On Nov. 16, 2010, the world’s longest job interview came to an end: Prince William and Kate Middleton finally announced their decision to wed. In a televised sit-down with her fiancé, Middleton, the first commoner to marry into the British monarchy in 350 years, said she was “shocked” when the prince popped the question in October during a holiday in Kenya.
That would make one of us. The couple, both 28, met in 2001 at the University of St. Andrews; since 2006, when it was announced Middleton would have her own security detail, there has been fervid “when-will-they-wed?” speculation. Throughout, Middleton, or “Waity Katie” as she was dubbed by the British press, displayed poise, discretion, loyalty, and a decided absence of personal ambition—all traits that will serve her well in her new job. Certainly there’s pressure on this union to succeed, especially after William’s parents’ scorched-earth divorce. Even the most staunch monarchists agree the royal family can’t survive another marital meltdown. Thus the prince doesn’t need to make a love match as much as a dynastic consolidation. Palace advisers are reported to be acclimatizing Middleton for life in the fishbowl, offering instructional videos so she can study Diana’s technique.
Given familial longevity, Prince William, second in line to the throne, may not become king for decades. Yet even off-throne, the affianced pair serve royal—and state—interests, as evident in the response to their engagement. Within hours of its announcement, timed perfectly to buoy holiday spending, the couple had become an economic juggernaut, able to move merchandise, amp up tourism, revive a flagging media industry—and interest in the monarchy. (And a good thing: it’s estimated their wedding on April 29, a holiday, and the three other holidays surrounding it, will cost the British economy $8 billion in lost worker productivity.)
Pushing commemorative royal-wedding knick-knacks is the least of it. Like Diana, princess of Wales, queen-to-be Middleton catapulted overnight to international style arbiter. The $630 blue dress from the U.K.-based line Issa that she wore during the couple’s first joint media appearance sold out in 24 hours. A $26 knock-off at British retailer Tesco flew off the racks in an hour. Copies of her sapphire engagement ring are also big sellers, as they were 30 years ago when it was worn by the prince’s mother. Now bookies are busy assigning odds on who the lucky wedding dress designer will be, with Brazilian-born Daniella Issa Helayel being edged out by British-born Phillipa Lepley.
Such optics matter. Hence the announcement that both families will share wedding costs. Middleton’s parents are in a better position to do so post-engagement than before: Party Pieces, their mail-order business, is now a global presence, its website traffic up 15-fold. Such is the power of a royal “fairy tale”—able to transform a commoner into a queen, the public into majestic consumers.