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How the British royal family became a very American obsession

The nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle show the depth of American royalism.

May 18, 2018

12:16 AM

18 May 2018

12:16 AM

America has been on quite the journey since the Boston Tea Party, when a group of young, ambitious colonials threw off the yoke of British royal dominion. A superpower was built from those discarded tea leaves to rival the Roman empire, while their former British masters have been reduced to playing the role of docile satraps.

Much has changed since that December day in Boston Harbour. But a different kind of tea party, one being held across the nation on Saturday, will demonstrate that one thing has stayed the same: America is still in thrall to the British monarchy, at least in an emotional sense. Britannia may not rule the waves anymore, but it still rules many hearts.

From the uptown salons of New York to mom and pop shops in Tennessee, you can’t move for royal knees-ups this weekend. A cucumber sandwich recipe has become the hottest post on Pinterest, saved over 75,000 times. Special edition royal wedding tea blends are selling by the ton. (I just hope someone explains that you put the teabag in before you add the boiling water.)

At Myers of Keswick, the British grocery store in the West Village, they are running out of Meghan and Harry tote bags. The shop’s owner confessed to me that she was worried they might be “too tacky” when they bulk bought them. But apparently not. Come Saturday morning, they’ll even be serving ironic crumpets in Brooklyn.

The depth of American royalism has been a revelation to me since moving to New York in 2016, as a correspondent for The Sunday Times of London. Like so many before me, I set out for the new world intending to leave the stultifying claustrophobia of class bound Britain behind. Royalism irks me. I don’t care if Prince George looks adorable in his dressing gown and I don’t chortle lovingly when Prince Philip makes his barnacled blunders about “slitty eyes” and anorexics. 

But there was no escape. First I found myself in downtown brunch spots listening to usually woke avocado-on-toast types yammering on about The Crown and how “cute” Queen Elizabeth is. I spent so much time explaining royal history to my Crown-obsessed Floridian girlfriend that I ended up buying her Elizabeth Longford’s biography of her majesty as a reference book.

The scale of the problem became more apparent when I started regularly reading Vanity Fair, which appears to morph into the Daily Mail during moments of royal excitement. But the true depth of America’s attachment to its once despised Hanoverian overlords really became clear to me when Meghan and Harry made it official and I became a temporary Markle correspondent.

It is of course a notable moment for a young American woman to be joining the royal family, putting the ghost of Wallis Simpson to rest and becoming a millennial Grace Kelly. It is the perfect American fairytale: a family survives the horrors of slavery and moves west in search of a better life. Their beautiful daughter makes it on the silver screen and then snags herself a prince.

It’s not just Meghan and Harry getting married on Saturday. It’s also a union between the American Dream and the British Establishment, Hollywood and Windsor, black and very white.

But none of this fully explains the extent of America’s royal obsession which extends beyond Meghan to William, Kate, the Queen and of course the still beloved Diana.

For all their brash confidence, many Americans appear to feel that same irrational, psychological draw towards royalism that subsumes so many Brits. The same need to deify, exalt and genuflect before a group of perfectly mediocre Anglo-German aristocrats. To be ruled over. For Americans, the modern royals seem to represent an irresistible fusion between reality television and exotic nobility.

People once thought that hypermodernity might make the staid royals obsolete, but it actually seems to accentuate their appeal. “There’s a beautiful consistency to the monarchy,” Christine Ross, the editor of Meghan’s Mirror, one of the many Markle fan sites that have taken off in recent years, told me last week. “They’re not controversial. They don’t piss a lot of people off.”

And as American public life becomes ever more toxic, the bland serenity of the royal family becomes ever more appealing.“People want something that’s light and happy, said Ross. “We see the Queen and her stoicism and service, and Kate who always looks so perfect, and Meghan who is so interesting and engaging, they’re doing good work”.”

This contrast is sharpened further by America’s frankly bizarre first family. If Melania or Ivanka don’t do it for you as icons of modern American womanhood, then the genuinely relatable Markle might. But even without the Trumps in the White House, cheapening the presidency, America has become too bitter and partisan for its first family to play the unifying, sovereign role that a nation requires.

“Consistency and tradition, that’s what people want,” said Ross, who is travelling all the way to Windsor in order to catch a glimpse of the wedding itself. “Especially given where America is right now.”

Josh Glancy is the New York correspondent for The Sunday Times of London.


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