The royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton may be long-awaited, but cash-strapped Britain may have a tough time paying for much of a shindig. In late October, the country announced a catalog of budget cuts that will total $131 billion by 2015. Prime Minister David Cameron's cuts are more savage than even the ones that made Margaret Thatcher locally reviled in the 1980s.
Brutalized by the global financial crisis, the United Kingdom is lumbering along in a period dubbed "Austerity Britain." Just a week ago, Whitehall in London was thronged with thousands of students who violently protested some of the most draconian budget cuts the country has ever implemented.
How can a country that is drowning in debt, thin on tax income and heavy on stimulus spending afford to throw the lavish "fairytale wedding" that the Western world seems to demand?
Prince William and Kate Middleton took their time to get engaged. He's 28, but his own mother was a less mature 19 when she got engaged (and we all know how that turned out). Interestingly, in 2018 William will be the same age Diana was when she was killed.
But William's romantic prudence meant he came of age during a low ebb in global economics, and his nuptials will fall at a moment when the Windsors are already under scrutiny for their expenditures. It's tough to justify a wedding that shuts down the city when social security is being slashed and students can no longer afford to go to university.
In June, the government chopped the Queen's salary, imposing a 10-year freeze on her pay, and last month, the Queen agreed to cut her expenses by 14%, maintenance of her palaces and travel was slashed by 25%, and even her annual Christmas party was given the ax.
Granted, that won't mean Her Majesty will be clipping coupons at the local ASDA (Walmart's British version), because the Windsors are already one of the richest families in the world, thanks partly to a fortune of inherited art and antiquities. But those treasures are largely held in trust for the British public, and the Queen is not likely to hock her Vermeer to pay for her grandson's wedding.
In truth, most of the total bill for the festivities will be met by public funds. That's because there are staggering ancillary costs to a major public event, including security, civic services, crowd control and missed work. On a philosophical level, taking a few days off to party with the future King of England may be just the pick-me-up that Austerity Britain needs, but in political terms, an all-out bash may be impossible to pull off. Television cameras will be a given, but a calendar stuffed with opulent balls may not be in the cards.
It's a good thing those British monarchs are so good at using hand-me-downs at their events. William gave Kate his mom's engagement ring, there are some dusty old coaches the Royal Mews could roll out for the ride to the chapel and I hear Elizabeth has some pretty good jewels already in storage.
William is likely to wear his military uniform. The dress will be up to Kate to provide, but it shouldn't be hard for her to barter it in exchange for the maelstrom of publicity that will follow it like a train.
London's brash mayor, Boris Johnson, has even offered the 8-year-old City Hall as a locale. "I'm not saying the wedding should be cut-price or bargain," he suggests, "but a cost-effective wedding in keeping with our cost-effective times."
The couple is unlikely to have a reception in the Fellowship Hall of their local parish, but by coincidence, St. Paul's Cathedral, where William's parents wed, turns 300 years old in 2011, and there's something to be said for renting a hall that isn't new or trendy. Then again, Westminster Abbey, which is smaller and older by nearly 700 years, is considered to be the front-runner.
Welcome to newlywed life in 2011, William and Kate. While there's unlikely to be Kool-Aid in the punch bowl and a pot-luck reception, you are likely to tie the knot in a ceremony that's lower key than Charles and Diana's.
Considering how the public microscope played into the dissolution of that union, perhaps a little modesty will be a healthier way to start you off, anyway. Considering how sensible you've been up to this point, William and Kate, something tells me you'll like it that way.
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