Say hello to our brand new middle-class royals, who earn a living just like us (well, almost)

When the kilt-clad and puff-cheeked pipers marched into the dining room, the sun-browned Miami millionaires and their bleached blonde wives let rip thunderous applause. The clapping was not for the pipers, though, but for the balding chinless man accompanying them, HRH Prince Edward. I can imagine the Miami matrons purring as they elbowed one another to get a better view: "Oh, ain't he cute?"

I doubt that the prince was unduly put out. After all, he earned £200,000 on his sponsored lecture tour of the capitalist sunbelt (Miami-Palm Beach-Beverly Hills) last week. The US tour was arranged as part of a marketing drive by Northern Trust, an American bank; the fees went to Prince Edward's television production company, Ardent.

Back home, the prince's celebrity sponsorship raised a few eyebrows: HRH, critics claimed, was guilty of commercial exploitation of his position.

So what's new? "If you've got it, flog it" has been the motto of royal families since well before Edward took to television production or his tubby sister-in-law sold her testimonial to Weight Watchers. Since Ethelred the Unready, monarchs have sold daughters, land and palaces to gain influence or a few guineas, and the Windsors are no different. Indeed, true to their German roots, the present royal family has displayed the canny business sense of a stolid burgher: Viscount Linley is doing very well selling furniture, Lady Helen Taylor has just signed up with Calvin Klein to promote his fashions. They may not be great exponents of value for money (do you think an after-dinner speaker who bores on about restoring his parental home and then cracks jokes about venereal disease is really worth $200?) but they are out there selling their wares and, in tune with Tony, making an imaginative leap to try to appeal to the middle classes.

To this end, Edward et al are ready to reduce the House of Windsor to the House of Fraser - a cosy collection of middle-brow lifestyle props ranging from television films and furniture to children's books. Strip away the Bagehot magic, tone down the pomp and turn down the noise about divine rights of kings and, hey presto, the royal "we" is just like commoner "you". Thus does the forbidding become accessible and the elitist popular. Just ask Tony Blair. It is from watching his successful rebranding of new Labour, and with the sorry example of the snooty Lords fresh before their eyes, that the Windsors have understood that in order to survive, they must captivate the urban middle class.

The upper class has always been loyal (if somewhat sniffy about the Huns at Buckingham Palace); and the Queen Mum captured the lower class with her slum visits during the Blitz. But with the triumph of the Blairites, the Windsors realised that they must generate enthusiasm for the Crown among the upwardly mobile of Islington and the aspirational of Notting Hill. Here, in the potential power base of republicanism, the royals must convert new allies. To do so, they cannot resort to pageantry or exclusivity - those lures don't wash with men and women whose feet are firmly planted on the ground. Instead, they should strike a chord of sympathy and recognition and turn their entrepreneurial skills into a passport that crosses class lines: hey look, we work, too.

No one will mind if in the journey from House of Windsor to House of Fraser Edward and his family stray from royal protocol or dilute their exclusive blue-blooded brand. As long as they manage to adapt the trappings of toff status to that most common of purposes - earning a wage - their influence will extend far: they will become an integral part of the nation, rather than merely its symbol. It is an important battle for the royals to win: people may die for symbols, but they don't like living with them.

This article first appeared in the 12 March 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Yanks go home . . . but not just yet