OPINION: The value of royal patronage

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

The Queen Mother was patron of some 300 charities from the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society to the YWCA. Her death will leave a gap at these organisations. It may also prompt some of them to review whether there is still a tangible benefit in having a royal patron, especially if the choice is a minor royal without the pulling power of the Queen Mother.

Even with the royal "stars", the advantages of royal patronage are overstated.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was patron of one charity I worked with and it was certainly a bonus to be able to take donors to tea with her at Kensington Palace. Though grateful and impressed, however, they would have given us the money anyway. It was the cause that mattered; not the royal name attached to it.

Straight after Diana's tragic death much was made of the fundraising "crisis

her charities were facing. In our case, the only funds she directly attracted came in the form of a Ford Escort, which a dealer gave to be raffled to mark her visit to our national headquarters. As fundraisers, the royals are not the short cut to success that people sometimes imagine.

Indeed it reveals a rather patronising attitude to donors to think that heads will be turned by the mere presence of a HRH. Do we, as consumers, buy jam just because it has the royal crest on it? Of course not.

When it comes to awareness-raising, Diana showed that a royal face could attract attention to previously neglected or even unpopular issues - such as land mines or AIDS. Yet the link was more complicated than the fact that she was a princess. It was her celebrity that made people sit up and listen. That celebrity started with her royal status but blossomed on the basis of her personality, her good looks and her evident vulnerability.

It has been said in the past weeks that the Queen Mother's passing will mark the end of an era.

Perhaps the future of royal patronages should be reviewed as part of that process of change. They may offer employment to the currently out of work Wessexes, but can too often bring little to the causes they are supposed to promote.

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