Are the Royals still relevant?

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, receives the traditional hongi welcome from a man in Waitangi on...
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, receives the traditional hongi welcome from a man in Waitangi on Wednesday. Photo: Getty Images
Royal tours no longer attract the same hordes which greeted the youthful Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip when they toured New Zealand in the summer of 1953-54.

It is estimated that three in every four New Zealanders, dressed in their best clothes, saw the Queen as she visited 46 places, attending 110 functions. Crowds waited for hours to catch a glimpse of the young couple.

Buildings dripped with bunting, children waved Union Jacks, and even some sheep were dyed red, white and blue.

Today, while the young Royals still pull sizeable crowds, it is not the same, and not just because we have fewer sheep to dye.

The royal tour involves strange protocols. While journalists flock to cover them and breathlessly turn out puffery about where the Royals have been and what they are wearing, it would be most unusual for them to be allowed any direct contact with the royal personages.

Instead, they are reduced to reporting gushing accounts from subjects who predictably tell us with surprise how normal and friendly and lovely the Royals are. What would we expect them to be like? They are our guests, after all, and know how unbecoming it would be not to be pleasant and gracious, even though at times they must be bored rigid.

When the relevance of royal tours, which often cost New Zealand around a million dollars apiece (Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall's seven-day tour in 2015 cost $1.4million), is questioned, it is often said they provide great promotion for the country. Such claims are difficult to quantify.

Overseas coverage of the current six-day tour by the Heir to the Throne and the duchess has been overshadowed, and not in a good way, by publicity being given to Prince Andrew. The fallout from his BBC interview about his association with a sex offender, the late Jeffrey Epstein, has resulted in him standing down from royal duties.

Those enjoying Charles and Camilla's tour will be disappointed by that sideshow.

As anachronistic as such tours may seem, many causes and businesses appreciate the attention and kudos bestowed on them by a royal visit.

In an interview with RNZ, executive director of the anti-family violence organisation Shine Jane Drumm tried to explain the importance of the visit by the duchess, who has long been associated with charities working to address domestic violence. Ms Drumm said when she began working in the area 20 years ago, family violence was a secret nobody wanted to talk about. Even 10 years ago she could not have imagined such a visit by a Royal, but during this tour, the duchess was to visit two family violence organisations.

Royal tours may also involve historically significant occasions. On this trip, Prince Charles and the duchess visited Waitangi, the first by any members of the Royal Family for 25 years. In his speech, which acknowledged the road travelled by the Treaty partners had not always been easy, the prince said Treaty settlements could not right all the wrongs of the past and only went so far to ease the pain felt by so many people. He said he was greatly encouraged by the recent announcement New Zealand histories would be taught in all schools so pupils could learn all the stories of their past.

Comments

Former UK Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell once described the absurdity of the UK's future as a province of Europe and being at the head of a Commonwealth of independent sovereign nations. Today nearly half of the UK aspire to a Federal future within Europe whereas NZ is proud to be a nation state.

Yes, and will go Republic if Australia does so.

Charles and Camilla are at least up to date. A certain intelligent empathy.

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