As PR opportunities go, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was a gift to the Royal Family. As PR stunts go, the four-day extravaganza of pomp, pageantry and ageing rock stars takes some beating.
And if such events are designed to protect and enhance the reputation of the monarch then it seems to be working: a raft of opinion polls over the long weekend showed that the institution of monarchy is overwhelmingly popular, with between 73% and 82% supporting keeping it and only 13% to 18% wanting to replace the monarch with an elected president.
It’s easy to imagine that maintaining the Queen’s immense popularity is a simple task achieved by a combination of fireworks, corgis and flag-waving. True, the Queen and the rest of the royals are riding the crest of a wave of goodwill which has not been seen since the high water mark of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Sliver Jubilee was followed by the fairytale marriage of Charles and Diana.
But it’s not that long since the Queen and the rest of the Royal family found themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. When Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 the outpouring of public grief was in stark contrast to what appeared to be aloofness on the part of the Queen, who remained at Balmoral with William and Harry while London became a spectacular focal point for national mourning.
Charles’ subsequent relationship with Camilla, with whom he admitted having an extra-marital affair, a string of divorces and some ill-judged behaviour by other royals (such as Harry attending a party in Nazi fancy dress) also tested public opinion.
The apparent cooling of the British public’s affection for the royals during the 1990s sounded alarm bells for the Windsors, who have since shown wise judgement and good PR sense in turning round their image. The death of the Queen Mother in 2002 elicited a much-needed wave of goodwill and support; Charles’ marriage to Camilla in 2005 was low-key and sensitively handled; and the emergence of William and Kate as 21st-century heirs apparent has shown that the Royal Family can change and adapt to contemporary demands.
The weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations seemed like the culmination of years of work to repair the tarnished reputation of the House of Windsor; one foreign correspondent described it as “a triumph of brand renewal that has been 15 years in the making”. Yes, the events were staggeringly complex, colossal and theatrical; after all, that’s how the British do set-piece national events. But at their heart the Queen managed to present herself as a humble servant of the British people rather than the other way around. It’s a clever trick if you can pull it off. JA