THE Welsh think-tank Gorwel had the best possible backdrop for the launch of its report suggesting Wales could benefit from its own royal palace.
In the lead-up to publication day, thousands of people put their names on a petition decrying the UK Government’s decision to rename the second Severn crossing The Prince of Wales Bridge without a public consultation.
The Royal Family and their role in Wales are being talked about. These are the perfect conditions to launch a report designed to stir debate and provoke reaction.
The authors suggest that a royal palace based in Cardiff – a location guaranteed to trigger controversy – could generate between £7.65m and £36m in its first decade in additional tourism income. It is easy to imagine future busloads of tourists watching The Crown on their tablets as they zoom over The Prince of Wales Bridge and head towards the capital to admire the Welsh residence of the UK’s King.
This is not an image which will delight Welsh republicans, who would much rather see the nation gain a fully fledged parliament. But even people who are ambivalent about the monarchy may wonder why Wales is the only nation in the UK that does not have its own official royal residence.
When a monarch wants to escape febrile London, he or she could do worse than follow Theresa May’s regular example and head for Snowdonia. If they had a Welsh base as famous as Sandringham, this could encourage Americans, Chinese and globetrotters of all nationalities who are in search of enchantment, solitude and adventure to go on a similar journey.
And if there was serious momentum behind the proposal then people of all political stripes would start to plot how to turn this to Wales’ advantage.
One of the best ways to make train access across north Wales or to Aberystwyth a priority would be by putting an international tourism destination at the end of the line. (Similarly, if reports leaked out that the Prince of Wales was deeply alarmed that so many motorists cross the bridge that will soon bear his name and then end up in soulcurdling gridlock, that could put a rocket under proposals for an M4 relief road.)
It would not be necessary to build a palace from scratch. There are plenty of beautiful but creaking potential residences throughout the nation which would benefit from some renovation and the magic that a crack team of gardeners can work. Castles and manor houses could become the focus of precisely the type of arts and craft endeavour that Prince Charles celebrates.
But the trick might be to opt for something bolder and use the palace project to unlock colossal investment.
A palace could be home to an extraordinary art gallery. The spectacular Guggenheim Bilbao Museum was visited by 1,103,211 people in 2015.
People don’t just trek to the Basque city to admire the artwork on the gallery’s walls but to admire the Frank Gehry architecture. Such a modern masterpiece could be located near the blazing magnificence of Port Talbot steelworks or, if built on Anglesey, it could link the island in the imaginations of millions with the very best in contemporary creativity.
Cardiff ’s sense of cosmopolitan confidence was turbo-charged with the arrival of the Wales Millennium Centre, although people still wonder what would have happened if Zaha Hadid’s planned opera house had not been abandoned. This nation has produced some of modern culture’s most memorable literature and music, and it could do with more venues that will showcase and nurture genius.
If the addition of a few royal bedrooms to the plans could make such a landmark more likely to appear in Swansea, Wrexham or Machynlleth, only the most ardent anti-monarchists would try to block the arrival of the cement mixers.
More than six out of 10 (63%) of the visitors to Guggenheim Bilbao were from outside Spain, and the museum fuelled direct expenditure of €362.9m. Of course, it might be possible to bring such a destination venue here without any royal help (Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price mused that a Welsh Guggenheim made sense back in 2013) – but this could be just the sort of project that a Prince of Wales who loves to paint might want to back.
Champions of any big project would likely face accusations that money could be better spent elsewhere and that investment in art is an elitist indulgence in a country still blighted by poverty.
This can be countered by making arguments that our local economies need the boost the projects could provide and that every child in Wales should have the opportunity to see and hear masterpieces – not just those with parents who can afford to take them on a city break.
But if the Royals wanted to back a really big idea with impeccable social justice credentials, they could combine a magnificent Welsh residence with a hospital as beautiful as Versailles. Every day, healthcare professionals across Wales do brilliant work in gloomy concrete buildings that are the opposite of inspiring.
If the Royals could use their muscle to spur the creation of a place of healing with gardens as splendid as those at the Alhambra in Andalusia, the world would admire not just Wales’ architecture and ambition but also our values.
The most exciting architect of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright, was deeply proud of his Welsh heritage. With works such as Fallingwater, he created domestic dwellings which conveyed such tranquility that his design touched the realms of the poetic.
If such brilliance could be harnessed in the construction of a hospital where daylight, fresh air and the very proportions of the rooms gave staff and patients a sense of peace and hope, then all of Wales would feel pride. It is exactly the type of project that future monarchs who want to build new bridges with Wales could support.
> Sandringham House, Norfolk, private home of the Queen