William, Harry, and Kate have long been suspected of taking petty satisfaction in thwarting the press pack assigned to cover them. But now Meghan Markle’s courteous example is resetting Harry’s relations with the fourth estate, and winning the hot new couple of British royalty outstanding coverage.
A perhaps unintentionally revealing message was posted on Twitter by the Daily Mail’s royal correspondent this week.
Halfway through Rebecca English’s coverage of William and Kate’s tour of Scandinavia, she told her followers that she would be jumping ship, heading back to England to cover what would usually be a fairly standard (i.e., non-newsworthy) event—Britain’s Endeavor Fund awards, which honor the achievements of wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women who have taken part in sporting and adventure challenges, and their families.
The reason for the excitement was that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry would be attending, and handing out some of the prizes.
Many of the other British reporters on the royal beat also left the tour early to be home for Meghan’s big night out. Blowing out Kate and William’s dour tour of frost-bitten Scandinavia, whose biggest draw seemed to be Kate’s extraordinarily unflattering selection of Erdem maternity dresses, certainly turned out to be the right tactical move.
Friday’s front pages were devoted across the board to coverage of Meghan and Harry’s appearance in London.
Meghan, controversially perhaps, wore a McQueen trouser suit and jacket ensemble, a chic choice—although the suggestion in some quarters that she was wearing black in support of the #metoo movement may be a little far-fetched.
Meghan was praised by headline writers for “saving the day” after she smoothly laughed off a mix up with paperwork on stage, joining in with the crowd’s giggles.
The tiresome task of writing up Kate and William’s further adventures in Norway was handed over to junior staff, and made about as much impact as the fact that the self-described Royal “ideas factory” Prince Andrew was making a fresh speech about the joys of British entrepreneurship (i.e., not very much).
It has been astonishing to witness in recent weeks just how completely the public appetite for information about William, Kate and their family has collapsed and the hunger for coverage of Meghan and Harry has grown commensurately.
Meghan has stolen—or at least been passed—Kate Middleton’s crown.
As one commentator told The Daily Beast recently, when William and Kate turn up to an engagement these days, they are greeted with a welcoming party and reception not unlike that more usually given to a minor royal rather than the screaming fan kids of former days.
On a personal level, William and Kate are unlikely to resent the tailing off of interest in their personal lives.
They know as well as anyone else that it’s not personal, and that novelty plays a huge factor.
As British comedy website The Mash succinctly put it, “Meghan has delivered a knockout blow to take the crown because Kate’s been around for ages and we’re bored of her.”
The deeper truth is that William and Kate have spent much of the past few years chastising the press for what they see as a prurient interest in their private lives, issuing missives on a semi-regular basis complaining of the latest outrageous invasion of privacy.
Whether or not the reality of turning up to sparsely populated events will change their attitude remains to be seen—as Kate and William have often appeared to go out of their way to deliberately antagonize and irritate the press pack tasked with following them.
A prime example of this is their refusal to stop for a few seconds and pose for pictures, or give reporters a few words while on public engagements.
“It’s a very dangerous game,” one veteran royal correspondent told The Daily Beast—and now there’s a sense that the chickens are coming home to roost.
The behavior goes back to William and Harry’s entirely understandable belief that the press effectively killed their mother.
Whatever the truth of the multiple and competing claims by officials and conspiracy theorists surrounding the events of that tragic night, the central point of the brothers is accurate: Had there been no paparazzi chasing Diana’s car, it’s unthinkable that it would have smashed into a pillar in a Paris underpass all those years ago. (An inquest in 2008 concluded that Diana’s death was causes by both the driving of chauffeur Henri Paul, and the paparazzi in pursuit of the car.)
Courtiers say that the brothers are merely following the queen’s example when it comes to the press, and it is true that she does not give quotes to reporters on engagements or have a habit of posing for pictures.
But Prince Philip and the queen have never been accused of trying to subtly frustrate photographers the way Kate, William and, formerly, Harry have done over the years, in an unfathomably obstinate exercise in self-harm.
In fact, Harry was arguably the worst of the lot before he met Meghan. Witness his extraordinary interview with the BBC in Afghanistan when he told the reporter that he’d rather the guy wasn’t there. It might have been honest, it might have come from an authentic place of personal agony, but the image it projected was a master class in entitlement and arrogance.
But while William and Kate have become entrenched in their confrontational attitudes to the press, Harry appears to be learning a trick or two from Meghan about the art of diplomacy.
Ever since their relationship began, Harry has been engaged in a comprehensive reset of relations with Fleet Street. There have been numerous, unprecedentedly personal, interviews, in which he spoke of his personal struggles with panic attacks, paranoia, PTSD and other mental health issues.
He even spoke about the “chaos” in a podcast with The Daily Telegraph, suggesting his wild youthful behavior had its roots in his personal life owing to his failure to properly process his mother’s death.
The conciliatory attitude to the press was also in evidence at Christmas when Harry and Meghan chose to confirm in advance that they would be attending church with the queen—a historic first that made the life of news desks considerably easier over the holidays.
Kate and William have always appeared to take a petty pleasure in deliberately concealing the tiniest of details of their lives from the press—such as their whereabouts or, most famously, the name of their dog which was deemed “private.”
But Harry and Meghan’s all-new approachability was on display again Thursday night at the Endeavor Fund awards, as the couple gave the press time as they entered and allowed themselves to be photographed.
Undoubtedly this new accommodation—a far more productive long-term strategy—is a result of Meghan’s influence on Harry, one more benefit of his decision to marry someone used to the scrutiny of the public eye and courteously interacting with both press and fans.
Long may it continue—and who knows, maybe William and Kate might discover themselves in a teachable moment.