Get ready for your close-up, Canada: Will and Kate lure nearly 1,300 journalists
TORONTO - It’s a good thing Prince William and Kate are used to being in the spotlight.
The royal newlyweds will be getting no shortage of attention from the world's media as they explore Canada over the coming weeks.
The sheer size of the press pack, numbering nearly 1,300 journalists at last count, might be the only thing that momentarily distracts royal watchers from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge once they arrive June 30.
"Their interest is absolutely phenomenal," said Kevin MacLeod, Canadian secretary to the Queen and co-ordinator of the 2011 tour, when asked about the foreign press.
"There's a great interest in them as individuals, but also here in Canada, they are the future sovereigns ... You put all that together and it makes for a most interesting package."
The latest numbers from the Department of Canadian Heritage show 1,056 Canadian members of the media and 241 members of the foreign press have been accredited to stand within shouting distance of the royal pair.
The figures are a dramatic increase from the 20 foreign journalists who came along for the Queen’s visit to Canada last summer. This year’s international contingent hails from 13 different countries, including Qatar, Japan, India and China.
With William and Kate’s nine-day tour covering five provinces and seven cities, the visit is expected to be a hectic one. Given the breakneck pace, there’s at least one British media outlet that’s tried to get a head start on the royal pair.
Lucy Watson, a reporter with ITV’s morning show Daybreak, has already filmed at key locations the couple will visit to give audiences a "flavour" of the country the royals will be traversing.
"There's such an appetite for it. Canada, where they chose to go first, is hugely significant, we just wanted to show it, really," Watson said. "Ultimately, anything they do is newsworthy."
Next week's tour promises to be one of the most anticipated royal visits in years, she added.
"It's really, really, huge. People in England want to see the royals and particularly really want to see this couple. We're just interested, we're fascinated ... As a broadcaster and as part of the media, you'd be a fool not to cover it."
With the Canadian locations the royals visit going under microscope over the coming days, there are those who think Canucks would do well to be on their best behaviour.
"The world is following William and Kate right now; by extension, the environment they find themselves in will be equally scrutinized,” said Melissa Aronczyk, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa who specializes in national identity.
"The opportunity and the potential for disaster in the international media spotlight means that we're minding our Ps and Qs in a global way."
And while the reports of Canada in the foreign media might be too numerous for the regular Canuck to follow, Aronczyk said domestic outlets should step in to help translate the international coverage — highlighting the positives and explaining the criticisms, if any.
But the media hordes mean more than just an anticipated flood of stories on everything from William’s stirring speeches to Kate’s much anticipated headgear.
Some say the spike in interest from the foreign press signals a co-ordinated relaunch of the royal brand, which was introduced at William and Kate’s fairy-tale wedding two months ago and now stands poised to enter its second phase, with Canada as the main stage.
"They demonstrated just how much more sophisticated they've become in their public relations,” said James Compton, a professor at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., who specializes in the study of media spectacles.
"They even work in choreographed moments of serendipity," he said, referring to unscheduled walkabouts or surprise actions by the newlyweds.
The monarchy’s desire to draw observers back to the royal storyline is no surprise, given the well-publicized marital troubles, deaths and scandals they’ve grappled with over the past two decades. So far, William and Kate have proven an effective lure.
"It appears to be going well," said Compton. "The media have a real keen interest to tell this story."
The international media, particularly the roughly 80 journalists from the U.K., can be expected to drive the story to a certain extent while the royals are in Canada, but ultimately the tale is one that tends to follow a prescribed formula.
"They do kind of set the agenda, but they're already so well choreographed now that I expect everyone will report the same thing," said Compton, a former journalist who covered William's last trip to Canada in 1998.
During that visit, Compton recalled, Canadian journalists reported on private moments between William and his father while they were in Whistler, B.C., drawing rebukes not just from Buckingham Palace, but from the British media as well.
Regardless of how things turn out, Canadian politicians — particularly Prime Minister Stephen Harper — are sure to capitalize on the royal couple's popularity, he added.
"You can associate yourself with a very popular celebrity couple and at the same time celebrate being Canadian," Compton said.
"Politicians love this — they get the benefit of the brand extension and recast themselves as real Canadians with proud acknowledgment of the heritage that comes with the royals."