Prince Harry has issued an unprecedented public statement accusing both mainstream and social-media trolls of racist abuse in coverage of his relationship with his new girlfriend, Meghan Markle.
The statement is extraordinary and historic; not since the abdication of Edward VIII has the private life of a senior member of Britain’s royal family been subject to such a public intervention by the palace.
The informal, at times almost pleading, tone of the statement is also a dramatic departure from the tradition of previous royal communiques.
The statement from Kensington Palace released Wednesday morning on Harry’s behalf also confirms the existence of the relationship by referring to Meghan as “his girlfriend.”
It expresses outrage at “the racial undertones” of comment pieces in the mainstream media (Meghan is mixed race; she has a white father and an African-American mother).
The statement goes on to attack “the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.”
The statement appears to be in part motivated by a front-page story in the Sun on Friday, headlined, “Harry’s girlfriend on Pornhub,” in a reference to the internet pornography site.
The story “revealed” only that that some clips of Meghan from the TV series Suits had been posted on the site.
On the previous Wednesday, it ran a headline above an interview with Markle’s sister, saying “Don’t fall for my little sis, Harry, she’d be the next Princess Pushy.”
The Daily Mail may be the target of the complaints of racism after it ran a story headlined, “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed—so will he be dropping by for tea?”
Last week, the writer and aristocrat Lady Colin Campbell told The Daily Beast that it would have been “unimaginable” as little as 20 years ago for a senior member of the House of Windsor to have a mixed-race girlfriend, but added, “The ethos of the age is acceptance and inclusiveness. The days when marriages were regarded as desirable only if people were of the same class and color are gone. People have awoken to the fact that such marriages may have lots to recommend them. What used to be verboten is now regarded as desirable in many quarters.”
The statement is being greeted with disbelief and bemusement in London newsrooms, where it is widely felt that the royals are generally given remarkably favorable coverage by the press.
Additionally, as all victims of Twitter-trolling know, there is likely to be little upside in reacting to such activity, and this royal request to abusive social-media users to cease their activity is unlikely to have any effect. There is every chance this statement could be seen as a temper tantrum that makes matters worse.
Kensington Palace listed a string of complaints, citing “nightly legal battles” to keep defamatory stories out of papers; Markle’s mother “having to struggle past photographers” in order to get to her front door; the attempts of “reporters and photographers to gain illegal entry to her home” and “substantial bribes” being offered by papers to Markle’s ex-boyfriend along with the “bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker, and loved one in her life” as papers seek information.
The full statement reads as follows:
Since he was young, Prince Harry has been very aware of the warmth that has been extended to him by members of the public. He feels lucky to have so many people supporting him and knows what a fortunate and privileged life he leads.
He is also aware that there is significant curiosity about his private life. He has never been comfortable with this, but he has tried to develop a thick skin about the level of media interest that comes with it. He has rarely taken formal action on the very regular publication of fictional stories that are written about him and he has worked hard to develop a professional relationship with the media, focused on his work and the issues he cares about.
But the past week has seen a line crossed. His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public—the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments. Some of it has been hidden from the public—the nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers; her mother having to struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door; the attempts of reporters and photographers to gain illegal entry to her home and the calls to police that followed; the substantial bribes offered by papers to her ex-boyfriend; the bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker, and loved one in her life.
Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her. It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms. Markle should be subjected to such a storm. He knows commentators will say this is ‘the price she has to pay’ and that ‘this is all part of the game’. He strongly disagrees. This is not a game—it is her life and his.
He has asked for this statement to be issued in the hopes that those in the press who have been driving this story can pause and reflect before any further damage is done. He knows that it is unusual to issue a statement like this, but hopes that fair-minded people will understand why he has felt it necessary to speak publicly.