With Prince Harry taking legal action against The Sun and The Mirror for phone-hacking and Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, launching a separate legal action against the Mail on Sunday for alleged breach of privacy and copyright infringement, the young royals are signalling their fight back against media intrusion and criticism.
Does their action risk betraying the royal family’s reputation of keeping a stiff upper lip and avoiding controversy? Or is such stoicism a thing of the past? Either way, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are redefining the future of the monarchy in the UK.
As the 2019 election campaign reaches its climax, the age-old old political allegiances have been swept away. The Conservatives are eying up rock-solid Labour seats in the north while worrying about losing the leafy suburbs of London. Political identity is now forged by age and national identity as much as social class.
The tectonic movements in social attitudes are being felt just as keenly by the Royal Family as entrenched attitudes on monarchy and republicanism tumble into chaos.
It used to be so simple. During the Silver Jubilee in 1977, you knew where you stood. The nation was awash with Union Jacks, patriotism and street parties, and dissent was not tolerated. For many young people, and those with anti-establishment leanings, the Royal Family was stuffy and outdated, and the Sex Pistols rode the wave of disenchantment with a desultory sneer. The BBC banned the Pistols’ God Save the Queen, with its deliberately inflammatory line “in her fascist regime”, for the crime of “gross bad taste.” Woolworths and others refused to stock the single, and inevitably the record flew to number two. The BBC left a blank on the pop chart between number one and number three, in fear of being seen as unpatriotic. The papers called for the band to be flogged and charged with treason.
The Royal Family was the establishment, and criticism or ridicule was not tolerated in the media. Few dared to speak out, aside notable exceptions such as Labour MP Willie Hamilton, who declared, “One day the monarchy and all its prostituted entourage would be dumped in the garbage can of history”. He also called the family “gold-plated scroungers”, the Queen a “Clockwork Doll”, and Prince Charles “a twerp”.
Hamilton was, unsurprisingly, slaughtered by the right-wing press, and was only saved the same fate suffered by Guy Fawkes, by the relaxation of treason laws and punishments since the days of King James I.
Simple days indeed. In the 70s and 80s, the arch-monarchists were found at The Sun, Express, Mail and Telegraph, and the critics could be found amongst liberals, the left, anarchists and the young. Now, the opinions on monarchy are blurred and confused, and seemingly based on the personality of individual royals.
The Prince of Purpose - or Prince of Wokeness
Nigel Farage was playing to the gallery when he addressed Sydney’s Conservative Political Action Conference back in August, sarcastically dubbing Harry the ‘Prince of Wokeness’.
Wokeness is defined as ‘an embrace of positive virtues, such as tolerance, fairness and awareness, and being alert to injustice in society, especially racism’.
It has also been cynically subverted along the lines of the definition in the Urban Dictionary, namely: ‘The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue’.
Farage often uses Wokeness as a term of derision, and the implication was clear; the Duke of Sussex is insincere and fake in his support of social causes.
“Here was Harry,” said Farage. “Here he was this young, brave, boisterous, all male, getting into trouble, turning up at stag parties inappropriately dressed, drinking too much and causing all sorts of mayhem. And then, a brave British officer who did his bit in Afghanistan. He was the most popular royal of a younger generation that we’ve seen for 100 years. And then he met Meghan Markle, and it’s fallen off a cliff.”
Some might say that Harry has just grown up. But that doesn’t fit into Farage’s agenda. Farage and the usual baying mob of outraged commentators despise Meghan Markle, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Of course, it can’t be racism! The Spectator’s Rod Liddle refutes such accusation by writing, “Truth be told, her skin colour is the least objectionable thing about the woman.” Does this mean that skin colour is only slightly objectionable?
The same newspapers (The Sun, Mail, Express etc) that called for critics of the Royal Family to be tried for treason are now the journals which love to stick the boot in. Meanwhile, the columnists in The Guardian and Observer write in support of the young royals. The world is truly turning upside down.
The treatment of Duchess of Sussex is a national shame, but Farage and co are incorrect in saying that Harry’s campaigning is purely down to his wife’s influence. The brothers’ support of mental health charities is obviously sincere and from the heart, driven by the emotional scars of their own childhoods.
The brothers have spoken about how much they missed their mother when she was travelling the world, often communicating only by phone. And then they lost her at the age when they needed her most. In an act of unthinkable cruelty, the 12-year-old Harry and 15-year-old William were obliged to march stiffly through central London behind their mother’s coffin, exposed to the intense gaze of the world and the huge crowds of mourners.
Harry opened up in 2017 to Bryony Gordon in a podcast for Heads Together, a charity which promotes good mental well-being spearheaded by William, Kate, Harry and Meghan.
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” he said. “The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realise that actually you’re part of quite a big club.”
The passion to support mental health charities comes from the brothers’ personal experiences, not the malign interference of a meddling foreigner.
Writing in The Guardian, Gaby Hinsliff, stated: “The royal family does not much go in for the vulgarity of emotion. Princess Diana was expected to tolerate her husband’s infidelity in dignified silence, not go crying to Panorama. Her children would, in turn, be expected to walk dry-eyed behind her coffin. The family still mostly takes its lead from the Queen’s constitutional obligation to conceal her feelings…
“The younger royals have pushed the boundaries by discussing their mental health, but raw, unfiltered emotion is still regarded as suspiciously bad for business. Imagine the concern, then, at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s insistence on showing some.”
Like all Royals, Wills and Harry spend a great deal of time supporting charities, but Heads Together feels like much more of a personal project, and is much more about the pair of them cutting ribbons and shaking hands.
THE PERSECUTION OF MEGHAN
It’s hard to fathom why Meghan has attracted so much personal abuse, both in the traditional media and through social media.
Ella Alexander in Harpers Bazaar, is just as bemused. In a piece entitled “Can we all stop attacking the Duchess of Sussex now?” Alexander listed a depressing collection of social media nastiness criticising everything from how Meghan cradled her bump when she was pregnant to how she held her baby, along with how ‘sloppily’ she dressed as a new mum. Alexander stuggled to understand “the level of vitriol that this criticism has now reached – a screeching, acidic and nasty collective trolling that spans both the press and public.”
The Guardian’s Emma Brockes added: “The fact that the focus of negative coverage has been on Meghan, not Harry, doesn’t smell quite right. Some of this is evidently to do with race. But there is also a class factor: who does she think she is, trying to exert PR control over royal coverage?”
In the Irish Times, Tanya Sweeney brilliantly concluded, “One gets the impression that if Meghan Markle were to close the gender gap, end world hunger, stop wars or cure deadly diseases, a certain malevolent pocket of the internet would be like, “yeah, well, she’s so smug about it”.
Internet trolls are a curse of the modern world, but the spite is not restricted to cowardly and anonymous keyboard warriors (see Maarten Hoffmann’s excellent piece on internet hate on page 74). You can find the hate in respectable newspapers and journals as well.
Leading the baying mob, predictably, is Rod Liddle, the former member of the Socialist Workers’ Party who crossed the political divide to the hard right. In the launch of the US version of The Spectator, he wrote a lengthy and vitriolic poison pen letter to Meghan Markle, urging America to take her back before we decide to become a republic. If only the US could take Liddle away. Trump could use him to help craft some of his nonsensical tweets.
High on Harry and Meghan’s supposed crime sheet is the desire for some privacy, which has outraged commentators such as The Daily Mail’s Jan Moir, who wrote, “Never in the course of royal history has so much public goodwill been squandered so quickly and so thoughtlessly, amid the suspicion that H&M are just not that interested in the dopes back home who paid for their £5,000 copper bath, their fixtures and their fittings.”
I feel ashamed at the way our country has treated a young woman who made the terrible mistake of falling in love with with a member of our Royal Family. Prince Harry is rightly furious and unsurprisingly afraid. The last female royal to be hounded in such a way was his mother, and we all know where that finished.
How Harry & Wills will save the monarchy
When I think of the royals I am reminded of my mum who loved them dearly, would not hear a word against them and was part of a generation which looked up to them in utter deference.
Deference is an outdated concept, and it’s hard to imagine Millennials or Gen Zedders doffing their caps to anyone, although that does not mean there is a particular desire to kick The Queen out of Buckingham Palace.
Many of the Harry and Meghan detractors compare and contrast their personas with the Queen, predicting that everything Her Majesty has worked for will wither and die once the crown is passed on.
Jan Moir believes the actions of the young royals is undermining the very institution of the monarchy: “There is a feeling that, while the Queen deserves our respect, certain other members of her family should try harder. Much harder. These miscreants could do worse than follow the example of the Queen…”
The Queen has dedicated her life to servitude and her devotion has been the prime reason why the monarchy has survived and thrived.
But times have changed. The monarchy needs new figureheads that inspire and engage the younger generations. In William and Harry, we have struck lucky. They have been raised by the Royal Family to understand duty and responsibility, but they have also inherited their mother’s empathy and passion to make the world a better place.
The danger is that our increasingly bitter, angry and divided society may drive them away. Who would blame either brother if they were step away from the crown? In times gone by the monarch was regarded as God’s representative on earth, and thankfully those days are over. But giving our royals (or their wives) a good kicking for no particular reason does not reflect well on modern day UK.
William, Kate, Harry and Meghan can bring a much-needed modernity to the monarchy, and in doing so secure its very future. As long, that is, they can keep Prince Andrew off the TV.
My fear of history repeating itself
Excerpts from Prince Harry’s statement when launching legal action against the press after the couple’s African tour. During the travels through the continent, the couple had seemingly got on well with the accompanying press pack, so the statement came as a surprise, and provoked criticism. But as Prince Harry made clear, it was the two-faced approach of the press which was especially hard to swallow…
“My wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences – a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son.
“…The positive coverage of the past week from these same publications exposes the double standards of this specific press pack that has vilified her almost daily for the past nine months; they have been able to create lie after lie at her expense simply because she has not been visible while on maternity leave.
“…There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behaviour, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn’t acceptable, at any level. We won’t and can’t believe in a world where there is no accountability for this.
“Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one. Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”