On Tuesday the New York Times ran an article from Ellen Barry titled, “Britain’s Wedding-Mad Tabloids Feel a Cold Royal Shoulder,” which detailed the uneasy relationship between the Royal Family and the British tabloid media, focusing specifically on its treatment of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and, in return, the couple’s exclusion of the press at their upcoming wedding.
The piece zeroes in on veteran royal photographer for The Sun Arthur Edwards:
But raise the subject of Prince Harry, whose May 19 wedding to the American actress Meghan Markle will be the highlight of the year for much of the British media, and Mr. Edwards’s face clouds over. “He’s become — it’s no secret — he’s become very withdrawn. He doesn’t say ‘good morning’ to us anymore,” Mr. Edwards said. “He’s upset with us generally.”
Mr. Edwards, 77, a veteran of seven royal weddings, said he assumed the decision was Prince Harry’s. “I can’t imagine the press officer advising that to the prince,” Mr. Edwards said. “He and Meghan have seen what’s been written and said, ‘We don’t want anyone near the wedding.’ That’s a clear message, yeah.”
On the day of the wedding only one reporter will be allowed inside St George’s Chapel, Windsor, while four photojournalists will be given spaces just outside to (presumably) capture the entrances and exits of the Royal Family and guests.
Then the piece pivots to a familiar story – Harry and his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, hate the media and blame it for the death of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. And, lest either forget, both need the other – the royals sell papers and the royals need publicity to be relevant. It does make one point worth highlighting here, which is that both institutions are conservative pillars and consumed by primarily older generations within the UK.
As we’ve covered before, the Royal Family, but particularly Kensington Palace, which houses the offices of the Cambridges, Harry and now Meghan, increasingly bypasses reporters to get their news out via social media. Buckingham Palace (the Queen), Clarence House (the Prince of Wales) and KP (the younger four) all maintain Twitter and Instagram handles, not to mention regularly updated websites. If you are interested in seeing what the RF is up to, the fastest way, usually, is to go directly to the source, not wait for news coverage.
I’ve written about William’s relationship with the media before, but Harry’s is interesting right now because of Meghan. Meghan, an American actress, has a different relationship with the press and as we saw quite clearly during their engagement interview, she has no problem engaging and offering candid details about her life. When the couple was first engaged the story of the day was that she had had a positive impact on the Prince, helping to ease some of his historic antipathy towards the media.
But that was six months ago and in the interim British tabloids have taken pleasure in running story after story about Meghan’s relatives – from paparazzi shots of her father eating or going to the gym to her half-siblings who have eagerly taken this as an opportunity to grab headlines and bash their younger sister. With the exception of Meghan’s parents, we have no idea who of her relatives have been invited, including her father. We do know many, these siblings included, who haven’t. Her half-sister is writing a tell-all book about Meghan and oscillates between criticizing her and pleading for a wedding invite. Her half-brother, who was in the news a few months ago for a domestic violence incident in which he was the aggressor, just this week penned an open letter to Harry telling him it wasn’t too late to back out of the wedding. Childhood photos have leaked. Other relatives have chimed in, many of whom haven’t spoken to Meghan in nearly a decade.
I’ve declined to cover any of that here, as have most blogs covering aspects of the BRF. It’s certainly not the makings of history and it frankly has very little to do with the monarchy or Meghan herself. But the tabloids have given these people a platform and that comes layered alongside a narrative that is nearly obsessed with the fact that Meghan is biracial and divorced. At best, it’s the media at its most prurient; at worst it’s dog-whistle racism.
Take this all alongside the fact that this relationship first penetrated public consciousness with a zinger of a press release and, well, there’s some friction.
Early last year I criticized the younger royals, particularly William and Kate, and Kensington Palace for creating their own problems on this front. But as the last 12 months have unfolded I’m more inclined to be on their side this time around. That’s not only because of how Meghan has been treated on some fronts, but also because of the actions of the royals themselves – there’s been an uptick in engagements, deeper public investment into issues and patronages, candor and a more cohesive idea of how this particular generation views their role.
On Wednesday the Cambridges declined to release a photo of Princess Charlotte to mark her third birthday and were roundly bashed. But Charlotte will be seen in just over two weeks at Harry and Meghan’s wedding. An official photo of her was released in January when she started nursery school. No other set of royal parents has issued an official photo every year without fail. When they do release photos they are breathlessly picked apart, from accusations of photoshop to criticism that they once let Prince George offer his ice cream cone to the family dog, Lupo. It can be downright creepy.
The royals owe the public substantial work to ensure a return on investment. If they are smart, then they will be cognizant of the emotional tie of the institution is one premised on people feeling as though they’ve watched them grow up. It’s a national soap opera of multi-generational family dynamics playing out in front of pretty backdrops. To many, it’s foreign enough to feel fictional.
They are of course real people with real parents and real children and at some point they have to draw a line between what is their “real life” and what is part of the professional show. As long as Harry is headlining events like the Invictus Games and William is supporting the Queen and the Prince of Wales in substantive ways, I don’t think there’s room to feel outraged over where they’ve drawn that line. At least not today.