Royal Roundup: American Audiences, Donations & Only Children

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On July 20th it was announced that this year’s Earthshot environmental prize will be held in Boston, Massachusetts in early December. The timing of the announcement corresponded with the anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 1969, while the location is an homage to the Kennedy family since the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation is serving as a host partner alongside Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. As President Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, currently the U.S. Ambassador to Australia said:

“There is no more important Moonshot today than repairing the planet and no better place to harness the Moonshot spirit than the City of Boston. It is a great tribute to President Kennedy that The Earthshot Prize will partner with the JFK Library Foundation to host the 2022 ceremony in Boston and inspire a new generation with the possibility of a sustainable future.”

Earthshot also recently made news when it was announced that due to its success, Earthshot was now in a position to operate independently of the Royal Foundation. In theory, this is the goal with each charitable endeavor stood up by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – that the initiative will eventually gain enough traction to function without the umbrella organization. So, it’s a sign of good health that what has become William’s primary – and arguably most visible – public work is able to spin off.

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While there hasn’t been confirmation yet, it is expected that William and Kate will travel to Boston in December to attend the ceremony. It is also possible that the couple will add other public engagements – or even additional cities – to their schedule and turn the trip into a mini-U.S. tour, however that is all speculation at this point. By December, it will have been eight years since the couple visited the U.S. – they visited NYC in December 2014, while William also made a brief visit to Washington, D.C. at the same time. Prior to that, they visited California at the tail end of their 2011 North American tour a few months after their wedding.

What makes the location particularly noteworthy right now is, of course, the presence of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex in California. While there is little chance of the two couples meeting, the current conversation is to what extent is bringing Earthshot to the U.S. a way of ensuring that William and Kate’s profile is enhanced with American audiences, particularly in a post-Oprah interview era. It is worth underscoring that while the Sussexes’ March 2021 interview was generally poorly received by the Brits, Americans, who are on a whole less well-versed in how the Royal Family operates, are believed to have been more sympathetic to the narrative presented by Harry and Meghan. The concern, then, is that if Americans widely believe the Sussex version of events, have they in turn begun to view the British monarchy negatively, including William and Kate as Harry and Meghan’s rivals.

Here’s the thing – even in the U.S., Harry and Meghan are generally only reported on in relation to the Royal Family. Yes, particular events, like Harry’s recent UN speech receive coverage – as they do in the UK – but even then, the focus is whether what he said will cause problems with the Windsors, and to what extent are political or partisan messages problematic in the face of historical royal neutrality. Harry and Meghan may well have a slightly more sympathetic audience, but it’s also worth articulating that while some Americans find the royal ecosystem interesting, attitudes toward it are very different than in the UK because it is fundamentally foreign. In other words, there is a gap between the willingness to click on an article and truly caring.

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All of that said, American interest in royal news isn’t completely unimportant in the grand scheme of Buckingham Palace considerations. While British and Commonwealth sentiment are arguably *more* important, American media coverage drives global media coverage. From a reputation management perspective – and certainly in light of tourism – it’s a factor. And yes, an environmental initiative that highlights the link between the Kennedy and Windsor families is a very strong way to re-introduce William and Kate to the U.S. in a post-pandemic world. While there is almost universal respect for the Queen, The Prince of Wales is still seen as the “bad guy” by many Americans thanks to Diana, Princess of Wales, and it’s smart therefore to invest resources – occasionally – in highlighting William and Kate in a favorable light. Quite frankly, that would be true regardless of whether or not Harry and Meghan had broken from the family.

Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind Americans are fond of British royalty up until a very specific point – and that point is somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, visits are all well and good, but there was backlash in December 2014 when the Palace sent guidance for how American journalists should dress and address the Cambridges. There was similar pushback when Meghan used her title to lobby Members of Congress on paid parental leave. The American system of government was formed in response to royal and aristocratic systems of inherited power (um, it was rejected) and there is a *very* real 1776 vibe that – rightfully, in my opinion – comes out when pushed.

Moving on to other Meghan news – this “only child” debacle. I don’t normally write about the Markle family because I find them borderline insane, but I’m making an exception in this case – partly because there’s so much fodder about them in Revenge that they’re top of mind and partly because this is yet another example of the idea of honesty coming up in relation to the Sussexes. The long and short of it is that Meghan’s half-sister, Samantha Markle, filed a defamation suit against Meghan based on the Oprah interview and Meghan’s now-proven involvement in 2020’s Finding Freedom.

Per The Daily Beast:

“[I]n the new document filed in a Tampa court this week, Meghan’s legal team argued that whether or not a member of her team briefed Scobie and Durand is irrelevant, saying, ‘Meghan did not make the statements; she cannot be liable for them. It is that simple.’ Meghan’s team also contested Samantha’s claim that Meghan made three false statements about her in the Oprah interview, which Samantha said falsely portrayed her life as a rags-to-riches story.

Meghan said in the interview, while discussing her half-sister, that she ‘grew up as an only child,’ which Samantha said was intended to portray her as ‘a prevaricator who was attempting to cash in on the fact that her barely known half-sister married into the royal family. By publishing these false facts, she was making it apparent that her older sister was an opportunist of the worst kind.'”

Of all of this, Meghan’s claim to be an only child is what has caught the most attention, though I think it’s fair to say that’s not really the meat of Samantha’s claims. For what it’s worth, I agree that Meghan shouldn’t be held liable for what ended up in Finding Freedom and I find the rest of it to be pretty ridiculous. Samantha’s reputation is frankly the result of her behavior for the past five years and, regardless of what you think about Meghan, she appears to be a deeply troubled person.

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As for the only child issue, I also don’t see this is as an example of Meghan lying. There is a significant age gap between Meghan and her half-siblings, and so for however much time they may or may not have spent under one roof, the overarching truth is that Meghan spent most of her time sans siblings and was not raised in a matrix of other children. The extent to which half-siblings *feel* like siblings comes down to each individual family.

For example, I have two half-brothers who were born when I was in my 20s. I love them very much and refer to them as my brothers, but I would also describe my own upbringing as having been that of an only child because that was quite literally true during my childhood. While I may not strictly be an only child today, it also seems equally as untrue to describe myself as “the oldest child” when we weren’t children together. Would I feel differently if they’d been born while I was still living at home? Maybe, but that’s why I say this truly is subjective and down to each individual family.

So, God help us all, but I’m on Meghan’s side on this one.

Last but not least, it was reported over the weekend by The Times that:

“The Prince of Wales accepted a £1 million payment from the family of Osama bin Laden, The Sunday Times can reveal. Prince Charles secured the money from Bakr bin Laden, the patriarch of the wealthy Saudi family, and his brother Shafiq. Both men are half-brothers of Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda who masterminded the September 11 attacks. Charles, 73, had a meeting with Bakr, 76, at Clarence House in London on October 30, 2013, two years after Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces in Pakistan.”

The article is worth a read, but the summary is that there is dissention over whether Charles’s charity trustees approved of the donation at the time, what this says about Charles’s judgment, and whether or not Charles’s ability to secure donations from powerful foreign leaders/individuals is inherently corrupt. Frankly this has been a recurring theme for decades and nothing much has ever come of it, though various incidents receive more traction than others.

In this case, I think it’s worth underscoring that these particular men have no political or professional ties to their late half-brother, nor have they ever been accused of involvement in terrorism. In fact, the wider bin Laden family, which owns the largest construction firm in the Arab world, has publicly disavowed Osama bin Laden.

I will also say Charles’s fundraising efforts on behalf of his charities are not strictly relegated to the Middle East, however it is those donations that tend to cause the greatest scandal in the British press. In particular cases – this is certainly one – that is understandable because it is, fundamentally, a story. And certainly when individuals or organizations signify a financial link to a country that has a complicated relationship with the UK or the Western World that is also worthy of reporting simply because of who Charles is. That’s fair. The grain of salt I would add into the mix, however, is that there *can* be a knee-jerk reaction from some segments of the population not wholly independent of bias and bigotry and that is also worth calculating when considering these stories. Is that a hill I’m going to die on when it comes to a donation from the bin Laden family? No. But as I said, there have been other stories like this and it’s important to bear in mind how much of it is actually problematic v. an issue of optics.

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Last but not least, I do think the timing of this story is interesting because it comes at the same time as a rumor regarding William that I’m not going to dive into in great detail. For those who pay attention to royal Twitter or follow the Instagram account DeuxMoi, then you know what I’m talking about. For those who don’t, I will summarize briefly (and if you’re curious, then you are welcome to Google): DeuxMoi is an anonymous celebrity gossip account that publishes “blind items” about celebrities submitted by the public. These submissions aren’t fact-checked or verifiable. A few days ago, one was submitted about a royal “couple” in which the husband in question was engaging in very specific affairs with the wife’s approval. It was clearly meant to be about William and Kate and included an allusion to Rose Hanbury.

For starters, no, I don’t believe the blind item to be true. I do think that it – and the Charles story – came out at a very specific point, though. Put simply, there have been weeks of negative press around Harry and Meghan thanks to Tom Bower’s book and these Charles/William items may well have been put out to help balance the playing field. No, I don’t think Harry and Meghan personally leaked either, but 1) they engage a PR firm that once represented Harvey Weinstein, so their camp certainly has the tools to play dirty and 2) there are still plenty of people and entities sympathetic to them who may well have.

Or, it could all very well be a coincidence. But it’s quite a coincidence.

2 thoughts on “Royal Roundup: American Audiences, Donations & Only Children

  1. LEW

    Lots covered there Rebecca!

    Yes, I’m with Meghan on the “only child” thing too. My sister is 16 years younger than me and although an adored baby, by the time she was old enough to remember much, me and my brother had left home. She was effectively an “only child” in terms of upbringing. We are actually very close as adults but I wouldn’t turn a hair if she said she had felt like an “only” because effectively she was.

    On the subject of siblings, the bin Laden thing. That family is ENORMOUS. Didn’t Osama bin Laden have something like 50 brothers and sisters? I would posit that this is possibly not the most shady looking thing Charles has ever done donation wise, but it has meant a great many screechy headlines which it would probably have been sensible to predict and avoid.

    I agree re Kate and William and a positive US profile being desirable and this seems a fairly low key way of going about it that is unlikely to engender criticism. With regard to the other “news item” (thank you for the taste and discretion!) I think it is a pile of unfragrant ordure (I’m going for taste and discretion too) I’ve never been at all convinced of the Rose Hanbury thing anyway but the particular matter “exposed” here is of such an intimate nature that I can’t see anyone other than the participants (and at a reach Kate) knowing anything about it. It is really, really not something they would be discussing with even their closest friends when blind drunk. Who would? Thus, ordure.

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