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.”
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
Britain’s culture and heritage sites bring in 4.5 billion pounds
($7 billion) of the 17 billion pounds ($26.6 billion) spent by
overseas visitors annually. This being an Olympic year – and the
queen’s 60th Jubilee anniversary to boot – the focus on U.K.
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 ($1.5 billion) of tourism spending into Britain’s
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
The royals and the Olympics have long been intertwined, going
back to a time when only the very rich could afford to train and
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.
At the time, the royals were more famous than the games
themselves. Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands, who won four
gold medals in 1948 in track and field, told of her disappointment
upon hearing the British national anthem after a close race with a
British competitor. Blankers-Koen thought she’d lost – but actually
it was just the royal family entering the stadium to take their
seats, Polley said.
Queen Elizabeth II will open this summer’s games, like her
father and great-grandfather once did. She is not new to the job,
opening the Montreal Olympics in 1976, where her daughter Princess
Anne competed with her horse, Goodwill.
Anne, a member of the 2012 London organizing committee,
remembers her Olympic experience fondly, even though she did fall
”It proved something … in your sporting experience,” she
said in a BBC interview. ”For the old dinosaurs, the amateurs like
me, I think that was a rare treat.”
The whole royal family showed up to watch her in Montreal – a
scenario likely to be repeated this summer in London if Anne’s
30-year-old daughter Zara makes the team. She had been named to the
2008 Olympic team in Beijing but her horse became injured before
the games and could not compete.
Zara’s father, Mark Phillips, won equestrian gold in the 1972
Munich Olympics and silver at the 1988 Seoul Games.
The queen is known to love horses, but besides anything
featuring Zara, it’s not clear which Olympic events might be graced
The princes are rugby fans, but that’s not an Olympic event.
They also like polo, but only the water version is featured at the
games. William is president of the England’s soccer federation, but
the sport has a low profile in the Olympics. Kate is known to be
outdoorsy and once trained for a Dragon boat competition. She
captained her high school field hockey team, and visited Britain’s
women’s team Thursday at Olympic Park to offer a morale boost.
Harry reportedly likes women’s beach volleyball – which just
happens to be played in scanty Olympic outfits – and he’ll probably
want to see his friend Bolt run.
But the royal impact is more than just being seen. Harry told
reporters in Jamaica he wants to encourage children to be
”It’s massively important to get young kids out doing sport,”
Harry said. ”I know that when I was at school, sport was the best
thing. Being stuck in the classroom wasn’t.”
”I probably shouldn’t have said that,” he grinned.
Associated Press Writer David N. McFadden contributed to this
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