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After Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took four private jets in less than two weeks, Kate Middleton and Prince William flew to Scotland on a budget airline on Thursday, in what was, whether they intended it or not, a crushing and highly symbolic rebuke to the other couple’s extravagance.
“William and Kate always fly budget whenever possible when they are flying on personal and private trips,” a source told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “The basic reason for that is very simple: It’s because they have to pay for their own flights if it’s a private trip and they don’t like wasting money.”
However, it’s not just an issue of flaunting wealth or saving cash. As the scathing reaction that has greeted Harry and Meghan’s multiple private airplane rides this summer shows, air travel has never been more politicized. Flying private opens you up to criticism, and if you happen to be simultaneously campaigning against climate change, all too accurate accusations of hypocrisy.
On the other hand, flying budget (especially into Aberdeen airport, where an agency snapper is parked on retainer for the summer capturing images of the royals coming and going to the Queen’s summer house, Balmoral, for their holidays) is great PR.
This pathetic silly season row—entirely avoidable and entirely of Meghan and Harry’s own making—would have been long forgotten by now, had not Elton John posted a lengthy statement on Instagram. His well-meaning efforts to defuse the controversy kept it in the news cycle for another 24 hours.
In it he said that he had paid for Meghan and Harry’s jet ride to Nice, tried to make the use of a jet about security rather than convenience (a line totally debunked by William and Kate’s foray to Scotland), and then added, “To support Prince Harry’s commitment to the environment, we ensured their flight was carbon neutral, by making the appropriate contribution to Carbon Footprint.”
Carbon offsetting is a deeply divisive issue, with critics saying it simply allows the rich to assuage their guilt and blithely carry on polluting in return for a nominal cash payment.
Elton, however, went even further and attempted to conflate the whole issue with the ongoing negative press coverage of Meghan and Harry, saying he was “calling on the press to cease these relentless and untrue assassinations on their character that are spuriously crafted on an almost daily basis.”
Elton is right to say that Meghan has been subjected to much unfair criticism.
Indeed, just this week, the Daily Mail had a full-page piece about the environmental impact of avocado farming which declared that “Meghan’s favorite snack” was “fueling human rights abuses, drought and murder.”
It was patently absurd, but on this occasion, on this issue, the attacks on Meghan and Harry as hypocrites were far from spurious fabrications; they were rooted in fact and objectively fair.
A single private jet flight emits more greenhouse gases than the average American does in a year.
Yet, just a few weeks before taking four of them, Harry said in a print interview in an issue of Vogue magazine edited by his wife that he would only be having two children out of environmental concerns and that humans were like “the frog in the water and it’s already been brought to the boil.”
Why on earth Harry and Meghan allowed Elton to post that message (and make no mistake, no one posts personal info about Harry and Meghan without checking first) is unfathomable. Not as unfathomable, however, as another post which appeared online on Wednesday night from Meghan’s friend and maid of honor, Jessica Mulroney, in which she essentially accused the media of being “racist bullies.”
Again, there is no way on earth a close friend of Meghan’s would have posted this without getting her approval first, knowing the media firestorm it would ignite. In that context of shadow PR, for Meghan and Harry to be making these kinds of statements by proxy is new and risky territory.
It is of course completely fair to point out that much criticism of Meghan, especially in the murky online world of social media, has an overt or covert racist edge. However, criticizing someone for talking a good game on the environment and then taking four private jet rides in 10 days is not unfair.
Meghan and Harry have faced a mountain of unfair criticism, but so has every other member of the royal family at some stage or other; Kate Middleton did too. As William and Harry have both commented in the past, it goes with the territory.
Harry and Meghan, and their friends speaking on their behalf, are playing a curious, possibly self-sabotaging game. They are now squarely set in an openly antagonistic relationship with the media, while seeking to parlay their image and public support through their own social media channels, full of pretty pictures and positivity.
Their complaints about the press will likely soon begin again—and fair enough if they think this is productive (it isn’t). But whatever they’re doing, and whatever fighting stance they’ve elected to adopt, Meghan and Harry should give up their newfound habit of handing out private jet-shaped sticks to the media with which to beat them.