I observed a large portion of the British royal mania that preoccupied most media earlier this year. I have seldom been exposed to quite as much vapid repetition over so many days.
I expected that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) – whose work I generally respect – would be obliged to devote a large amount of coverage first to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, and then King Charles’ official assumption of the head job.
Charles, of course, automatically became King on the Queen’s death, so the procession of his golden coach and many of the Anglican pieties surrounding his coronation, were rather redundant to the global audience other than for tourist/informational purposes. Apparently, the funeral cost the country around £162 million and the coronation between £50-100 million. By way of a return, tourism monarchy returns are estimated by Brand Finance, in a “normal” year at around £2.5 billion. So we can assume returns were higher during these special events.
What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the remarkable amount of air and print time devoted by other media around the world to these events, especially in the US. The funeral perhaps – but Charles’ coronation? It would seem that, despite parting from the United kingdom long ago, the US still can’t resist a bit of pomp and ceremony.
To be clear, I have nothing against Charles. Indeed as a young reporter, I even spent a fortnight trailing around New Zealand reporting on him and the late Diana after they visited Australia. He was an interesting speaker and personally affable, and his then wife was publicly charming, and was just finding and relishing her media role on her
first overseas tour.
The royal press rat pack that travelled with him from the UK was a revelation to a junior journalist, extremely experienced and very funny.
Sadly, since assuming the throne, Charles appears likely to be obliged to talk far less about those issues around climate change he presciently made his own. More to the point perhaps, latest polling suggests he is not exactly the most popular person to assume the throne, especially amongst the younger generations.
However, there remain one or two issues that just won’t go away. Yes, the monarchy is a great tourist attraction for the UK, as well as the late Queen having provided a figure of stability and British reassurance for many decades.
According to Brand Finance, while the average annual cost for UK taxpayers in royal upkeep comes to around £500 million a year, the monarchy’s brand contributes £2.5 billion to British economy in the same timeframe.
More distastefully – but increasingly coming into prominence – is the Royal Family’s wealth, and more significantly, its source, a good portion of which was reaped from exploiting its empire. Charles denounced the “atrocity of slavery” during a recent speech in Barbados when the island held a ceremony to swear in their first president after removing the Queen as head of state.
The Queen was head of state for as many as 32 countries during her reign; by the time of her death just 14, other than the UK, remained. Charles’ accession provides an opportunity for many of his Commonwealth subjects to wonder if the time is right to install a less-remote head of state.
Taking into account that the exact sources of royal wealth tend to be kept quiet and the figures are not easy to track, according to an Investopedia estimate:
- Queen Elizabeth II had a separate personal fortune of £380.7 million, inherited by Charles. According to Forbes this inheritance has made his net worth over £1.8 billion.
- Additionally, The Crown Estate, which manages the monarchy’s property holdings, is valued at about £15.6 billion and generated an estimated £312.7 million in net revenue at the end of the 2022 fiscal year. It is understood many of the receipts for this go to the government and are returned in the form of royal salaries.
- The royal family’s overall wealth is estimated at £21.3 billion, according to Forbes. That is separate from Queen Elizabeth’s personal fortune and assets. (Let’s not forget those jewels, the royal collection, etc).
Again, to stress, I’ve got nothing against Charles or his current wife. I lived in London for several years and greatly enjoyed it. I admire Charles’ efforts to slim down the royal presence on the balcony, and to despatch brother Andrew to the sidelines. But doesn’t it all feel a bit redundant now for the UK and its former colonies?
Related: Long live the King