The visit of William Windsor and his wife Kate to India has been accompanied by the usual fawning British press coverage. Nauseating images of quite senior and successful local businessmen applauding enthusiastically when William manages to turn a steering wheel on a virtual racing car as though he were Lewis Hamilton all too familiar. The Collins English Dictionary defines a sycophant as ‘a person who uses flattery to win favour from individuals wielding influence; toady’ and it would clearly be absurd to claim that sycophancy was limited to the British royals. Prime Ministers, Presidents, sports stars and TV celebrities are all objects of this kind of adulation. Yet it is with the royals that this trait appears most pronounce and most baffling. We are told, for example that this visit is part of the projection of British ‘soft power’ around the world. But it appears that this projection of power relies on generating and reporting a sycophantic feeling amongst local people, a patently absurd situation where foreign nationals try to ingratiate themselves with an alien royal family who care not a jot for them as individuals.
But this sycophancy is far from harmless. Sycophants do not rock the boat or criticise, being careful to be fawningly pleasant at all times (as Thomas Paine pointed out). There are no arguments since arguments are viewed as a sign of disagreement and thus dissent. Yet, unlike his biased and unprofessional colleague Nicholas Witchell, it was left to Peter Hunt to briefly mention that the visit is far from universally popular. Not everyone in India is dazzled by the superficiality of the latest expensive dress worn by Kate. Ultimately who is the real target of this ‘soft power’? As usual with Palace PR the primary target is back home where British people are growing suspicious of the idle wannabe country squire Prince William and his lazy wife Kate. As the case of Tata Steel has illustrated, foreign investors care far more about the financial support they get from the UK government. For the Indians the celebrity royal bandwagon will move on but it is in Britain itself where sycophancy helps support the ongoing tediousness of a wealthy and privileged Windsor family.