Royal romp to Brand Britain

After Kate and William — the Wedding and Kate and William — the Honeymoon, we are on part three of the fascinating reality show. Kate and William — the Official Tour. After weeks of speculation whether the Duchess of Cambridge will take along her personal hair stylist (she will) and dresser (she won’t) we now also know that the young couple have decided that they will have a “hands on” approach on their visit to Canada next week.

schedule appears to be more like an Obama-style itinerary than the usual wind-shield wiper royal airings we have experienced so far, when they graciously appear at various venues and wave to us. It has much more real engagement with the masses (for a quick reference take a look at Michelle Obama’s tour to South Africa).
The only other royal who memorably broke through the fastidious formality, of course, was Prince William’s mother, Princess Diana, who even famously danced with John Travolta. Now that would have required a special kind of courage, almost like playing at Wimbledon with Serena Williams! While Prince William is not going to the same lengths (so far) he seems to have inherited some of Princess Diana’s fun-loving flamboyance and neither he nor his new bride seems to shy off from performing for a worldwide audience.
Perhaps calculating the enormous amount of expected publicity (remember the millions who watched the carefully choreographed wedding?) now the Royal household and TV crews the world over are preparing for another glorious spike of regal interest. And why not? This is a good-looking, well-dressed, young couple who seem to have a genuine desire to bombard us with gorgeous glimpses of their life together. And this official tour may just help us learn a little more about Princess Catherine, a 29-year-old who has an amazingly old-fashioned attitude towards being a royal consort. Even before her marriage she did nothing more than party at night clubs, wear demure high-street clothes, live with her prince charming and go for gym classes. In short, she demonstrated no other ambition than to be a royal arm candy. Her life after marriage does not seem to have changed very much, except that now she has to fit in all her other royal duties, as well. A perfect opportunity to place her in public comes with this tour, which is already being flagged up as being “different”.
The pre-publicity machinery has been cranking up interest by hinting that the tour will be much more participative, with the Royal couple actually jumping on board to show off their different talents from flying aircraft to playing polo to flipping a mean pancake. For instance, when the Duke and Duchess are shown how to land a helicopter on water, off the Prince Edward Island, in a process called “waterbirding” — Prince William will steer a chopper, too. Similarly, in a dragon boat race at the same location, they will grab a paddle. They will also canoe and play a bit of street hockey and in a cookery demonstration at Quebec, they will bite the gauntlet and cook up a storm along with students from a culinary workshop. Perhaps the only arena where they will remain spectators is when they attend a rodeo called the Calgary stampede and is supposed to be the “greatest show on earth”.
No doubt the planners of this tour are hoping that the cameras will be focusing on the royal couple and not just the rodeo that day. If Diana was a “people’s princess”, this couple is fast following suit. By ensuring they have an international celebrity cult and carefully packaging their presentation, their managers (as well as Catherine and William) know that they can create and maintain a huge fan following. This will also
ensure that Brand Britain will get a positive global makeover and knock out “Brand Backside” a la Pippa Middleton. Finally the sister who is the real royal will take centrestage once again.

Meanwhile, I have just come back from Finland, from the beautiful ski resort of Lahti, where I was attending a writer’s reunion, discussing freedom of speech. It was a fascinating four days because one realises that the problems of “taboos” (those things that cannot be spoken of) exist the world over. And now back in the United Kingdom, I find it is the case of the 50-year-old fashion designer John Galliano that is attracting the same debate, though in quite a different sense. Galliano has just been fired from his £4 million a year job as the creative director of Dior, because he is accused of having allegedly hurled anti-Semitic and racist comments at some people at the Le Perle bar in Paris. These included an anonymous 47-year-old woman, Phillippe Virgitti, a receptionist who was called an “Asian Bastard” and Geraldine Bloch, a museum curator, who was insulted as a “dirty Jew”.
Galliano, this week, has been taken to court over this incident and if found guilty for making anti-Semitic remarks, might face up to six months in jail or even be fined £20,000. To make matters worse, last autumn he was filmed making similar remarks to two young women who are believed to be Jewish. On tape he is heard saying, “People like you ought to be dead, your mothers, your forefathers would all be f*****g gassed. I love Hitler”.
Celebrities like Natalie Portman, who is the face of the Miss Dior fragrance, and whose grandparents died in Auschwitz, have already distanced themselves from the (in) famous designer. But his argument is that he was on a cocktail of drugs due to high levels of stress to keep his couture business afloat, and at times, no longer knew what he was saying. He has now been to a rehab centre in the middle of the Arizona desert often used by other disgraced celebrities. While the judgment on his case is still to be heard the discussion about his case continues in media, and this weekend I, too, go to Belfast to participate in a BBC debate on “freedom of speech”. But should freedom of speech include the right to be abusive and racist? That is the question!

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