During times of economic uncertainty, like the ones we’re living through now, politicians and the public grumble about the cost of supporting the monarchy. Some argue that since financing the monarchy presents a significant burden to the government and, by extension, the public, the royal family should go out and get jobs to support themselves.
For those marrying into the royal family, maintaining a regular job after the wedding has proved impossible. During her engagement, there was talk that Sarah Ferguson would continue her career in publishing once she was married. Once the vows were spoken and the confetti cleared away, Sarah’s employment outside “the firm” was never mentioned again. In some ways, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, was successful in that she continued to work at her public relations job after her marriage in 1999. However, her success was short lived. In 2001, Sophie was recorded bragging to an undercover News of the
World reporter about using her royal connections to impress clients and criticizing certain members of the British government. Her sensational comments were irresistible to a headline hungry media and were reprinted across the world. Facing increasing criticism and pressure from the scandal, Sophie was forced to resign from her public relations company in 2002.
There have also been suggestions that members of the royal family themselves take jobs. In 1948, there was talk that Prince Philip could work a month as a coal miner, but the idea was quickly rejected as a “stunt” to increase public favor. The next year, Prince Philip was stationed in Malta, where he enjoyed a successful career as a naval officer and warship commander. However, by 1951, with King George VI in failing health, both Philip and Elizabeth were increasingly called upon for royal duties, forcing Philip to resign from his naval command with much regret. Philip’s son, Prince Charles, faced a similar situation as he tried to find a role in the 1970s. Realizing he would have a considerable wait for the throne, Charles proposed he should spend three days working in a factory. This idea, along with suggestions Charles should become Governor General of Australia or Britain’s Ambassador to France, never took hold.
Prince Edward also sought to carve out a non-royal work role, but ended up resigning in the wake of controversy. In 1993, Edward established a television production company, Ardent Productions. Within five years, the media accused Edward of using his royal connections for financial gain, even though Ardent reported annual losses except for the one year Edward declined to take a salary. By 2001, Edward faced charges that a two-man Ardent film crew illegally filmed Prince William, violating strict press guidelines about William’s privacy while attending university. Edward stepped down as director at Ardent in 2002.
The public’s perceptions about the types of roles that are suitable for the royal family also play a role in the failure the royals have had in finding outside employment. While public indignation and media editorials complain about the cost of supporting the royal family, attempts by the royals to secure “regular” work has consistently been undermined. Is it fair to charge the royals with using their royal connections for financial gain when businessmen commonly use their personal networks to gain business advantage over their competitors?
Consciously or unconsciously, the media and public are conflicted about the royals earning money through work. While it seems like a good idea for the royals to support themselves, the media and public are uncomfortable with the royals earning money, unless they are raising funds for charity, which seems to suit the royals’ position in society. As a result, the royals find themselves in a no-win situation: criticized for attempting to earn an income while also being criticized for living off the public’s charity.
Here’s the bottom line: the total cost of supporting the monarchy decreased by £3.3 million in 2009-2010 to an average of 62p per person per year. Considering the return on investment for the United Kingdom through the contributions of the royal family, including increasing tourism, fundraising for charities, and strengthening economic ties abroad, the real value of the royal family to the nation far exceeds a mere 62p.