Growing up for the first 27 years of my life in England, there were a great many facets of British life that I rejected: I was never a huge tea-drinker; I didn’t care for soap operas such as Eastenders or Coronation Street; and I wasn’t particularly fond of wearing tweed.
However, my biggest gripe was with Britain’s most famous institution: the Royal Family.
Perhaps I should rephrase that. My biggest gripe was actually with the nation’s enduring fascination with said family. I could never quite understand why people spent hordes of money on commemorative plates or mugs, or why the same people tuned in to watch – unquestioningly – the marriage of two incredibly privileged individuals, such as Charles and Diana.
I became particularly disillusioned, like many, following the latter’s death in 1997. In the days leading up to the accident, in which her lover Dodi Fayed was also killed, the couple were photographed incessantly. Tabloid stories pertaining to their courtship had dominated the headlines, even overshadowing a series of bloody massacres in Algeria.
Little did the British public know that the media’s obsession with Diana was about to reach a whole new level. From the moment – in the early hours of August 31, 1997 – that reports of Diana’s death started to circulate, the newspapers began printing what would become months of so-called Diana news.
Conspiracy theories followed, as did the drawn-out inquest into her death. For more than a decade afterward, Princess Diana would feature heavily inside tabloids like The Sun, The Daily Mirror and the now defunct News of the World.
Amid all of this, of course, was the overblown coverage of other Royal events: the marriage of Charles and Camilla, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and, well, Sarah Ferguson. By the time I left England in 2008, I was decidedly burned out on this kind of journalism, on this kind of national fascination. I was anti-Royalist.
Upon touching down in Indianapolis just 5 days after Barack Obama’s famous election victory, the Royal Family were, in fact, the last thing on my mind. My thoughts, instead, turned to adapting to life in the United States. Everything was much bigger here, the weather more extreme, and the word acclimate ironically alien (in England, we say acclimatise).
As life went on and some of the Midwestern quirks became more familiar to me, I began noticing an odd pattern of discourse, which was this: everyone and their mother wanted to talk about the Royal Family.
There was the nurse who proceeded to tell me about her Royal tea towel collection, the family member who “just adores Princess Diana”, the female co-worker who openly finds Prince William more attractive than his brother Harry.
The more it went on, the more I realized that Americans were just as fascinated, if not more so, by the Royals as we Brits. It was my duty, I thought, to point out the naivety of such a stance. “British taxpayers keep the Royals afloat,” I protested. “They have no power, they’re just a symbolic entity with no influence.”
It did no good. Americans – at least those with an interest – had made up their minds: the Royal Family were a force for good.
This idea was unusual to me. Even in the United States – a country that famously gained its independence from the British – the Royals were adored on a relatively large scale.
Over time, I began to appreciate how this adoration – the like of which I had previously found abhorrent – lent itself to the idea that Royals were important for tourism. Countless Americans have regaled me with stories of visits to London, where they watched the changing of the guards, or entered the Tower of London.
Suddenly, seeing my country through the eyes of another nation, it became apparent that the Royals were of invaluable use to Great Britain.
But realizing this was only the turning point. One of the many perks – if you can call them that – of being a British expat in Indiana is you are often the center of attention. Whether you like it or not, people will hover around you, if only to listen to that “wonderful accent,” or to find out more about England itself.
Because of this unusual attention, I would jokingly introduce myself as the King of Indiana. On a very, very small scale, I suppose I was living a similar lifestyle to the likes of Prince William, only without the money, the prestige and the international stardom. That is, I understood what it was like to receive lots of attention, superficial or otherwise. Before long, I not only began to appreciate the Royal Family, but identify with them.
Of course, my life in the United States has somewhat coincided with another Royal courtship and subsequent marriage: that of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Having been born in the same academic year as the two of them, I may have discovered the two Royals with whom I identify most. Perhaps this, and the reasons stated above, are why their marriage in 2011 was the first Royal event I actually watched with any degree of excitement.
Now if only someone could give me a viable reason to wear tweed.