Over the past thousand years or so, Britain’s royal family has developed a pretty awesome events department.
When it comes to putting on awe-inspiring coronations, terrifying executions, and joyous weddings, the royal family has perfected controlling every aspect of these showpieces, from the souvenir china to the exact second the music starts.
And then along came Thomas Markle, and the wedding of the year between his daughter Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, and the saga of whether he was attending the event, or not.
This week will live long in the memories—and nightmares—of royal courtiers as the time when they completely lost control of the narrative of Meghan and Harry’s wedding, and a painstakingly choreographed display of pomp and circumstance, their best opportunity to sell the royal family to a whole new generation of subscribers, turned into a gigantic reality TV show with just one theme—will he or won’t he?
While the star of this soap opera may have been Thomas Markle, there’s no doubt who the showrunners were.
Enter the world’s brashest, loudest, and most un-royal website, TMZ, and its star reporter, editor, and producer, Sean Mandell, who ran rings around the palace with a series of exclusive interviews with Markle in which he first copped to faking the photos, then declared he was so embarrassed he wouldn’t come to the wedding and walk his daughter down the aisle, then said he wanted to, then said he couldn’t because he is having heart surgery…Wednesday.
Just to clarify, for those Daily Beast readers who got lost in that TMZ-like swirl of fact and counter-fact, the latest is, he’s not coming. As of right now, Thomas Markle is a no-show. Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, will likely do the honors on the aisle-walking duty.
The story has spun completely out of Kensington Palace’s grasp.
They have had absolutely no idea what has been going on. Like the rest of us, they have been finding out from TMZ.
The failings of the Kensington Palace press office are often a subject of conversation among the royal press pack, and this occasion was no different.
First, although the palace was in the middle of a huge, international story of interest to people in every time zone, they did not staff up the press office after 6 p.m. local time (1 p.m. in New York)—all press inquiries after office hours were routed to a beleaguered duty press officer’s mobile phone.
The statement, when it came, late Monday evening, was extraordinarily odd.
It said: “This is a deeply personal moment for Ms. Markle in the days before her wedding. She and Prince Harry ask again for understanding and respect to be extended to Mr. Markle in this difficult situation.”
What did that even mean? The palace had been asked one very simple question: “Is her dad coming?” and answered by saying, “Look, Meghan’s really sad about her dad right now. Stop asking questions, please.”
In the old days, when there was some trust between the palace and the reporters, the queen’s former press secretary Dickie Arbiter would have hit the phones and called a few key journalists and told them the truth, which was pretty simple: “Er, look chaps, we don’t know.”
But relations are so bad between the palace and the press now that those kinds of informal contacts are a distant fantasy.
This reporter was so confused by the statement that he had to ring the press office and ask if the message had been accidentally truncated.
After TMZ published what appears to be its final update in the Tom Markle saga of the night—which said that Markle wouldn’t be making the wedding after all because he has to have heart surgery at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday—Mandell replied to messages from The Daily Beast, but said he was not able to comment, as he was about to get on a plane to London.
TMZ reps were also not able to provide a spokesperson for The Daily Beast; however, insiders told The Daily Beast that the past few days had been “surreal.”
In the end, the biggest question for the palace is: Why TMZ? Why did Thomas Markle choose to talk the shoutiest gossip site on the web instead of the courtiers at Kensington?
In a piece to camera on the site, the site’s founder Harvey Levin and Mandell said they had not paid Markle any money for his cooperation.
Levin said, “We didn’t pay him anything, he didn’t ask for anything. Sean started texting him and eventually he talked to both of us. He was offered $100,000 to do an interview, turned it down.”
Maybe it is in the end as simple as that—human contact. Markle clearly trusted TMZ to tell the truth and to get his side of the story out there more than he did the palace. One can hardly blame him—the palace appears to have done absolutely nothing to protect him from the media they knew would descend on him.
And here’s a sobering thought for those courtiers to reflect on over the next few days: Maybe if the palace had made the same efforts to engage Thomas Markle that TMZ did, he might have told them about his plans first.