Young Royals Take Center Stage At London Olympics

You can't hold the London Olympics without the British royals, now can you?

The two have been intertwined over the years like the Olympic rings themselves. At the London Games this summer, they'll be everywhere - Wills and Kate, Harry and Zara, the queen and Prince Philip - posing, pronouncing, maybe even participating.

These games will showcase a whole new royal generation: the elegant Duchess of Cambridge, whose fairy-tale wedding last year was watched by hundreds of millions; the irrepressible Prince Harry, at 27 one of the world's most eligible bachelors; and another one of Queen Elizabeth II's grandchildren, Zara Phillips, who is seeking a berth on the British equestrian team just like both her parents did years ago.

Prince William, his wife Kate and Harry will all be Olympic ambassadors. It's not clear what any of the royals will actually be doing or where they will be appearing, but British officials and tourism experts consider their presence vital.

"They're great for attracting publicity," said Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty magazine. "Everybody wants to see the Duchess of Cambridge. ... It's the youth-and-glamour thing."

Visit Britain says some 30 million people come to the country each year to see its cultural heritage - such as Buckingham Palace, the changing of the guard and the Beefeaters at the Tower of London.

Britain's culture and heritage sites bring in 4.5 billion pounds ($7 billion) of the 17 billion pounds ($26.6 billion) spent by overseas visitors annually. This being an Olympic year - and the queen's 60th Jubilee anniversary to boot - the focus on U.K. palaces and royals will be magnified.

To make the most of things, the monarch plans to open Buckingham Palace to accommodate Olympic activities.

A tourism promotion is being launched to coincide with the July 27-Aug. 12 games: the GREAT campaign, as in Great Britain. It hopes to capitalize on the Olympic excitement and bring an extra 2 billion pounds ($1.5 billion) of tourism spending into Britain's beleaguered economy.

Harry did his bit to build excitement last week in Jamaica, donning a jersey emblazoned with Jamaica's green, black and gold colors and clowning around with 100-meter champion Usain Bolt. They joked and "raced" one another, meeting on the track to strike a mock lightning bolt pose, Bolt's signature.

"I am not directly involved in the (Olympic) organization, otherwise who knows what might happen?" the helicopter pilot-trainee prince joked. "If work permits me, I will definitely get the chance, hopefully, to visit as many events as possible."

The royals and the Olympics have long been intertwined, going back to a time when only the very rich could afford to train and remain amateurs.


London took on the Olympics for the first time in 1908, after Mount Vesuvius erupted in Rome, forcing Italy to pull out. King Edward VII lobbied for Britain to host those games, playing a key role in persuading the government to accept the task at a time when the Olympics were largely unknown.

"That kind of gave it legitimacy," said Martin Polley, an Olympic historian at the University of Southampton. The thinking was "if (the royals) are backing it, it must be serious."

London next hosted the games in 1948, with King George VI presiding as the Olympic flag was raised for the first time since the end of World War II.

At the time, the royals were more famous than the games themselves. Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands, who won four gold medals in 1948 in track and field, told of her disappointment upon hearing the British national anthem after a close race with a British competitor. Blankers-Koen thought she'd lost - but actually it was just the royal family entering the stadium to take their seats, Polley said.

Queen Elizabeth II will open this summer's games, like her father and great-grandfather once did. She is not new to the job, opening the Montreal Olympics in 1976, where her daughter Princess Anne competed with her horse, Goodwill.

Anne, a member of the 2012 London organizing committee, remembers her Olympic experience fondly, even though she did fall off Goodwill.

"It proved something ... in your sporting experience," she said in a BBC interview. "For the old dinosaurs, the amateurs like me, I think that was a rare treat."

The whole royal family showed up to watch her in Montreal - a scenario likely to be repeated this summer in London if Anne's 30-year-old daughter Zara makes the team. She had been named to the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing but her horse became injured before the games and could not compete.

Zara's father, Mark Phillips, won equestrian gold in the 1972 Munich Olympics and silver at the 1988 Seoul Games.

The queen is known to love horses, but besides anything featuring Zara, it's not clear which Olympic events might be graced by royalty.

The princes are rugby fans, but that's not an Olympic event. They also like polo, but only the water version is featured at the games. William is president of the England's soccer federation, but the sport has a low profile in the Olympics. Kate is known to be outdoorsy and once trained for a Dragon boat competition. She captained her high school field hockey team, and visited Britain's women's team Thursday at Olympic Park to offer a morale boost.

Harry reportedly likes women's beach volleyball - which just happens to be played in scanty Olympic outfits - and he'll probably want to see his friend Bolt run.

But the royal impact is more than just being seen. Harry told reporters in Jamaica he wants to encourage children to be active.

"It's massively important to get young kids out doing sport," Harry said. "I know that when I was at school, sport was the best thing. Being stuck in the classroom wasn't."

He paused.

"I probably shouldn't have said that," he grinned.


Associated Press Writer David N. McFadden contributed to this story

This program aired on March 16, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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