Two major events confirm the star power of the British Royal Family. The first, of course, was the glamorous wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (with major support from Prince Harry and Pippa, Kate’s younger sister), an event that is still powering the output of the global soft media. The second event is upcoming. This is first state visit by a serving British monarch to Ireland since independence in 1921. As one noted professor of Irish history told the Financial Times, the image of the Royals is no long that of an agent of coercive but celebrity power: “My students don’t associate the monarchy with the Northern Island Troubles, they think of the royal family as pop stars.”
Yet, despite this apparent transformed image of the Royal Family, it is interesting to see how connected with state institutions are many of the philanthropic interests of even these younger generation of Royals. The list of charities Will and Kate identified for possible donations in the context of their wedding included: Combat Stress, Bereavement Care for Children of Forces’ Families, Household Cavalry Benevolent Fund, Irish Guards Appeal, Army Widows Association, and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. Harry, William’s younger brother is well known for his support of Help For Heroes, a charity aimed at helping injured service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet the extended list reveals the hybrid nature of the young Royals concerns – a mix that demonstrates very strongly the fact that they are influenced not only by state interests but also by the non-conformist interests made so identifiable by their mother – Princess Dianna.
After her divorce from Prince Charles, Princess Di’s aim was to become a roving goodwill ambassador for Britain – a role she played on a few well-publicized trips to Argentina (1995) and Pakistan (1996). However, the conservative establishment was never going to allow Diana to perform in this fashion, fearing that she would act as a “loose cannon”.
Shut out of official diplomacy, Princess Diana found the perfect role for herself on the anti-personnel landmines campaign working with the Red Cross and the HALO Trust. The 1997 pictures of Princess Diana on the front lines of this campaign in Angola serve as an iconic moment in celebrity diplomacy.
Prince Harry lists the HALO Trust as one of the charities he supports. William follows in his mother’s footsteps in a number of causes, including taking on the position as the Patron of Centrepoint, the UK’s leading homelessness charity.
The big question that this guest blogger asks is whether the young Royals can achieve a balance between their state connected activities and a more diverse community-oriented form of engagement? Or, will the Royals be unable to maintain a reasonable balance?
Given the extent of the star power of the Royals, the trajectory of their choices will have a decided spillover effect into the wider world of celebrity activism.