On Saturday – as you may have noticed – Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. Hundreds of thousands lined the streets of Windsor to watch the wedding and billions watched on TV. But will the marriage provide a long-term boost to the UK economy? Or was it just a nice day out in the Spring sunshine?
‘Harry Ever After!’ proclaimed the Mail on Sunday. According to the tabloids, Harry and Meghan made ‘kisstory.’ But perhaps the most telling headline was in the Observer: ‘Two people fell in love and we all showed up.’
We certainly did. According to Wikipedia the population of Windsor, in Berkshire, is 32,184. Watching the TV on Saturday, it looked like you could comfortably put a nought on the end of that. According to the BBC commentary, 100,000 people lined the route of the carriage procession: it looked a lot more. Whatever the real figure, it comfortably beat the attendance at Saturday’s FA Cup Final.
It was the same for the TV audience. Millions watching the Cup Final around the world, but a reported 1.9bn tuned in to the Royal Wedding – that is one in every four people on the planet.
But will it last?
The feelgood effect, not the marriage… After attending a birthday celebration for Prince Charles, Harry and Meghan will be off on honeymoon, apparently to Africa. When they come back the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be heavily involved with the Commonwealth. You suspect that they will bring a lot of happiness to a lot of people. But what about the long-term impact of their marriage? Was the wedding value for money for the British people – and could it provide a long-term boost to the economy?
How much did it cost?
However much the dress cost, the biggest single item on the bill would be security for the wedding. Understandably, the police and the armed forces will not disclose how much they spent. But according to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Metropolitan Police spent £6.5m on security for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
A direct comparison may be difficult – the location was Westminster Abbey, rather than Windsor, and Harry and Meghan did not invite the world’s heads of state – but you suspect that the bill may end up being similar. The terror threat has hardly lessened since April 2011.
What about the rest of it? Thanks to the dress, the flowers, the cake and the langoustines wrapped in smoked salmon, one estimate put the cost at £32m (including the security), “assuming that the royal family paid the market rate for everything.” So I think we may be able to knock a few million off that: had one been asked to say, write the speeches for the wedding then one might have been tempted to offer a discount. Damn fine publicity, what?
So the taxpayer picks up the tab for the security?
Yes. Who paid for the royal wedding security? You and I did. So the question is, will we get our money back via a boost to the economy?
You have to say that the early indications suggest our investment in Harry and Meghan may pay off a lot more quickly than the Government’s investment in Lloyds and RBS. The Standard started the bidding, saying that the wedding would provide a £120m boost to the economy.
This morning’s Daily Mirror upped the ante, predicting a £500m boost largely thanks to tourism and merchandise sales. While the Express talked of a “billion-dollar boost” – roughly equivalent to £730m.
The ‘Meghan Effect’
But you might argue, you cannot build an economy on Harry and Meghan mugs. Will the Meghan Effect really boost the UK economy? It already has – at least for one small jeans manufacturer in Wales. On a visit to Cardiff in January, Meghan wore a Stella McCartney coat (writes our royal fashion correspondent…) with a £175 pair of black skinny jeans from a small Welsh company, Hiut Denim.
“Our town (Cardigan) used to make 35,000 pairs of jeans a week,” it said on the company website. “Then one day the factory closed. We are trying to get our town making jeans again.”
Wow! Fast forward two months to March and – thanks to the Meghan Effect – Hiut Denim had backorders
By Northern Ireland Office [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons for three months, was taking on new machinists and was poised to move to a bigger factory. They are now making 150 pairs of jeans a week but, according to owner David Hieatt, that is “nowhere near enough,” with orders coming in from all over the world.
It is still easy to be cynical – after all, what we really need to see is Meghan driving a JCB digger or encouraging schoolchildren to learn MySQL and PHP – and the conventional economic wisdom is that events like these do not lead to a lasting economic improvement. After all, outside the immediate vicinity, what is the economic (or sporting) legacy of the 2012 Olympics?
Pop ‘London 2012 will transform the UK’ into Google and there are 11m results – all of them wrong. The UK was not transformed and neither are we a “healthier, happier nation” – with the UK now overtaking the US for obesity among 11-year-olds.
But the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex will be a highly visible couple, clearly at ease with today’s UK. In fact, there is a reasonable argument to be made that right now the royal family is more in tune with Britain than either of the two main political parties.
So as the sun continues to shine, I think we can afford to be optimistic. And I think you will see UK exporters queuing up to follow Harry and Meghan on their trips abroad. If Meghan can replicate what she has done for Hiut Denim, then plenty more jobs are going to be created – and they will not all be in fashion. Speaking of which, I wonder if she would like a copy of my book? She will need something to read on honeymoon…