William and Kate celebrate five years of married life today, and while there is little doubt that they are fulfilled and happy in their private lives, and are enthusiastically enjoying parenthood and their kids as no generation of royals has done since the days of George III, on the public front things are less rosy.
There have always been those who have had a problem with William, but criticism of Kate, once the preserve of a few rabid royal-haters and (to be fair) serious and committed republicans, is increasingly becoming part of the daily diet for the piranhas of the British and global press.
The complaints are, dangerously for Kate (and, by extension, William) becoming all-too familiar; Kate is lazy (because she doesn’t do as many personal appearances as former generations of royals have done), Kate is dull (she never does anything that appears to be instinctive or unscripted), Kate is a dowdy, excessively middle-class dresser (the British fashion press are very much over-praising Kate’s thrifty recycling, and it can only be a matter of time before one of them wonders aloud how anyone can make a daring label like Alexander McQueen look so much like Hardy Amies).
Five years after she and her Prince sailed out of Westminster Abbey on the metaphorical shoulders of her people, these criticisms are increasingly being aired in public by the media, which perceives a public starting, perhaps, to tire of royal spin.
And how the royals are spinning. The ultimate aim of William and Kate’s youthful team of press handlers appears to be to cut out the papers altogether and communicate directly to the public through social media. All too often, reporters are being briefed about events after they have happened, or after they have been announced on social media by the palace.
This pisses reporters off because it makes them look stupid to their editors.
And, as Mark Twain said, its never wise to pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel. Even if you are the future king of England.
Two British newspapers, the Sun and the Express, for example, both recently ran extraordinary hatchet jobs on the royal couple following their tour of India.
They criticized Kate remorselessly for failing to bring ‘pizazz’ to the tour, criticized Will and Kate for demanding ‘alone time’ (implying that the trip to India was basically a taxpayer-funded holiday), and drew unflattering comparisons between Kate’s professionalism and banal interactions with members of the public, especially sick people, and Princess Diana’s emotional impulsiveness.
Camilla Tominey, a royal reporter with impeccable pedigree at the Sunday Express, slammed the couple, saying, “When Princess Diana visited Mother Teresa’s Hospice in Calcutta in 1992, she held the hands of leprosy victims. By comparison, although the Cambridges eagerly shake hands and even accept the odd warm embrace, they often appear to conduct meetings at arm’s length.”
Veteran Sun royal photographer Arthur Edwards recalled the same event, saying: “Diana handed out sweets to the dying at Mother Teresa’s hospice in Calcutta. All the bottom of her dress was covered with dirt as she’d sat down next to them. It was incredible. Diana broke the mould. Kate and William have a long way to go to catch up.”
It was the Sun’s royal reporter Emily Andrews, however, who really went for the jugular—revealing that “halfway up that steep hike to the Tiger’s Nest monastery, Kate brought her stylist Natasha Archer, 29, with her to touch up her hair and make-up before facing the cameras. Those “natural pictures” of her looking fresh-faced, despite strenuous exercise, were anything but.”
She stuck the knife in by reporting that when Kate was speaking to charity workers helping India’s street kids, “who are mutilated to make money begging, she managed to utter: ‘Gosh, so interesting.’”
When you look at it from the outside, the increasing antagonism towards Will and Kate in the UK press is slightly baffling.
After all, they haven’t really done anything wrong.
Or have they? The fact of the matter is that Will and Kate have committed one very serious error: They have totally failed to maintain anything approaching good relations with the broad sweep of the press. Undoubtedly, this trickles down from the top, and William’s loathing of the press is well known.
Indeed, at times they have wilfully provoked them. Will and Kate delivered a calculated insult to the British press when they decided Kate would guest-edit The Huffington Post rather than a British newspaper.
It wasn’t as if HuffPo had never said anything gratuitous or mean about Will and Kate, either.
An unprofessionally handled situation is being made worse by the reluctance of the palace to pay top-dollar for experienced staff.
Jason Knauf, the current head of press at Kensington Palace, is being paid way, way less than someone should be being paid to do that job.
I have been told his salary is in the £60,000 range. And he’s the highest paid of the lot. The other staff are paid as little as £30,000 a year.
Tube drivers in London make about the same kind of money as Mr Knauf is making after five years of service.
For too long, the palace has relied on the promise of dishing out a knighthood to attract employees rather than paying key staff properly. William and Kate have continued that unfortunate tradition.
But if they want the trajectory of their regard in public opinion over the next five years to start travelling up again rather than keep on going down, then they need to start by hiring some expensive experts.