Modern Monarch: Is The New Royal Couple The Last?

Originally published on April 26, 2011 12:23 pm

The wedding festivities of Prince William and Kate Middleton on Friday are the most anticipated British nuptials since the 1981 wedding of William's parents, Charles and Diana. In the past 30 years, both the royal family and Britain itself have undergone some dramatic changes.

Compared with Diana, Kate is a radically different royal bride, says Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. (As the author of The Diana Chronicles, Brown is also a qualified royal watcher.)

"In some ways, William chose her as the un-Diana," Brown tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Much though he loved his mother, she did provide a great deal of drama, as well as love, in his life. He was really looking for stability."

Unlike Diana and her family's aristocratic pedigree, Kate hails from middle-class roots. She is solid, calm and "as un-drama-like as you can imagine," Brown says.

William and Kate met as students at the University of St. Andrews, when both were 20 years old. Brown says their long romance was a trial period for William, who wanted to be sure that Kate was ready for royal life.

"He did not want ... what happened to his father," Brown says. Engaged at 19 and married at 20, "[Diana] was a bride that hardly knew what she was getting into. ... It was a huge letdown when she realized how disastrous this was going to be for her."

Of course, the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana occurred three decades ago, but Brown points out that there are plenty of similarities between the two eras. "Two-and-a-half million are out of work right now with the budget slashes and all the economic austerity that's happening in England," Brown says. "There were actually the same amount of people exactly out of work at the time of Charles and Diana."

But the recession of 1981 had brighter prospects than the present-day downturn. Oil profits from the North Sea were bringing in crucial revenue, Brown says, and Margaret Thatcher's impending deregulation of the country's financial institutions promised a boom. In the current recession, prosperity is not as certain. "That's a big difference between these two eras," Brown says.

There are striking differences in the little details, too. The royal yacht that ferried Charles and Diana to their honeymoon — along with 220 seamen and 20 officers — is now a museum. And the royal train they traveled on now hardly ever leaves the siding.

"So much of British industry now is owned by foreigners — oil is finite, credit is finite. There's a big difference in the Britain that you're seeing of Kate and William," Brown says.

The great question right now is whether Kate and William will be the last royal couple. It's possible that the monarchy could be abolished, but it really depends on the next 20 years, Brown says. "If William and Kate could come in faster, it would be way better for the monarchy. But Charles is not going to abdicate in any way — he has waited for this for so long," she says.

Brown says the British people do not want to see Camilla, Charles' second wife, as queen. But short of constitutional reorganization, it isn't likely that the monarchy would skip to William and Kate. "It would require Prince Charles to really want to make himself scarce, and he does not want to do that," Brown adds.

Charles is determined to be king, and to have Camilla as his queen. "The question is how patient the British people are going to be when he's king, and the expense and the lack of popularity of Charles meet a head-on collision," she says.

So with potentially decades to wait before they become king and queen, William and Kate will continue to live their lives as usual — although Kate will have a new "job."

"Kate primarily has to do one thing, which is breed — produce a whole bunch of heirs, an heir and a spare, and maybe a couple more," Brown says.

Meanwhile, William is expected to continue his service in the air force.

"I think that they're just going to try and lead a life that's worthy, that's increasing in its charitable presence and show that they are people who care," Brown says. "That's really a very important thing for the monarchy right now: to show it cares. In that sense, that is Diana's legacy."

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Now, let's talk about this week's royal wedding now with Tina Brown. She is the editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, which have been giving extensive coverage to the royal wedding of William and Kate Middleton. And of course she's also author of "The Diana Chronicles," about Princess Diana. Tina, welcome back to the program.

TINA BROWN: Good to be here, Steve.

INSKEEP: I don't know if you count as a royal watcher. Do you count as a royal watcher?

BROWN: Well, I'm kind of an in-and-out royal watcher. You know, I did spent two years with Diana. I interviewed about 300 people, so I feel pretty imbued with royal stuff.

INSKEEP: And how does Kate Middleton compare to Diana, which is the question that so many people have been asking?

BROWN: So here's Kate, who is this middle-class girl who comes not from a pedigreed family, as Diana did, who is very solid. She is as firm and calm and un-drama- like as you could possibly imagine. And of course she's a woman now of nearly 30, so there's been this long, long trial period where he's really put her to the test of can you stick this out. I mean, he did not want to have what happened to his father, which was a bride that hardly knew what she was getting into and then a huge letdown as she realized how disastrous this was going to be for her.

INSKEEP: How long have they known each other, William and Kate?

BROWN: They've known each other since they were at St. Andrews University, when they were students when they were 20. You know, this is a long romance.

INSKEEP: You know, one of the things that fascinates me about comparing these two brides, actually, is the timeframe that each represents. One wedding was in 1981 - 30 years ago - the other is in 2011. You have a writer in Newsweek this week talking about the way that Britain has changed in those 30 years.

BROWN: Well, indeed. It's really quite dramatic when you look at it. I mean, actually, there are some things that are similar. You know, 2.5 million are out of work right now, with the austerity cuts and, you know, the budget slashes and all the economic austerity that's happening in England. There were actually the same amount of people exactly out of work at the time of Charles and Diana when Mrs. Thatcher came in and began her draconian moves.

INSKEEP: Oh, there was a big recession then as well, right?

BROWN: You know, so much of British industry now is owned by foreigners. You know, oil, as I say, is finite. Credit's finite. There's a big difference now in the Britain that you're seeing of Kate and William. And the great question is, will they be in a way the last royal couple, I think, and that's on some people's minds too.

INSKEEP: What do you mean the last royal couple? You're talking about abolishing the monarchy here?

BROWN: Well, I think, you know, by the time - it really depends on the next sort of 20 years. I mean, I think that if William and Kate could come in faster, it'll be way better for the monarchy. But Charles is not going to abdicate in any way. He has waited for this for so long. And he's also, I am told, really determined that Camilla will be queen. It's very interesting. The nation does not want Camilla to be queen. They don't dislike her but they don't want her to be queen. They would like to skip to William and Kate. It's not going to happen. I mean, that requires a whole constitutional reorganization and it would require Prince Charles to really want to make himself scarce, and he does not want to do that.

INSKEEP: Meaning that there's going to be resistance here but you think it's going to happen. I mean, the crown is going to be passed on here.

BROWN: The crown will be passed on to Charles and the great question is, is how patient the British people are going to be when he's king and the expense and the lack of popularity of Charles, you know, meet a head-on collision.

INSKEEP: So Will and Kate here have got perhaps decades, certainly many years, before they're ever going to be king and queen. What are they supposed to do for that time and what does the public expect of them?

BROWN: Well, Kate, primarily, has to do one thing, which is breed, produce a whole bunch of heirs. An heir and a spare and maybe a couple more. So she's going to be very focused, I think, on trying to have kids and doing charity work. William, of course, is still in the air force. He wants to, I think, very much continue with his life in that area. And you know, I think that they're just going to try to lead a life that's worthy, that's increasing in its charitable, you know, presence, and show that they are people who care as much as anything else, because that's really a very important thing for the monarchy right now, to show it cares. In that sense, that is Diana's legacy.

INSKEEP: Tina Brown of The Daily Beast and Newsweek. Always a pleasure to speak with you.

BROWN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And she's also the author of "The Diana Chronicles." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.