British Royal Household Needs To Beef Up Reserves

The British royal family is in financial trouble, according to a report by members of the British Parliament. Castles are crumbling and the family is down to its last million in reserves. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with London correspondent Ari Shapiro about ways in which the royals could bring in more money.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You know, being the Queen of England, it's not all about cute Corgis, glamorous balls and lacy hats. Even the royal family has financial troubles. This week a report by members of the British parliament found that the royal coffers are down to their lowest level ever. Just about a million pounds are left in the fund. That is slightly less than $2 million. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us from London. Ari, thanks so much for being with us.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: How could this happen to our Queen, Ari?

SHAPIRO: This report says the royals have been ill-served by their 430-odd staffers who have not done enough to save money and bring in revenue. A decade ago, the royals had about 35 million pounds in reserves and today, as you say, they are down to their last one million pounds.

SIMON: I mean, if they were a corporation, they would have to do, you know, what a lot of British, and for that matter American and worldwide corporations have done. Instead of having 430-odd staffers, they would have 200 odd staffers.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, and British government offices have all scaled way back, so this report questions the fact that the royal staff has not scaled back. And this report also suggests that in addition to scaling back, they should find new revenue streams. So you might imagine sort of branded baseball caps and T-shirts that they could get, pardon the pun, royalties from. But what they actually are proposing is opening the royal palaces for tours.

SIMON: But I gather, Ari, that if they do that, the palace is not exactly ready for Palace Beautiful magazine?

SHAPIRO: No. The report says the palaces are basically crumbling. About 40 percent are not in acceptable condition. There are stories of staffers putting buckets under leaky roofs to prevent priceless art and antiques from getting damaged. Some of the boilers are 60 years old or more, which adds to the high cost of running the place, of course.

There's asbestos that has to be removed, and all of that costs a lot of money. And there isn't even an estimate for what the total would be if they were to do all of that work.

SIMON: Can you help us understand what British - the reaction of the British public has been Ari, particularly, I think, the very understanding newspapers there?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: You know, everyone has an opinion, but it's hard to find any consensus. Some people are clutching their pearls at the idea that the royal palaces would be Disney-fied for tourists. Others say look, average Brits have been getting by with less for years now. It's time for the royal family to do the same. We should note that spokespeople for Buckingham Palace say that they are at least on a good trajectory, bringing in more money than they were in the past and making their finances more transparent than they used to be.

SIMON: So at least for the moment there doesn't seem to be much of a chance that they're going to have to pile furniture in the middle of the room and just set it aflame to keep warm or anything?

SHAPIRO: I'm hoping they do a rummage sale.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: I will be in their driveway bidding on those antiques, hopefully find some good steals in the pile.

SIMON: NPR's Ari Shapiro, NPR's international correspondent speaking with us from London. Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: It's been a pleasure, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RULE BRITANNIA)

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