Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks and the British royal family

When I'd read that Prince Andrew, in a recent cable leaked through WikiLeaks, claimed that British geography teachers were the world's best geography teachers, I immediately thought of this scene from one of my favorite movies, Hope and Glory:

(Forever now, I'll associate Prince Andrew with "the pink bits.")

As a journalist, albeit not one who deals with such heady subjects as foreign policy and national politics, I'm fascinated with WikiLeaks. Should we be hailing Julian Assange as a hero? Or is he opening a door we really shouldn't open? I'm going to keep my (largely unformed) views to myself as the purpose of this blog is to entertain and not harangue.

I did do a bit of poking about to see if there was anything juicy to report in Anglo/American relations, and thus, here we are with Prince Andrew. One of the embassy cables released this weekend reports of a two-hour meeting between Prince Andrew, acting as a special trade representative for Britain, and a group of Canadian and British businesspeople interested in setting up business in Kyrgyzstan. (The U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan was present at the meeting, the sole American.) The American ambassador was not impressed with Prince Andrew's conduct during the meeting, where she claims he ridiculed journalists, the French, and geographically inept Americans and then criticized investigators from Britain's Serious Fraud Office for poking their noses in a Saudi BAE deal with which there were reports of kickbacks. On top of this, she claims he was rude.

Naturally, American news organizations have put a negative spin on Prince Andrew's supposed boorishness ... hey, he insulted not only Americans, but journalists, but the British press isn't too happy with him, either. (He actually named Guardian journalists in one of his rants.)

I've always questioned why Prince Andrew has this role. Beyond his affiliation with the royal family and a military officer's background, I can't figure out what else he brings to the table. Is he a brilliant strategist? Has he made millions setting up businesses around the U.K.? Is it his mean game of golf?

On the other side, the Guardian quoted Andy Scott, the director of international and UK operations of one of Britain's top business lobbying associations, who said, "He (Prince Andrew) is a good ambassador representing the UK. The royal family connection is very helpful. In a market such as China the presence of someone of his stature really counts."

Some in Britain are calling for Prince Andrew to resign his post as special trade representative for Britain in light of these WikiLeak revelations. What do you think? Do you think it was right for WikiLeaks to publish the report of this meeting, a report that was never meant to go public? Or do you think it's yet another instance of a royal putting his mouth where it really doesn't belong? Add your comments below.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The things that make Britain great

This retrospective from the Independent is a couple years old, but I just saw it this weekend and thought you'd like to see some of the things that make Britain great ... from alcopops and Cornish pasties, to "readers' wives" and "dogging." Let me just say that dogging does not involve walking purebreds out on the moors, LOL. I had no idea!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Burning questions about the royal wedding

I've been thinking a lot over the last 12 hours, since hearing about the royal engagement, of how much time I want to spend writing about this subject on Hail Britannia, and the answer that feels right to me is Some. I mean, I can't ignore it, but the truth is I'm not very interested in British royalty, except a. to discuss the pros and cons of a monarchy; b. to look at it through the lens of history and c. to gossip about salacious and scandalous escapades some of the colorful members of the family seem to fall into. Prince William and his fiancee seem like a nice, pleasant young couple and I wish them all the best in their marriage, but beyond that, I'm just not interested enough to turn this blog into a breathless series of posts about what Catherine (what Kate prefers to be called) will be wearing on her wedding day and who Prince Harry's date will be. So sorry -- if you've come here for that, you won't find reams of it.

That said, occasionally I'll post about small details that interest me. For example, I'm very curious what Catherine's title will be once she marries Prince William. She'll get the HRH title, of course, and she'll become Queen Catherine if William ever takes the throne, but what will she be called until then? It looks like it's up the Queen, but until then, links here and here have some ideas.

Commentators have made much ado about this wedding boosting tourism to the UK, perhaps as an argument to the republicans (that's republicans in the British sense, not the guys who sit across from the Democrats) who are grousing about how much this wedding will cost British taxpayers. Certainly it will put the spotlight on Britain, but I'm doubtful it'll motivate droves of tourists to descend upon the country. Which leads me to another question: who will pay for this extravaganza? Both William and Catherine come from wealthy families -- how much will they contribute, given that the British economy is about as bad as the US economy? I can't imagine how pissed off Americans would be if they'd had to foot the bill for, say, Chelsea Clinton's wedding ... indeed, there was enough grumbling of how much it was costing taxpayers to provide security for the wedding party in Rhinebeck that weekend. Any ideas, or will this be a "state-supported" wedding as decreed by law and/or tradition?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's official! Prince William and Kate Middleton to marry next summer

Here's the link to the BBC story.

I only found out because our local PBS station asked if I was available to talk about this tonight.

Let the wedding hoopla begin!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Knitting the Union Jack

Whenever I travel, I like to bring something home with that nation's national flag on it. I guess I have this thing for flags. To wit: my writer friend Alison can attest to my excitement finding a roadside stand in southern India covered in hundreds of cheerful red communist flags.  That said, I'm not one of those yee-haw Americans who goes around waving the red, white, and blue every chance I get, although I do think the American flag is a thing of beauty and the national flag I find most aesthetically pleasing. (Ok, so I'm biased. Throw tomatoes.)

The Union Jack is my second favorite flag, naturally, and I get excited whenever I see it on a pillow, poster, bunting, or dress. Unfortunately, these pieces are usually fairly expensive -- some of the Union Jack pillows I've seen are close to $500! -- so I've been thinking about making one myself, and indeed, just found a pattern for a Cath Kidston-like one in last month's issue of the British craft mag, Sew Hip. (Photos of completed project TK.)

But what I'd really love to make is this sweater-dress from British yarn company, Rowan. They've done theirs in gray, but I'd go all-out crazy-Anglophile on this and knit it in dark blue. (Right now, they've only got the pattern for the scarf, which is probably more within my skill level, but whatever.) They've also had a pattern up for a knitted Union Jack pillow. The key is to keep checking back every couple days because they switch things around.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

T-Mobile welcomes travelers back to Heathrow

Many, many thanks to Hail Britannia reader Bash for alerting me to this T-Mobile commercial (advert!) filmed at London's Heathrow. Oh, how I would love a welcome like this.

A royal wedding in the works?

Yeah, yeah, I know ... every couple months, there's a new story about Prince William and Kate Middleton finally marrying. In the last couple weeks, though, the talk in the media -- including more-or-less reputable news sources -- has reached a new pitch. Today I noticed that CNN.com's (the U.S. version) main video story was an interview with Daily Mail writer Katie Nicholl, who was certain of a forthcoming engagement announcement. Her reasons for thinking this:

1. Middleton is having a bespoke wardrobe made for a "special round of events." The designer, Daniella Helayel, designs for one of Middleton's favorite labels, Issa.

2. The Royal Mint is working on a top secret project, which can only mean a royal engagement. (Or the 2012 London Olympics?)

3. Most significantly, Middleton's parents were recently invited to shoot at Balmoral. An invitation such as this is a sure indicator that the Middleton family is being welcomed into the Windsor fold.

I admit, I'm kind of looking forward to some kind of announcement because I think it'll generate more interest in England and everything British, just as Charles and Diana's wedding did nearly 30 years ago. What about you? Interested, mildly interested, or couldn't care less? Add your comments below.