Royal wedding is big business for British economy

LONDON • In quitting Hollywood to marry a prince, actress Meghan Markle is giving up a successful career to join the business of being a British royal. And what a moneymaking machine it is.

To celebrate the marriage of Prince Harry to his American bride this Saturday, fans can buy wooden spoons with the couple’s faces, swimsuits, even condoms. This sea of tacky merchandise is just one measure of how much the British monarchy boosts the economy.

Almost 5 million people flocked last year to see Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth’s London residence, and royal tourism is estimated to rake in US$747 million (S$1 billion) a year.

It is also set to give shops a windfall boost of £120 million (S$217 million) as Brits splurge on memorabilia, and hold street parties and barbecues, according to the Centre for Retail Research.

The wedding of Prince Harry, sixth in line to the throne, to Ms Markle, a bi-racial divorcee, marks a watershed moment in the institution’s history. Political pundits dwell on this bastion of tradition and its ability to renew itself.

The British royal family has suffered its ups and downs. The 1990s were a low point, with the death in 1997 of Princess Diana, Prince Harry’s much-beloved mother, whose car crashed as she was being pursued by paparazzi.

The Queen was forced into making a public statement about her former daughter-in-law as newspapers and television debated the future of the monarchy. More than two decades later, it is hard to imagine a time when it has been as popular, or rehabilitated. The voices questioning whether the monarchy is a cost worth maintaining have died down.

Queen Elizabeth, 92, receives income through The Crown Estate which gives its profits – more than £2.6 billion over the last decade – to the government. In return, the royal family receives an annual allowance of 15 per cent of the profits. That was £42.8 million in the latest available accounts.

Queen Elizabeth herself has a net worth of US$420 million. The Royal Household estimates that the family costs each person in Britain 65 pence a year in taxes.

The latest gossip or image of the royal family sells tabloids and drives online traffic in the UK, and the media frenzy surrounding the newest royal couple is no different – including its potential pitfalls. And with two days left until the big day, media reports surfaced that 73-year-old Thomas Markle will not be walking his daughter down the aisle after he admitted to staging paparazzi photos.

But fret not, for the children of Prince Harry’s elder brother Prince William, George and Charlotte, have been chosen to be among the bridesmaids and page boys, his office said yesterday.