Paying to see the royals

In California, even celebrities had to make a charitable donation to meet William and Kate

Ultimate pay-per-view

Mark Large/Getty Images

If the Canadian trip by Prince William and Catherine was focused on meeting the people of the Crown’s northern realm, then their 48-hour jaunt to Los Angeles was, in the words of one tabloid, “the ultimate pay-per-view.”

All the headline events were to support organizations or to raise money for charities that the royals either oversee or back. And in a city used to ladling out freebies to celebrities, this time everyone had to pay for the opportunity to be star-struck. On Saturday alone, William and Kate raised an estimated $7 million. First up was a polo match. A $100,000 cheque (and the ability to ride a horse) got a donor onto a polo pony, $4,000 bought lunch in the royal tent, while $400 got wannabes a seat in the stands and a brown-bagged meal. William “let loose,” as he put it, and scored four of his winning team’s five goals. All proceeds went to the American arm of the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry that backs charities focused on youth, military families and the environment. That night he and Kate chatted up Hollywood’s equivalent of royalty, including Tom Hanks, Barbra Streisand and Nicole Kidman, at a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) gala where a table cost $16,000.

Though the trip was tightly scripted with few chances for informality, a mob of camera crews and reporters stalked the couple’s every move. Every moment of the celebrity-laden visit—William with David Beckham, Kate talking to Reese Witherspoon, the newlyweds studiously averting their eyes from J. Lo’s abs, visible in her cutaway dress—was photographed. The Today show devoted its prime slots to chef Giada De Laurentiis’s minute-by-minute recollection of serving lunch at the polo match. Her beef tenderloin crostini recipe appeared in People. Even the state of California cashed in on the visit, rushing a “what William and Kate should visit” commercial onto TV.

Despite the crass ambitions on display in L.A., the royal couple seemed to rise above them. “There’s a special lustre [about the couple] that you just can’t recreate,” actor Stephen Fry told the BBC. “If they managed to reproduce Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, and they came in the room at one end and the Cambridges came in at the other, all of Hollywood would be staring at the Cambridges.” While many fellow guests at the BAFTA gala showed overwhelming amounts of beading and cleavage, Kate wore a modest pleated chiffon gown in palest lavender. Her diamond earrings weren’t loaned by a jeweller, eager for mention in a gossip column, but rather borrowed from the Queen.

While the couple have clearly mastered the art of the soft sell, they only visibly relaxed when they left Hollywood behind for downtown L.A. At an inner-city arts program, they drew, painted ceramics with children and even pressed their hands into clay. After her first weak attempt at a handprint, William laughingly told his wife, “Come on, do it again a little harder.”

Then it was on to an employment fair run by ServiceNation that reintegrates servicemen into civilian life. It was, said William, “one of the most important” events of their long tour because it aids servicemen and their families. He got in a dig at Prince Harry—“my low-flying Apache pilot of a kid brother”—and mentioned that the brothers’ foundation had been a partner at the event. The attention that William and Kate bring to rarely noticed organizations, like ServiceNation, wasn’t lost on Hollywood. “We’re just faking and getting paid for it,” said actor Jason Bateman. “They’re the real deal.”

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