels rather tacky.
Finally, there is worrying sense that the overblown and hysterical reaction to this weekend’s wedding (apart from them having the nerve to marry on a Saturday and therefore derive us Brits of the cheapest of excuses for one of our beloved bank holiday) continues to demonstrate an unfortunate trend in the cultural practices of this country.
In his thought-provoking book, The Abolition of Britain, Peter Hitchens follows what he sees as the collapse of the traditional British way of life and the ruination of our society that occurred in the years between the funerals of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana. He describes the public reaction to the former as, at most, “dashing away a tear” and the latter as a kind of mass hysteria, and concludes that the difference between them is indicative of a society having lost something.
In a similar fashion, the difference between royal weddings of years gone by, such as that of Princess Margaret to Anthony Armstrong-Jones, to this one betrays a hyper-emotionalism and mania that used to be antithetical to the British character but now, sadly, appear to be an intrinsic part of it.
We, as a nation, still have the chance not to show the worst of us on Saturday but I, for one, will remain sceptical until we do.