KEEPING UP WITH THE WINDSORS
THE PECULIAR CELEBRITY OF THE BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY
Round-table discussion and Q&A, 29th August 2017, 6.30pm.
Media Cafe, BBC New Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London, W1A 1AA.
In the week of the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death, before the frenzy of this year’s royal wedding, we gathered a panel of experts from across academia and industry to BBC Broadcasting House to share their wide-ranging perspectives on the British royal family and how they are constructed in the media. Academics and interested audiences were brought together with those who create the media which propels celebrity culture to dissect the role of the royals in our media and society and bring critical thinking at the point of both production and consumption. The peculiar celebrity of the British Royal Family has dominated print, screens, and imaginations, through news, gossip media and dramatisations: from fairytale weddings and the then hotly anticipated engagement of Harry and Meghan to 'tampongate', from photoshoots to show that they're really 'just like us' to Nazi fancy dress costumes, from Kate's deployment of high street fashion to the murderous conspiracies around Diana's death, from the colonial, class and gender politics still embedded in their rituals to the constant dance between privacy and publicity. For our round table discussion, they offered a rich set of symbols for deconstruction, and a valuable lens for examining audiences, celebrity, and media cultures.
From his inside perspective as Royal Correspondent for The Sun, Jack Royston used his own front-page exclusives to chart the changing nature of royal celebrity over generations, as the younger royals embrace an increasingly confessional mode. He shared insights from talking to Diana’s close associates and those inside the royal household about the circumstances surrounding her death. Dr Bridget Dalton brought her skills from working as a semiotician within industry to analyse the repurposing of the Diana myth as a grunge icon for brands like ASOS and cultural figures such as ‘Bad Gal RiRi’ (the pop star, Rhianna). As Senior Audience Strategist at the BBC, An Nguyen, shared audience data on what the royal family mean to British audiences and, as a result, to broadcasters. Leander Reeves gave us a tour of the Hyperreal, discussing how Princess Diana functions as a hyperreal construct and her legacy in subsequent princess myths.
In discussion between the panel and with the audience we speculated lots about the forthcoming royal wedding and examined the different models of femininity surrounding the various royal women, in particular whether the Princess Diana myth allowed for a more unruly version of femininity than the narratives surrounding the new generations princesses, Kate and Meghan. This allowed for much consideration of sexism both in media representations of famous women and in royal traditions and how this intersects with issues of class and race.
The sell out event was over capacity with late comers having to steal chairs from elsewhere. The audience was a mixture of BBC employees, academics and interested members of the public. By sharing the different perspectives on a topic that is being dealt with in very different spheres we sought to encourage critical thinking about gender, race and class which our collaborators on the panel and our audience members might take back with them to their day to day interactions with celebrity culture, to return to academia with insider industry perspectives to consider in our future approaches to research, and to build networks for future collaboration.