With every major royal wedding comes a major amount of royal wedding memorabilia. Walking through Covent Garden this weekend I was stunned at the mounting slew of dishes, key chains, bar rags, beer mugs and other trinkets featuring the faces of the royal couple, usually looking like stiff, lifeless caricatures of themselves, and bearing the all important date: April 29th, 2011. Like we were in danger of forgetting.
While I’m excited about the wedding, I don’t much go in for souvenir-type tat sold at the aforementioned tourist stalls. Mostly, I’m a minimalist. But like every abstainer, I occasionally breakdown and indulge. And when I do, I know my vice: Tea towels. I started collecting them back in 2002 when I was first transferred to London to work as a correspondent for The Globe and Mail. I was doing an assignment on a rare and foul-smelling Brazillian plant in the greenhouse at Kew Gardens and happened to notice these fabulously kitschy tea towels in gift shop. Since then I’ve amassed a small, but fairly extensive collection, of souvenir tea towels from all over the UK.
I have tea towels from Brighton to Oxford to Liverpool. I even have an Alice in Wonderland tea towel from the Lewis Carroll gallery in Guildford. Anyway, all of this is to say that I was devastated when I read, shortly after the royal engagement announcement, that the palace would not be issuing an official tea towel, ostensibly on the grounds that it wasn’t classy enough. Imagine my relief when they caved to public opinion a few weeks later and had one designed (it will feature only the prince’s coronet and the couple’s initials intertwined rather than the typical caricatures, thus significantly reducing its kitsch value, but alas, one can’t have everything).
Also strangely stirring is the revelation that a company called Crown Jewels, makers of so-called “condoms of distinction” have issued a commemorative box of royal rubbers “combining the strength of the Prince with the yielding sensitivity of the Princess-to-be, Crown Jewels condoms promise a royal union of pleasure.”
But the most inventive bit of royal wedding memorabilia I’ve come across so far has to be the “I’m not a royal wedding mug” mug, issued by Republic, a group campaigning within the UK for “a democratic alternative to the monarchy.” Who knew souvenirs could be as controversial as they are tacky?