May 14, 2018 / 6:21 AM / 4 months ago

The media are agog but are Britons really bothered about royal wedding?

ETON, England (Reuters) - Drinking pints in a traditional English pub in the genteel town of Eton under swathes of red, white and blue bunting, locals say Saturday’s wedding of Prince Harry and his American fiancee Meghan Markle is going to be a massive event. Others are not so sure.

FILE PHOTO: Commemorative items are seen for sale ahead of the forthcoming wedding of Britain's Prince Harry and his fiancee Meghan Markle, on Oxford Street in London, Britain, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

“It’s part of being British,” said Chris Partington, 34, standing at the bar of the Henry VI pub, half a mile from Windsor Castle where the royal wedding will be held and close to the exclusive Eton College Harry attended as a boy.

“There’s a great buzz about the place, I think it’s brilliant,” the software company worker told Reuters.

There is no doubt that the wedding of Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth’s grandson and sixth-in-line to the throne, and Hollywood actress Markle, star of TV drama “Suits”, has the media transfixed.

In the last month, barely a day has passed without mention of the wedding on the front pages of tabloid newspapers while TV stations in Britain and the United States have delivered a steady diet of documentaries and other insights into the big day.

More than 5,000 media and support staff have registered for official positions in Windsor for the wedding, along with more than 160 photographers and 79 international TV networks, Kensington Palace said.

But polls suggest that interest is the wedding is not shared so widely by the British public at large.

A survey by Opinium Research last week showed only 38 percent of Britons planned to tune in to watch the occasion on TV. More than half, 53 percent, said they would not.

NOT NECESSARY

“I don’t think it’s significant,” truck driver Ben Tindle, 33, told Reuters in Islington, north London, near a vandalized street art depiction of Markle and two soldiers in traditional scarlet uniforms.

“Royal family, people born into richness, it’s not really necessary in this day and age. I don’t even know when (the wedding) is.”

Britain’s monarchy continues to be a source of fascination around the world and few other countries can emulate the pageantry which surrounds the royals.

One British government minister said 2 billion people were thought to have watched television broadcasts of the 2011 wedding of Harry’s elder brother William to wife Kate.

Some 750 million are said to have watched Harry’s father and mother, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, get married in 1981, while some reports suggested that as many as 2.5 billion watched Diana’s funeral in 1997.

But whether the nuptials of Harry, 33, and Markle, 36, will generate similar interest is unclear.

FEWER STREET PARTIES

No government department could provide any expected audience figures for Saturday’s ceremony and while about 5,500 street parties were held across Britain to mark William’s wedding, officials said there would be far fewer this time around.

The county of Hertfordshire, which claimed to be street party capital of Britain after hosting nearly 300 events in 2011, said just 56 were planned this time.

“There definitely aren’t as many applications as there were for the last one,” said a spokesman for Britain’s Communities Department. “It doesn’t seem to have generated as much interest.”

Graham Smith, chief executive of the anti-monarchist campaign group Republic, said such figures reflected the gulf between the media portrayal of the monarchy and a greater indifference among Britons as a whole.

“The vast majority of the people in this country and around the world are not watching, don’t care and will be getting on with their lives as normal,” he told Reuters.

“There’s a sizeable number of people that are interested and enjoy it, and that number is big enough to warrant the media interest. But that is very different to saying everybody loves the royals.”

Certainly though, there appears no widespread desire to dispense with the Windsors. The Opinium survey found 61 percent of Britons thought the monarchy should continue compared to 25 percent who believed Britain should become a republic.

Opinions of the royals themselves varied greatly though. Harry was viewed favorably by 71 percent of respondents, one point less than his brother who had the highest rating, with the 92-year-old queen recording a 68 percent favorable score.

Charles was rated favorably by just 36 percent and his second wife Camilla 21 percent, with 42 percent holding an unfavorable view of her.

“Prince Harry is what you would call one of lads. People like that. He’s not big-headed, nothing like that,” said car mechanic Shaun Gill, 39, another regular at Eton’s Henry VI pub. He said the royal family were hugely important to his local area.

“The history, the tourism, business-wise, if there was no castle in Windsor, the town would be dead,” he said.

Gill will attend an all-day party in the pub, one of many events that will combine a celebration of the wedding with watching the FA Cup final, the showpiece end to the English soccer season. “It’s going to be a massive event. It’ll be a good day,” he said.

Royal historian Hugo Vickers predicted such sentiment would increase as Saturday approached.

“I think the British are always rather contained in the way they respond to things,” he said. “I think you’ll see a lot of excitement as it gets nearer.”

But whether the wedding itself will be a focal point for Britons or merely an excuse for a get-together is a moot point.

“I’ll probably be with my friends, with wine. I’m rooting for them, I hope it goes well for them because they seem like lovely people,” writer Jenny Glanville, 37, told Reuters in Islington.

“In terms of them being royals, is that why I’m watching it? No.”

Writing by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Giles Elgood

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