With royal flourish, the Brits woo L.A.
Long Beach, Calif.
`YOU'RE meant to be stirred,'' said the British Consulate's Francis Cornish, from the lower deck of the royal yacht Britannia, dwarfed between a half-dozen United States Navy ships at the Long Beach naval shipyard. About 150 members of the fourth estate, personally ``commanded by Her Majesty'' to stand on deck here with the Duke and Duchess of York (Andrew and Fergie), were watching the Royal Marine Band perform ceremonious ``Beat Retreat'' on the adjacent pier. That means about 35 musicians in white pith helmets march in step to drummers whose rat-a-tat-tats are followed by a robotic sweep of drumsticks to below the nostrils as if to stifle a collective sneeze.
True masters of pomp, circumstance, and public relations, the Brits are wooing Los Angeles.
It is a goodwill offensive aimed at convincing Pacific Rim-oriented entrepreneurs that the land of beefeaters is coming out of the economic doldrums. This yacht, really a British royal residence, is part of the plan, and the press at the outset of a first-ever, 10-day royal visit, is getting a sneak preview.
In somewhat of a dramatic departure from past practice, HM Yacht Britannia, the floating honeymoon home used by both Charles and Di and Andrew and Fergie, will be used today and tomorrow for five-hour seminars at sea. Sixty top American CEOs will listen to pitches by the Duke; Norman Fowler, secretary of state for employment; and executives from Lloyds of London and the City, London's financial district. The message: Ever since the October 1986 deregulation of the British stock market - affectionately dubbed the ``Big Bang'' - industrial, economic, and trade opportunities are to be had in Britain.
``The royal visit and this yacht really give the whole thing impetus and focus,'' Mr. Cornish says. ``The Duke and Duchess give it greater drama, and the boat a super exclusivity - we couldn't get these same people to come if we just held [the seminars] in a hotel.''
The royal visit also comes a third of the way through ``UK/LA '88'' - a three-month cultural extravaganza uniting 55 Los Angeles companies and 29 British companies in celebrating British arts.
``Other things being equal, if somebody is conscious of a country they tend to buy that country's products,'' Donald Ballentyne, consul general at the British consulate in L.A., who got the idea going two years ago.
Indeed, the Duke and Duchess will be touring special promotion booths of British goods at both local department and food stores. The festival was launched with two mammoth fetes, treating the press to soup-to-nuts receptions and loading them up with such things as guides to British pubs, tea rooms, and import shops in southern California.
But partly because of the sprawling nature of L.A.'s 4,100-square-mile metropolitan area - which undermines a cohesive festival atmosphere - and a celebrity-sated public, the success of the royal visit and festival have so far been hard to gauge.
``I have nothing against royalty but my life in the US and L.A. makes me more concerned about issues they can't help me with,'' said Marsha Morton, waiting outside City Hall while the Duke and Duchess were treated to toasts and a live rendition of ``La Bamba'' inside.
But although the 1,000-or-so crowd bunched behind cordons outside the royal welcome was nowhere near the kind of masses that accompany Grammy, Oscar, and Tony celebrations, interviews show the royal touch does have its merits.
``I missed the Pope's visit, so I had to see somebody important,'' said Maureen Mavar, who made the hour-drive from Orange County. ``I don't think royalty is pass'e at all. We look up to celebrities here because they're au courant and chic. But in Britain, the royal family is au courant, chic, and represents history and tradition as well.''
So now, as invited guests on the deck of the Britannia here, the press tries to sort it all out over beef-tongue p^at'e, British sausage, and hors d'oeuvres: What is the press's own role in this public relations offensive? Soon we are to find out that though only an exclusive number have been invited and each will meet the Duke and Duchess personally, the small reception will be ``off the record.''
``That means Buckingham Palace should not like to see the Duke or Duchess quoted directly,'' says one official, eliciting hisses from some reporters. ``That's 'cause they say nothing worth quoting,'' quibbles one.
The Duke and Duchess, nevertheless, seem genuinely amiable, caring, and engaging - if somewhat awkward and frumpy. The Britannia is an impeccably kept white and blue vessel chockful of posh staterooms with electric-bulb wall candelabras, carpeting, plush furniture, and crystal-bound bookshelves. It has traveled 800,000 miles since 1953, ``one of the most traveled ships in the world,'' says propulsion chief Ken Morrison, but it looks as though it was made yesterday.