A royal lesson for Britain's politicians: Be real

Our politicians could do a lot worse than studying the passion and personality on display in Prince Charles's Jubilee concert speech if they want to prove a hit with the electorate

Prince Charles delivered a fine speech at the Jubilee concert
Peter Botting
On 6 June 2012 14:12

So the Queen and the Royal Family go back to her and their normality – probably quite pleasantly surprised, shocked and gratified at just how warm and widespread public sentiment was towards the Queen, and them, this weekend. Unofficial figures put the membership of the flag waving, “loon”, “Royalists are Cool Party” at an all-time high. And the Queen is deemed to be more in touch with the problems of everyday people than politicians.

At the same time politicians are respected even less than normal and political party memberships of all parties continue to sink.

So what can politicians learn from this weekend? Are there any valid lessons?

Of course, it is a bit unfair to compare politicians, who make tough decisions about spending, and constitutional monarchs, who don’t raise taxes or cut off heads.

But, for me, two events stood out as I watched the concert on TV. One was a speech. One was a song. But they both had aspects of their delivery that made them hugely powerful, emotional and engaging performances. 

The first was the brilliant lighting show that accompanied Madness and their epic song, “My House”. It was a fondly teasing, cheeky, fun, clever and irreverent use of a private royal palace as a backdrop for a hugely public concert. It was the typical British mick-taking that every family engages in at every family gathering.   

The second was probably the best speech Prince Charles has ever given. It was funny. It was self-deprecating. It addressed the elephant in the room - his father’s absence. It had somebody else as its focus. It was short. He was relaxed but obviously emotionally engaged with what he was saying. He meant what he said. He “felt the room” and knew that people would respond to his (possibly unscripted) call for noise for his father. He had notes in his hand, but didn’t read the speech. He also didn’t try to be “cool” or to be anyone else apart from himself. He was himself. His “jolly good jokes” joke was authentic Prince Charles. And so was the bridge building “Hip Hip Hooray.” 

A lesson to take from this is that there is great importance attached to taking one’s job seriously, but not one’s self. Just as Prince Harry got up and danced in Jamaica – he was being Harry which was perfect – Prince Charles was being Prince Charles in his speech. Again, perfect. 

This causes us to think more thoroughly about PR and marketing, both corporate and political, which used to be about moulding and then projecting perfection. Some think it still is. Public people were air-brushed, photo-shopped, six-packed and young. But people aren’t stupid. We want others to take their jobs seriously and to work hard. And we want people to be honest about themselves and who they are. But we don’t want them to take themselves too seriously. 

People want unedited truth and honesty over spin and manufactured perfection. They want personality and character over professional personas who never put a foot wrong and by doing so never put a foot right. Who would want to spend time with plastic, personality-free perfection? Who would believe words that have to be pre-evaluated, pre-polished, then authorised and eventually delivered? Words that are never spontaneous, witty or just plain fun. 

2012 and the future is the era of social media. Voters and customers want more. They want what you say to be what you do. They want actions not brochures. 

Of course this is dangerous territory; you have to be likeable for a start! It would help to be funny. And you have to actually give a damn about what you are saying and doing. But I believe politicians who can live and show real life, passion and personality will win. In fact, I think people are demanding that.  

The imperfect trio of William Hague, Boris Johnson and Anne Widdecombe are easily the biggest crowd pullers within the Conservative Party because they are real people who take their jobs seriously - but themselves, not so much. They are funny, self-deprecating and, unlike some of the David Brent characters we sometimes see in politics, are fully aware of themselves. They are happy to show their personality and their reality. 

Some of our new MPs are already flexing their muscles and exercising their rights to be individuals. That is what makes the Conservative Party strong. That is, after all, what we are supposed to be about. 

Peter Botting is a professional corporate, political and personal messaging strategist. He was integral to theNO2AV campaign and helped put the UK Anti-Slavery Day into law. He tweets at @PeterBotting and you can find more of his work at www.peterbotting.co.uk

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