An unruly year of people power

The ‘Balcony Kiss’ of Will-Kat will be forever remembered, as will Middleton’s touching nervousness as she took her wedding vows

Only a day left and it is time to pack away an unruly year which was almost rushed off its feet by events — most of which were driven by the aam aadmi or aurat and their aspirations.
The year 2011 will always be remembered as a watershed year for people power in the UK, both in a happy and a sad fashion. Elsewhere in the world so-called democratic forces were more dramatic as the year took the scalps of Muammar Gaddafi and Osama bin Laden.

The Arab Spring bloomed before us on television and even in India there was a resurgence of street politics through the Anna Hazare movement. But if I were to select the top three events in the UK, I would definitely come up with a mixed bag!
Firstly, it was the Year of the Royal Wedding. The fact that Kate Middleton, a commoner, was marrying the heir to the throne, Prince William, made it a great symbol of people power and the wedding was deliberately presented with an elegant simplicity so that it did not get lost in the trappings of inaccessible majestic heights. It was Britain at its best: a fabulously choreographed media event in which the two photogenic participants went through the ceremony with enthusiasm and humility. The “Balcony Kiss” will be for ever remembered — as will Kate Middleton’s touching nervousness as she took her wedding vows.
Of course, other things happened, but none could match the significance or colour of the Will-Kat combine. And why not, occasionally it should be romance that dominates and not guns or war. In the midst of a difficult year when fears of a double-dip recession were whipped up by some doomsayers, it was rather pleasant to just sit back and discuss the style of the newly anointed Duchess of Cambridge and her wedding dress. Not only did the wedding go off without a hitch, the Duchess has managed to woo and win hearts throughout the year, post-wedding, because she has focused on her strengths of style and charisma. She has also possibly learnt a lesson from her late mother-in-law’s media (and other) entanglements by keeping a low profile, unless accompanied by her husband. She rarely speaks spontaneously and is turning out to be an old-fashioned, supportive spouse — and oddly enough, even in a country as progressive as the UK, this is something that people seem to appreciate. Even as a style icon, her clothes veer towards the demure (no plunging necklines, a la Princess Diana), though they unfailingly showcase her stunningly slim figure.
Things may not be rosy for ever though, as the clamour about the “royal baby” is beginning to rise. Whether the unfortunate pressure will affect her is something 2012 will be witness to, but luckily she has a very supportive modern husband, and in many ways, William has proved to be the quintessential Prince Charming.
We also have to be grateful that the Royal Wedding gave us the other great style statement — the Pippa Middleton bottom! It is rare for the less good-looking younger sister of the bride to almost steal the show with her derriere — but Pippa did it! Possibly because Princess Catherine is so careful with her image and her appearances — the rather more bindaas Pippa has become a magnet for the paparazzi. It is something she must learn to be careful about: we have only to remember the tragic tale of Sarah Ferguson to hope that Pippa conducts herself with caution. It is easy for a media darling to become a media demon. But 2011 belonged to the Middleton sisters — and long may they reign!

And if 2011 forced despotic tyrants to bite the dust, it made media barons eat humble pie, too. The other huge media circus took place with the cross-examination of Rupert Murdoch and his son James within the confines of Parliament. For days the world was glued to television sets, watching the unlikely disrobing of the media mogul. Once again it was the spouse that almost stole the show as Wendy Murdoch leapt up mid-trial — in almost kung fu style — to deflect a pie aimed at her husband. The forced closure of their popular tabloid News of the World over phone-hacking allegations — and the Murdochs’ appearance before the select committee in Parliament to answer an almost forensic questioning by a very aggressive set of parliamentarians was, once more, a demonstration of people power. The police investigation goes on and no doubt 2012 will see more gory revelations. This will not only impact the Murdoch empire — it will probably change news reportage in the UK, forever.
While the very public lynching of Mr Murdoch became a closed-door drama, the London riots were at another extreme. They were a very sad demonstration of people power, underscoring the fragility of the social contract we have with each other. The fact that many ordinary (and employed!) men and women joined in the looting alongside feral gangs was a shocking revelation made during the investigations and subsequent court trials. Though some analysts blamed the recession and the cutbacks (as a few welfare measures specifically targeting the youth had been withdrawn), the fact is that something fierce is ripping apart the fabric of British life. Since income disparities will always exist, questions are now being asked whether the London riots were only about gangs cocking a snook at the police, or even about greed — or something more endemic. Were they, perhaps, a reflection of the breakdown of a value system that the British hold so dear?
I certainly hope not. For me the last episode was personally heartbreaking. Ever since I started living in the UK, I have become a huge admirer of the honesty and integrity with which one can lead an ordinary life here. The fact that this might be changing makes me wonder if 2012 will bring more evidence.

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