David Reviews

 It's the work, stupid.

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: REBRANDING 'THE FIRM'.
21 May 2018

A lot of British liberals were wrong-footed by the national celebrations which marked the marriage of Harry Wales and Meghan Markle at the weekend. They wanted to voice their stern opposition to all things Royal because of a fundamental belief that the institution is anachronistic and undemocratic, but they also wanted to get behind the potent progressive symbolism of one of its key members choosing a mixed-race partner.

In the end, many seem to have allowed the latter half of the equation to define their attitude and - on balance - this seems a reasonable course. Especially when the happy event seems to have had such a provocative impact on The Daily Mail's unhinged readership, one of whom apparently described the royal wedding as: "an absolute debacle," adding, "this is not the Brexit I voted for".

Prince Philip began referring to the Royal Family as 'the firm' a long time ago and his cheeky descriptor is one of many indications that the Windsors are acutely aware of the need to chart a tricky course between the traditionalism expected of them and a more savvy approach to marketing their 'product' .

While it would be ridiculous to suggest that Harry Wales and Meghan Markle are anything other than a young couple who have decided to marry, it cannot be denied that their particular union offers the monarchy a fantastic opportunity to rebrand itself. And it's one that offers a stark contrast to the UK government's floundering effort to define its own attitudes to race and foreignness.

The characterisation of Brexit as a racist act is simplistic but it's fair to say that a lot of the resistance to the EU comes from a sense that it is has imposed progressive values which many people in the UK resent. These are the people who feel their country is less 'English' than it once was, and you don't have to be an expert in semiotics to decode this sentiment.


So how extraordinary is it that the monarchy - an institution widely and rightly regarded as one of the most conservative in this country - should be ahead of the curve in taking a stand against the suspicion of foreignness which appears to have become the raison d'etre of government policy?

There are two ways of looking at this question. On the one hand, the British monarchy has a long history of using marriage to forge political alliances and you could argue this is merely an extension of that. On the other hand, there is the more recent history - brought to life in the Netflix series 'The Crown' - of 'the firm' viciously intervening in the love lives of its members when their choices are inconvenient. The current monarch's sister Margaret bore the scars of the decision to keep her from divorcee Peter Townsend for the rest of her life.


This, of course, was only a couple of decades after Edward VIII - Margaret's uncle - had been forced to relinquish the crown in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee.

It may seem hard to reconcile a monarchy which preferred the ignominy of abdication in 1936 to an inconvenient union, and opted for a broken-hearted princess in 1953, with the 2018 model which has just celebrated the marriage of Harry and Meghan - also a divorcee but to do so is to understand the pragmatism that lies at the heart of 'the firm' and its political advisors. After all, if Edward VIII and his bride-to-be not had such questionable political views, perhaps the obstacles in their path would have miraculously fallen away.


The royal household deserves to be celebrated for its cunning use of pageantry to stave off a crisis. This, let's not forget, is an institution which, in 1969, executed the investiture of the Prince of Wales as though it was an ancient ceremony even though they had actually just invented it to boost the monarchy's flagging popularity.

And this is the institution which wisely recalibrated its response to the death of Harry's mother, Diana, because of public outcry.

Harry and his brother William lie at the heart of the most comprehensive rebranding yet. Unlike their father and his siblings whose efforts to display a common touch exhibit profound tone deafness, William and Harry appear to effortlessly make connections with so-called 'ordinary people'.

The term 'cycling royals' has always been used quite dismissively in Britain to describe the efforts of the Dutch and Scandinavian monarchies to normalise their families, and while there's no suggestion that the two princes are ready to commit to that level of synergy with their grandmother's subjects, it certainly feels as though we're shifting closer to that model.



The wedding ceremony itself provided an opportunity for the members of the royal family to demonstrate the extent to which they are embracing this new progressiveness. Never more so than when the pulpit was occupied by Bishop Michael Curry.

In what a friend of his has said was a restrained version of his customary style, Curry took a Church of England congregation way outside its comfort zone with an enthusiastic paean to the power of love.

If this was a test then the royal family failed it. The condescension etched on their faces projected a sense that this tolerance malarkey has gone far enough and suggested that much of it is just for show.

Nonetheless, the decision of 'the firm' to embrace Meghan Markle represents a seismic shift for the royal family and demonstrates once again that they understand the need to invigorate their brand from time to time.

Challenges lie ahead. The heir to the throne lacks the warmth of his sons as well as the gravitas of his mother. Fortunately, Charles's lust for influence appears to have diminished over the years and it seems less likely now that he will push his weird views on the country once he gets his turn on the throne.

Even if he does though, this is a brand which has adapted before and it will adapt again. While it has its detractors, its target market still holds it in high esteem. And it has superfans that most brands would die for. One suspects it's here to stay.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.