Despite row over removing the homeless, Windsor gets decked up for royal wedding

Sajeda Momin

Published: Updated:

The countdown to the wedding of Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince Harry later this year has begun with a completely unnecessary controversy that threatens to expose the sordid underbelly of the United Kingdom.

Harry and his American actress fiancé Meghan Markle plan to marry on 19th May in a small but grand ceremony at St George’s Chapel in the picturesque town of Windsor. A local councilor of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead has written to the head of the Thames Valley Police (TVP) urging him to clear the town of beggars and homeless people by the date of the royal wedding as they present the “beautiful town in an unfavorable light”.

In his letter to the Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Dudley said street begging created a “hostile atmosphere” for both residents and tourists and asked for the issue to be addressed “urgently”.

Windsor, 21 miles west of London in the English county of Berkshire, is home to Windsor Castle, an 11th century royal palace still regularly used by the Queen and her family. By choosing to marry in Windsor rather than either St Paul’s or Westminster Abbey in London, Harry is following in his father Prince Charles’s footsteps, who married his second wife Camilla Parker Bowles here in 2005.

The rich and famous

Home also to Eton, the private school preferred by British and international royalty, aristocracy and the scions of the rich and famous, Windsor has always been considered an elite part of the country. To have beggars and homeless people littering the streets, particularly when the world’s eyes would be turned to the town witnessing the marriage of the fifth in line to the British throne would be an embarrassment for the local government.

“Our residents, businesses and visitors rightly assume that TVP will take immediate action, as this is a significant security concern, especially given the national importance of Windsor. Obviously the level of tourist interest is set to multiply with the royal wedding in May 2018 and there are increased concerns from our residents about their safety,” wrote Dudley.

Retaliating to Dudley’s letter, a concerned young woman has begun an online petition to stop Windsor Council from removing rough sleepers and the homeless and instead urging the “local authorities to offer a suitable long-term solution for these people, including safe and secure accommodation and health advice and support”.

Holly Fishwick who began the petition on change.org on 4 January is amazed by the response she has received both from ordinary people and the media. The petition has already garnered 240,200 signatures and is climbing.

Dudley’s letter

It has crossed far above the 100,000 signatures needed for a parliamentary debate and Prime Minister Theresa May has already weighed in disagreeing with Dudley’s letter. May said that Councils should “work with police” and ensure accommodation was provided for homeless people. Parliament is yet to debate it.

In his defense Dudley has said that he has been misunderstood and that at no point did he say move the homeless. “They key thing is to draw the distinction between homelessness – which is an abomination in a civilized society – and anti-social behavior which is a very bad and deteriorating situation in Windsor” said Dudley. He added that there was “aggressive begging” in Windsor with “large quantities of unattended material and bags” left on the streets that could pose a terrorist threat.

Fishwick, on the other hand says that by simply hiding beggars and homeless so as the rich and famous guests do not see them rather than dealing with the root cause of the problem goes against the philanthropic ethos of the couple whose wedding is being celebrated. Prince Harry’s late mother Princess Diana, was the patron of Centrepoint, the UK’s leading charity for homeless young people.

Since her death, Harry’s elder brother and second in line to the throne Prince William is now patron of the charity for the homeless. Britain has a very good welfare state that provides free housing and financial benefits for those living below the poverty line, but the problem of homelessness among the youth, particularly those who run away from home and fall through the safety nets still persists.
Sajeda Momin is an independent British journalist who writes for a variety of media from London. She was the Europe correspondent for the Indian newspaper Daily News and Analysis. She has also worked in India where she held senior editorial positions in The Telegraph, The Statesman and The Asian Age.