LONDON — What to get the couple who has everything? How about a donation to a rhino sanctuary – or an offer of help for earthquake victims in New Zealand.
Prince William and Kate Middleton on Wednesday requested charitable gifts in lieu of wedding presents, seeking to pre-empt the tide of extravagant – and unusual – offerings that typically flood in for a royal engagement.
The palace said the couple was "touched by the goodwill shown them," and selected 26 charities to benefit from a special charity gift fund.
Their decision to forego toasters, gravy boats and candlesticks sets William and Middleton apart from other soon-to-be newlyweds and even the prince's parents, whose use of a wedding gift registry, replete with items such as a gourmet barbecue set and pair of Cockatoos, was slammed by the press as "a vulgar, middle-class custom."
While Charles and Diana did get some gifts in the form of charitable donations, William and his bride-to-be are said to be determined to make sure their April 29 wedding is not seen as overly ostentatious at a time when the British economy is hurting.
The charities they have selected – including some based in Canada, Australia and New Zealand – represent a range of issues, from support for army widows to local community foundations and the arts.
The list does not include any charities focused on relief efforts around last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. William and Middleton are "obviously very shocked and saddened by the events in Japan," but the list of charities has been in the works for weeks and is focused on countries the prince has visited, a spokeswoman for his office said. She spoke on condition of anonymity under palace rules.
"They are charities that have a particular resonance with Prince William and Miss Middleton and reflect issues in which the couple have been particularly interested in their lives to date," the palace said in a statement.
The couple were engaged while on holiday in Kenya, and the prince's affinity for causes on the continent is represented in charities focusing on wildlife conservation in Africa and beyond.
William's dedication to military service is also apparent – he and Middleton chose to support the Army Widows' Association, a group dedicated to alleviating the symptoms of combat stress and financial support for veterans.
The Army Widows' Association had been selected and chairwoman Christine Gemmell said it came as "a complete surprise." She learned of the decision a few weeks ago and said that it was hard keeping it a secret from her fellow volunteers until the official announcement.
"It's a recognition of the work that we do," Gemmell said. "It shows that (William) understands, being a member of the forces himself."
Children's charity ACT said the gift would help raise awareness about children with terminal or life-threatening conditions.
"This charitable gift fund is such a thoughtful and generous gesture from the couple and I am absolutely thrilled that ACT is one of the chosen charities," said ACT Chief Executive Lizzie Edwards.
Speculation that the couple would focus on charity organizations was rife following news of their engagement and one of their first official wedding gifts built on the philanthropic bent.
St. Andrew's University – where William and Middleton met and fell in love – bestowed a scholarship for underprivileged students worth 70,000 pounds ($113,000).
Still, other presents have been more personal, with the British ambassador to Israel promising to deliver a Jewish-style marriage contract from Michael Horton, a British-born Israeli, who has designed an intricately illustrated, custom-made contract in Hebrew and English for the couple.
While William and Middleton are the first British royals to ask solely for donations, if past weddings are any indication, the young couple can still expect some offbeat presents.
Diana and Charles received a ton of locally grown peat from a council in Somerset, and the Canadian government reportedly sent them are room full of antique 18th and 19th century furniture – including a four-poster bed and drop-leaf desk.
Royal Wedding website http://www.officialroyalwedding2011.org/