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My friend J. is thrilled by the prospect of the royal wedding. She's even dragged her husband off to London so they can get a ringside seat. "I love the royals," she gushes. "I love everything about them - the affairs, the hats, the polo, the Duchy biscuits. Besides, no one does pomp and ceremony better than the Brits." In public life, J. (I'm disguising her identity to protect her reputation) is a tough-minded lawyer who makes grown men cry in the witness box. In private, she avidly collects royal kitsch. She has souvenir plates for every royal occasion going back to Queen Victoria's golden jubilee, and can't wait to get her hands on new ones.

Personally, I'm holding out for a pack of royal condoms. The Crown Jewels Condoms of Distinction are attractively packaged in royal blue and emblazoned with a picture of the royal couple. The makers encourage users to "lie back and think of England."

Next week's royal wedding is shaping up to be the most stupendous reality show/marketing opportunity in the history of the human race. It's also a chance to polish up the Royal Family's brand, which has faded badly in recent years. There's no doubt that Prince William is marrying up. His princess will inject just the shot of hybrid vigour that the wilting royals so desperately need. The only question is why such an obviously bright and vivacious young woman would want to sacrifice her private life to take on such a pack of losers.

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Take William's parents, for example. Mercifully, Diana is dead. Had she lived, her life would surely not have been a happy one. She had rotten judgment in men, and she'd probably be on her fourth marriage and her fifth stint in rehab. As it is, she's safely preserved in the aspic of collective memory as forever young and beautiful and (mostly) good.

As for Charles, has any more pathetic prince ever trod the Earth? "I always feel as if I have to justify my existence," he once said. As he sinks into his dotage, you've got to wonder if he'll ever get his shot. His grandmother lived to be 101. If his mother matches that, she could well outlast him. Poor Charles - waiting 70 or 80 years for a job that might never be his. Besides, according to the polls, most citizens don't want him to rule anyway. At least he's got one thing going for him: He chose a mistress older and plainer than his wife. And if they ever run out of things to say, he can talk to his organic vegetables.

The Royal Family is living proof of the curse of inherited position and wealth. Their only brilliance is that they've survived. They've survived democracy, the decline of deference, the age of celebrity and their own sheer mediocrity. Their survival is entirely due to the current Queen, who has never failed to do her duty. She inherited that sense of obligation from her parents, whose own reputations were rehabilitated in The King's Speech. In the movie, they valiantly prepare to lead their nation through its darkest days; what the movie left out (for obvious reasons) was their support for the notorious appeaser Neville Chamberlain.

Kate's stock, by contrast, is far more appealing (and photogenic). Her parents are attractive, self-made millionaires who started a mail-order company that sells party supplies. As royal watcher Piers Morgan opined, she's a "classless underdog" Americans can relate to. Well, sort of, if you ignore her family's fashionable London townhouse and their country estate. She and her siblings have private-school backgrounds, and they grew up skiing at all the right resorts. Although much is made of her family's rags-to-riches history, only in England would Kate be called "classless" or "a commoner." But never mind. "We love her humble background," said one NBC producer, who made a segment for the network called From Pit to Palace: Kate's Coal Mining Ancestry.

Another obvious plus is that Kate won't embarrass the firm. Unlike Diana, she's no 20-year-old sacrificial virgin. Diana was an unformed, ignorant naïf (not unlike Margaret Trudeau) who married an obtuse older man and quickly developed a borderline personality disorder. By contrast, Kate and Wills are clearly equals. Like her predecessors, though, Kate will be expected to start breeding as soon as possible. A new generation of royals will be splendid news not just for the franchise but for celebrity magazines everywhere, now that Wills and Harry have lost their boyish looks.

Meantime, my friend J. has nabbed a hotel room on the parade route. She's been thinking hard about her hat. Maybe something with red feathers and Maple Leaves. After all, a ringside seat at the royal nuptials is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. "I get goose bumps just thinking about it," she says.

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