Image Conscious

Harry and Meghan Should Start Getting Boring

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have played an excellent PR game—but not a faultless one. They would be well advised to finesse their public personas ahead of the royal wedding.

Chris Jackson/Getty

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have a fair wind in their sails. Ever since the announcement of their engagement in November last year, the newspapers have been full of positive coverage of the young couple and the British and wider global public have, generally, reacted highly favorably to the injection of an enthusiastic American into the royal ranks.

Meghan and Harry couldn’t be more different from Kate and William, it’s the fashionable versus the frumpy, the naughty uncle versus the uptight dad, the roast chicken versus the bread and water.

The fun and the different, in short, versus the boring and the same.

The acceptance of Meghan has been led by the queen. Not only did she invite Meghan to Christmas lunch at Sandringham but also prominently displayed a photo of the happy couple on her desk during her annual Christmas address to the nation.

However Harry and Meghan should not be lulled into a false sense of security. There is already a significant undercurrent of hostility to Meghan circulating in some sections of the British establishment.

At least one national newspaper editor, The Daily Beast has been told, is “rubbing their hands” with glee at the prospect of reporting negatively on Meghan’s troubled family (her bankrupt father who went broke over a $30,000 credit card debt while his daughter made six figures a year, the half-brother in trouble with the law, a half-sister who seems determined to embarrass her). This editor has privately told friends they “give it [the marriage] five years.”

The latent antipathy was also rather curiously on show in the Express, one of the most ardently pro-royal newspapers, which ran a bizarre news story about an Australian psychic also predicting it “didn’t look good” and that the marriage wouldn’t last.

Getting engaged to Meghan has in many ways revealed the best of Prince Harry—his fearlessness, his unconventionality, and his refusal, like his mother Princess Diana, to inhabit the box so many people expect him to—but stepping outside of the boundaries of general expectation can often be a dangerous moment for national icons, a treacherous passage that needs to be navigated with utmost caution.

Blame the blinding glare of new love if you will, but Harry and Meghan seem to be, if not heading for the rocks, at least grazing the odd sand bank as they make their way toward the altar of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on May 19.

On several occasions they have acted with a strange mixture of naivety an arrogance, beginning, most notably, with Meghan’s interview with Vanity Fair in which she talked about her “boyfriend” and how much in love she was with Prince Harry.

It was a weird interview to give on many levels, driven by Harry and Meghan without input from the many seasoned PR and personal branding consultants the royals have on call.

It’s hard to think what it did for them. Negatively, it was potent, managing to seriously annoy the British press who don’t like being scooped at the best of times, especially not in their own backyard by American magazines.

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Possibly this was intentional, and reflects Harry’s hatred of the British media whom he quite understandably blames for the death of his mother.

However given that Harry and Meghan knew, at that stage, that they would presumably be living together in the U.K. for the rest of their lives, it might have made sense for Meghan to say nothing to anyone until the formal interview with the BBC took place. No one could have been upset then.

The other thing the Vanity Fair interview did was allow the press to argue that large chunks of the argument that Harry made in his famous 2016 press release chastising the press for harassing Meghan were hypocritical.

As one senior journalist told me at the time the interview was first published: “It seems very odd to me, particularly after all the fuss about her privacy he made. But then people can justify anything can’t they? i.e. ‘We hate publicity other than that which we can control.’ I think it is a mistake. You can hardly bleat about privacy if you choose to do such things.”

To be fair to Harry and Meghan, they have not done any “bleating” since then—indeed, they went the other way and gave the press advance information that Meghan was going to be at Sandringham at Christmas, a radical departure from Christmases past where the guest list, and specifically if Kate would be there, has been shrouded in an entirely unnecessary secrecy.

This attempt by Harry and Meghan to telegraph that they will have a less paranoid attitude to the press than Kate and William (Kate is known among the royal press pack for refusing to turn to the cameras, even on official engagements) is undoubtedly the smartest, big picture thing they have done so far.

The missteps have been shared. Some miseries groused about the beautiful $75,000 Ralph & Russo gown Meghan wore for her engagement photo; the optics were bad if it was a freebie, and arguably even worse if she had paid full price for it.

They also flew to Monaco for New Year’s Eve reputedly to party with Prince Albert and his wife, but they made the wise decision to fly economy on British Airways.

Some of it comes across as if Harry and Meghan haven’t been briefed; as if, perhaps, no one in their alarmingly youthful press team dares to sit down Harry and his wife and tell them what will play (humility) and what won’t (public displays of extravagance).

Then came Harry’s extraordinary off-the-cuff declaration in a live radio interview that Meghan enjoyed Christmas at Sandringham because the royals were the “family” she had “never had,” a direct reference to his fiancée’s troubled family background.

Meghan has had a tumultuous relationship with her dad, Thomas Markle, who has stayed out of the limelight since news of Meghan and Prince Harry’s relationship broke.

In a recently unearthed video clip, she was seen, as a teen, saying she had fallen out with him.

Samantha Markle, 53, her estranged half-sister, has said she is writing a book characterizing Meghan, 36, as a “pushy princess”; Tom Markle Jr., 51, her half-brother, was arrested recently for allegedly holding a gun to his girlfriend’s head.

So Harry’s comment may well have been his true understanding of her upbringing—maybe Meghan had told Harry she felt that way, that her childhood Christmases had been miserable or disjointed affairs.

But to repeat it on national radio was nothing short of stunningly stupid. Harry and Meghan’s challenge, as they approach their wedding, is to maintain the open-heartedness and authenticity that have won them so many fans, but combining that honesty with a little more prudence.

Although it may not add greatly to the gaiety of the nation (or the sales of the tabloids), becoming a little more boring, like William and Kate, would do neither Harry nor Meghan any harm in the long run.