Is the Royal Wedding a Bust?

The U.S. media might feast on every detail, but across the pond coverage of Kate Middleton’s fairy-tale event has been a study in abstinence

In the U.K., the world’s most anticipated media event—although the media itself might be loathe to admit it—is something of a bust. Next week’s Royal Wedding is a lot of fanfare in search of some actual trumpets.

You might extend a little sympathy (not too much though) to Katie Nicholl, Britain’s Mail on Sunday royal correspondent, who is sometimes billed as “the writer who really knows William and Kate.” Nicholl has certainly learned the art of the royal correspondent, which is plucking speculative “scoops” out of the ether in the vain hope that one day she’ll be right. She has been consistent in predicting a royal engagement and wedding since late 2005 when she predicted a spring engagement and autumn wedding. In April 2006, she said a royal engagement “could be just weeks away,” and from there she never stopped guessing. To be fair, most of Fleet Street’s “royal experts” predicted it would happen sooner than it has.

This prolonged wait could explain why national newspaper coverage of the buildup to the Royal Wedding has been so muted—that and the troubled history of the marriage between Prince William’s parents. “Newspapers have found it difficult to find anything to write about,” wrote former tabloid editor Roy Greenslade in his blog for that paragon of high-mindedness, the Guardian. “There have been few pictures because there have been few, if any, photo opportunities. Clearly, that is just what the couple wish.”

This was quite a contrast to the early ’80s when tabloid reporters and paparazzi chased Diana (then Diana Spencer). “I was assistant editor at the paper in 1981,” Greenslade continued, “and recall the feverish daily demands in both the news and features departments for copy about Diana. The same pressure was occurring at the Mail, Daily Star, Daily Express, and Daily Mirror.”

If you exclude the exposure of Prince Andrew’s association with convicted U.S. sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, then the closest the press has come to a sensational royal headline in the run-up to the wedding has been the News of the World’s front-page splash on April 3 (“KATE: MY BULLYING HELL”) about how Kate Middleton had been bullied so badly at one private school that her parents sent her elsewhere. This was not the result of an investigation by News of the World journalists but a buy-in of material from a forthcoming Kate biography by Sean Smith, an experienced tabloid show business writer, who has tracked down some of Middleton’s school contemporaries.

At the same time, Kate is refusing to become the fashion icon that some commentators would like, provoking Shane Watson in the Style magazine of The Sunday Times to wish that she appoint a full-time stylist lest her ill-chosen outfits should, as the English say, frighten the horses.

Ever since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the role of the paparazzi in following her children has been curtailed. Clarence House, which manages Prince William’s activities and St. James’s Palace on behalf of the Royal Family, has learned to use the grievance procedures of the Press Complaints Commission to bring errant picture editors to heel, even lobbying on behalf of the Middleton family for protection theoretically available to all U.K. citizens.

Recently, the Press Complaints Commission sent a notice to newspapers reminding them of the editors’ code of practice prohibiting harassment. There had been no official complaint, but contact had been made after Kate’s mother and sister were photographed shopping in London by agency photographers.

One journalist who has done well out of the Royal Wedding is Tom Bradby, ITV’s 43-year-old political editor, who won the exclusive 17-minute television interview with the royal couple that accompanied the formal announcement of their engagement. Bradby owed his selection to his stint as ITV’s royal correspondent from 2001 to 2005, during which time he bonded with Prince William and earned his trust. Bradby will be part of ITV’s coverage on the day of the wedding, giving his “insight” into the royal couple following the ceremony.

The wedding of Diana and Charles became the deus ex machina of the tabloid press, directly responsible for some of the fattest years of Murdoch’s Sun, which has been in a gentle decline ever since Diana’s death. It is doubtful that Kate Middleton will make anybody’s media fortune.