“Invasion of the Harry Hunters”

When reading a story today about the upcoming Royal wedding, I was reminded of a Newsweek piece from several weeks ago. While it may not be surprising that some young British women might be trying to catch the attention of Prince Harry, it is more interesting to read about young American women who have become “Harry hunters”:

Fleming is part of a small but resolute group of American “Harry hunters,” aspiring princesses who are crossing the ocean in hopes of capturing the redheaded royal’s heart (and the tiara that comes with it). Some rely on semesters abroad to lend an air of social normalcy to their excursions, while others simply count their pennies—or lean on their parents—to fund extended vacations in Britain. But the goal is always the same: to live happily ever after with a prince of the realm.

These days, their mission has taken on a distinct sense of urgency. Next month Harry’s older brother, Prince William, will wed Kate Middleton—a commoner herself, the Harry hunters note optimistically. But even as these earnest, young crown chasers devour royal-wedding news, the nuptials are a source of serious anxiety. When it comes to available slots on the Windsor family tree, explains author Jerramy Fine, whose 2008 memoir recounts her own unsuccessful efforts to marry into the monarchy, “Harry is now their last chance.”

This reality is not lost on Taylor McKinley, a sweet 21-year-old George Mason student who recently began a semester abroad at the University of Leicester (two hours outside London). McKinley takes her princess prep seriously. She reads magazines with names like Majesty and Royalty. She studies the historical monarchy. And in high school, she even abstained from dating, figuring she would “hold out for royalty.” Now, she spends her weekends dragging classmates to Harry’s favorite restaurants and waiting for fate to strike. Her parents are skeptical, but McKinley is confident she will one day find her prince. “I’m one of those people who only reads books with happy endings,” she says.

McKinley’s tactics are mild for a Harry hunter.

How come the story doesn’t include any reactions from family or friends of these girls? While these girls supposedly take heart that Kate Middleton is a “commoner,” in order to be a “Harry hunter,” it seems like one has to be rather wealthy and have time on her hands. Studying abroad is a clever tactic but the story also discusses a woman who works part-time and takes her summers abroad to try to catch Harry’s eye. I know “commoner” means “non-royal,” but it is not like just any American young woman could fly to Britain and attend the sorts of events that Prince Harry might be at.

I wonder if we will hear more about the story in the next few weeks as we get closer to the wedding date. I’m sure we’ll hear theories or ideas about why a good number of Americans seem to be fascinated by a foreign country’s royalty.

UPDATE 10:09 AM 4/13/11: One more thought came into my mind about this story:

The news story gives us two examples of American women that are doing this and then says little about how many people are actually doing this. We get two small clues. Regarding the American women, we are told these two are  “part of a small but resolute group.” Regarding British women, we are told that “London’s Daily Mail frequently chronicles the exploits of young British socialites who spend weekends trolling the prince’s favorite bars.” While this may be an interesting story that grab’s people attention (like me), if there are only 5 or 15 or 25 people doing this, does it matter?

This is an example of a type of story that bothers me as a social scientist. It is interesting but it seems to be based on two cases with little attempt to ascertain whether this is a broader trend or not.

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