As social and political barometers go, there’s no closer read on the doings of Great Britain than that of our beloved gimlet-eyed London bookies, so it comes as no great surprise, but rather with a knowing My-Fair-Lady sort of wink, that, as of November 23rd, Ladbrokes has shut down all betting on any aspect of Kensington Palace’s announcement of the engagement of Prince Harry to the recently-retired Suits actress Meghan Markle. It’s a telling, but in no way unexpected, move. After a big run of bets placed in March, Ladbrokes had already shut the windows on whether the engagement would be announced within 2017. Thursday’s further closing was, apparently, prompted in part by a flurry of behind-the-scenes broadcast preparations for the ‘imminent’ announcement within the BBC, whose news side, as we know, curries close favor within and around the Court of St. James.
First, to be clear: the betting that has been serially eliminated was not on whether an engagement was forthcoming, considered a long-done deal. The betting was on how (read: when) the relevant palaces – Buckingham (the Queen) and Kensington (the boys) – would manage the announcement of the engagement. One roadblock had been the Queen’s and Prince Philip’s landmark 70th wedding anniversary, just celebrated. Whatever else we might suppose about the Windsors, it’s clear that none of the family or the trusted courtiers in serious advisory roles like anything or anybody stepping on the monarch’s petticoats, meaning, her remaining time in the spotlight. Now that her anniversary celebrations have passed, it’s thought that these next few weeks are a good, relatively unobstructed time for the Harry-and-Meghan show to emerge from the palace shroud. She, Ms. Markle, is living in the palace, after all. Once they work their way through quarantine, the dogs will presumably be en route. One London bookmaker offered this wry assessment after the betting was closed: “Time for the Queen to be shopping for a new hat.”
In fact, Ladbrokes’ directors of what’s sometimes called ‘Royal Specials’ betting didn’t and do not need reports of urgent broadcast preparations by the BBC to see that things – meaning Ms. Markle’s moves toward inhabiting Kensington Palace with her boyfriend – have been moving along at a nice, steady clip. As we know, Ms. Markle, snapped yesterday out shopping in Kensington, got to the end of her Toronto-based shooting season and has officially (and necessarily) retired from what a British royal house would think of as the nightmarish work of “actress-ing” in a television series. Perhaps more tellingly, she’s actually started the complex dance of getting British veterinary ‘visas’ for her dogs, Bogart and Guy. Not least, in September Harry hauled her up to Balmoral to take tea with the Queen. The staff at Kensington Palace – not to mention London’s many high-end shops, the ravenous royal-section editors of Fleet Street, and their battalions of papparazzi – are in overdrive right this second. All these and other red lights are flashing at the Ladbrokes bookmakers, which is why they’re diving out of the market.
In other words, should the Kensington Palace courtiers in charge of Harry drop the axe and come clean before Christmas, Ladbrokes are already facing a huge payday on the bets that were placed before they began to close the windows back in March. No word on the handle yet, but we’ll get a better feel for that when Kensington Palace next hits the headlines.
But this being merry old England, a tweaky, curvy, topsy-turvy society at best, there are other levels to the now-inevitable announcement of the already-secured engagement that must be factored in. First, for players, there’s plenty of other fast and furious ‘Royal Specials’ betting to be done, namely, the timing of the wedding, and perhaps more interestingly for courtiers and court-watchers, whether the Queen will attend.