A frugal Britain considers cost of royal wedding

Image: Royal Wedding preperations
Taxpayers will be picking up the tab for the massive security operation. Because the day is declared a public holiday, the costs will be higher than usual due to overtime.Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

It may be the stuff fairytales are made of — but Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding comes with a hefty real-life price tag.

And amid the nation's joy, that has some Britons grumbling such lavishness is inappropriate for this age of austerity.

For thousands of the newly unemployed, the poor struggling from slashed public services, and students facing sharp rises in university fees, there's little to celebrate.

The couple and palace officials have repeatedly said they're mindful of the tough environment.

The nuptials on Friday will certainly not be on the scale of the all-out grandeur of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's wedding in 1981, when the procession route to St. Paul's Cathedral was much longer and the honeymoon lasted almost three months.

No official figures for the wedding's costs have been released. But palace officials did recently tell reporters that the total bill for William and Middleton's nuptials will be in the six figures.

The wedding won't be as expensive as people think, the palace stressed, because the monarchy already employs many of the people involved in the wedding, such as caterers and chefs for the champagne reception.

The wedding is not a state occasion — unlike, say, a coronation. That means the royal family is paying for most items on the wedding checklist: the flowers, the carriage procession, the dresses, the service, and the reception.

Renting Westminster Abbey was free of charge, so a big chunk of the expenses will go to entertainment. Queen Elizabeth II is footing the bill for the post-wedding reception for about 650 guests at Buckingham Palace, while William's father, Prince Charles, will host the dinner for 300 Friday evening.

Although much public money already flows to Britain's royal family — taxpayers sent the royal household 38 million pounds ($60 million) last year — the monarchy earns millions from its vast land and property portfolios. The royal family pays millions in tax on its earnings.

Kate's parents have agreed to chip in with a "private contribution," though neither the amount nor the items they're paying for is known.

That leaves what the palace calls "consequential expenses" — the substantial security costs.

Taxpayers will be picking up the tab for the massive security operation, which include deploying 5,000 police officers. Because the day is declared a public holiday, the costs will be higher than usual as officers will receive overtime.

Those security costs are estimated to come to at least $11 million. A comparable figure is the security costs for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain last year, which added up to about $18.7 million (12 million pounds).

The wedding will inject some cash into the economy. Analysts predict it will provide a boost of up to 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion), largely through retail sales, hotel room bookings and the hospitality trade. Millions of Britons are planning street or private parties to celebrate, and that's welcome news for pubs, food and alcohol sellers.

But each public holiday also typically costs the economy 6 billion pounds in lost productivity — leaving a 5 billion pound shortfall.

For London-based retailers, the day off could prove a boon as wedding-happy shoppers pack the aisles. But other businesses, such as manufacturers, could see the day off as yet another blow following losses from a severe winter storm and a recent value-added tax hike.

To make their big day less over-the-top than that of William's parents, the prince and Middleton have chosen to wed at the abbey, making the parade route much shorter compared to St. Paul's Cathedral on the other side of London. It will only take the procession about five minutes to get to the abbey from the palace.

Middleton has also decided not to arrive at the abbey in a carriage, opting to show up in a car and reserve the carriage for the return journey. That decision, however, likely stemmed more from a desire to symbolize her transition from commoner to princess, rather than a cost-cutting strategy.

The couple probably had some tough decisions to make — while mindful of the austerity woes, they have also promised to deliver the pomp and circumstance that Britain does best.

The public got a glimpse of what the wedding will look like when workmen and florists delivered eight trees meant to line the aisle to the abbey Tuesday. The trees — and heaps of flowers — were ordered by Middleton to create what promises to be a lavish, English garden themed service.

So it looks like the crowds will get their spectacle, and the champagne will flow on Friday.