Young royals take center stage at London Olympics
Updated: 2012-03-17 08:01
By Danica Kirka in London (China Daily)
Britain's Prince Harry follows the signature victory gesture of Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt on March 6 following a mock race at the University of the West Indies, in Jamaica. John Stillwell / Associated Press
You can't hold the London Olympics without the British royals, now can you?
The two have been intertwined over the years like the Olympic rings themselves. At the London Games this summer, they'll be everywhere - Wills and Kate, Harry and Zara, the queen and Prince Philip - posing, pronouncing, maybe even participating.
These games will showcase a whole new royal generation: the elegant Duchess of Cambridge, whose fairy-tale wedding last year was watched by hundreds of millions; the irrepressible Prince Harry, at 27 one of the world's most eligible bachelors; and another one of Queen Elizabeth II's grandchildren, Zara Phillips, who is seeking a berth on the British equestrian team just like both her parents did years ago.
Prince William, his wife Kate and Harry will all be Olympic ambassadors. It's not clear what any of the royals will actually be doing or where they will be appearing, but British officials and tourism experts consider their presence vital.
"They're great for attracting publicity," said Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty magazine. "Everybody wants to see the Duchess of Cambridge. ... It's the youth-and-glamour thing."
The UK tourist board Visit Britain says some 30 million people come to the country each year to see its cultural heritage - such as Buckingham Palace, the changing of the guard and the Beefeaters at the Tower of London.
Britain's culture and heritage sites bring in 4.5 billion pounds ($7 billion) of the 17 billion pounds spent by overseas visitors annually. This being an Olympic year - and the queen's 60th Jubilee anniversary to boot - the focus on UK palaces and royals will be magnified.
To make the most of things, the monarch plans to open Buckingham Palace to accommodate Olympic activities.
A tourism promotion is being launched to coincide with the July 27-Aug 12 games: the GREAT campaign, as in Great Britain. It hopes to capitalize on the Olympic excitement and bring an extra 2 billion pounds of tourism spending into Britain's beleaguered economy.
Harry did his bit to build excitement last week in Jamaica, donning a jersey emblazoned with Jamaica's green, black and gold colors and clowning around with 100-meter champion Usain Bolt. They joked and "raced" one another, meeting on the track to strike a mock lightning bolt pose, Bolt's signature.
"I am not directly involved in the (Olympic) organization, otherwise who knows what might happen?" the helicopter pilot-trainee prince joked. "If work permits me, I will definitely get the chance, hopefully, to visit as many events as possible."
The royals and the Olympics have long been intertwined, going back to a time when only the very rich could afford to train and remain amateurs.
London took on the Olympics for the first time in 1908, after Mount Vesuvius erupted in Rome, forcing Italy to pull out. King Edward VII lobbied for Britain to host those games, playing a key role in persuading the government to accept the task at a time when the Olympics were largely unknown.
"That kind of gave it legitimacy," said Martin Polley, an Olympic historian at the University of Southampton. The thinking was "if (the royals) are backing it, it must be serious".
London next hosted the games in 1948, with King George VI presiding as the Olympic flag was raised for the first time since the end of World War II.
The Associated Press