If there is one thing that members of the house of Windsor are good at, besides blasting away small birds, infidelity and christening ships, it is the media own goal.
Exhibit A: In 1994, when Prince Charles thought that admitting to adultery on TV was a savvy move to win the Wales’ media war. Exhibit B: The Queen’s decision to let cameras into Buckingham Palace for the disastrous 1969 doco, Royal Family. Exhibit C: Every time Prince Philip opens his mouth near a live microphone.
Often when it comes to the press, they can be their own worst enemy.
And things get even messier when supposed ‘friends’ of the various HRHs take it upon themselves to weigh in and try to ‘help’.
While Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, might have left draughty old Britain behind for California, the land of perpetual optimism, vitamin D and blue-sky thinking, the Sussexes have, and still are, suffering from supposed chums trying to do their bit and speak to the press.
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Consider in October 2019 when “a source close to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex” spoke to CNN’s Max Foster and told him that the couple “have single-handedly modernised the monarchy,” a self-aggrandising faux pas if ever there was one.
Oh to have been a fly on the hand-painted silk wallpapered wall of the Queen’s study when they clicked on that particular story …
Now, another entry in this less-than-edifying ledger has popped into public view when Carolyn Durand, one of the co-authors of last year’s biography Finding Freedom, penned a piece for the UK’s Grazia to mark the first anniversary of Megxit.
In the piece, Durand quotes her Freedom co-author Omid Scobie who says the couple has “set up an empire” and “have worked to make this transition a success”. So far, so inspirational Instagram post-worthy.
However, Durand then goes on to write that, “For Meghan, the challenges of enjoying motherhood while being constantly uprooted have been difficult.
“Over the past year the family have lived in four homes – from Windsor to Vancouver for almost six months, then a speedy relocation to friend Tyler Perry’s Hollywood Hills property to beat the pandemic travel ban in March, before laying more permanent roots at their nine-bedroom home in Montecito, near Santa Barbara.”
“‘It’s just been a lot,’ says a friend of the Duchess. “Their nanny moved back to the UK when they moved to LA because of the pandemic and restrictions left them feeling quite alone. Each move made them feel more displaced.’”
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Feel that? That was the collective sympathy which readers of the piece might have felt for the royal couple evaporating.
Let me pause here and stress the fact that it is not Harry and Meghan themselves saying this and therefore we must take these quotes with a Polish salt mine worth of the stuff.
But, that does not change the fact that these quotes do not help the Sussex cause or image a jot.
Surely just what the Duke and Duchess surely do not need right now is some self-appointed mate having what reads like an entitled whinge on their behalf when all they are trying to do is get their new charity and businesses up and running.
With ‘friends’ like these, who needs enemies like erstwhile Sussex critic Piers Morgan?
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This week the UK passed the grim and horrifying milestone of more than 100,000 lives lost to the pandemic while in the US, 425,000 of people have been killed by the virus. Meanwhile, unemployment and food scarcity have skyrocketed.
Against this backdrop, having to move between various mansions, three of which are in the $20 million price range, hardly qualifies as a hardship worthy of an outpouring of sympathy, especially when the concerned party has a spiffy, luxurious country house of their own back in Windsor.
(Just because they wanted out as frontline members of the royal family didn’t mean they had to beetle off to North America.)
Likewise, as millions of parents are forced to try and homeschool their children while hanging on to their jobs, being deprived of a nanny does not really equate to going through “a lot” in most peoples’ books.
Lastly, hundreds of millions of people lived through lockdowns last year, 99.9 per cent of whom managed to do so in homes that did not feature loos by the dozen. Loneliness in the COVID world is about as ubiquitous as failed sourdough and stained trackpants.
While the story also highlights the couple’s ever growing charitable resume and bigs up their entrepreneurial prowess, there is also a dash of woe-is-me-ism from one of Harry’s alleged ‘friends’.
A “source close to the Duke” spoke to Durand, alleging that for Harry, losing his honorary military roles and his position as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador “stung, and even today he has not been able to move on from that”.
Buckingham Palace’s denial in November for a wreath to be laid in his name on Remembrance Sunday “hurt as much as the day his (military) honours were taken away,” a “friend” is quoted as saying.
No matter the proximity that these mystery ‘friends’ might actually have to the royal couple and whether these surrogates took it upon themselves, unbeknown to the Duke and Duchess, to leap to their supposed defence in print, these sorts of media outings don’t do Harry and Meghan any favours.
Instead, they reinforce the criticism which has been repeatedly lobbed at them that they are too sensitive to perceived slights and thin-skinned when facing harsh judgement.
A courtier has previously told The Sun that Harry “will brook absolutely no criticism of Meghan – and he is so sensitive he often sees criticism or negativity where there isn’t any”.
Meghan is “very sensitive about not being treated with the same respect that she feels Kate is, so can react badly and doesn’t take it lying down,” royal biographer Tom Quinn has told the Daily Mail.
“We know how thin the couple’s skins are, how amid a sea of praise they wince at a quite small number of stinging trolls and tabloid snarks,” one columnist opined in The Times last year.
What Harry and Meghan don’t need is for their ‘friends’ to add fuel to their critics’ fire by making them out to be of a particularly delicate persuasion.
Surely the far savvier approach, on everyone’s parts, would be to want to focus on their shiny, happy future in the US, all big smiles, big hugs, big charity announcements and big deals?
Success, after all, is the best revenge.
Somewhat ironically, if there is one person who can relate to Meghan over this most recent media snafu it would be her sister-in-law Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
Last year Tatler magazine published a cover story about the royal which featured supposed ‘friends’ of the future Queen offering such clangers as “She’s working as hard as a top CEO … without the benefits of boundaries and plenty of holidays” and that in the wake of Megxit she “feels exhausted and trapped” because of her “enormous” workload.
Diddums. Imagine going months on end without even one lengthy getaway to Mustique? The horror!
Kensington Palace hit back at the story, saying the claims were “false” and in September the society bible edited the piece, cutting out these offending lines and a swathe of others.
Still if there is one thing that the couple of years have proven to us it is that anonymous Windsor friends gabbing to the press often does not end well.
The best advice that Harry and Meghan could follow right now comes from none other than the Duke himself.
In December, while speaking about the climate emergency he said the world needed “doers” and that is exactly what the Sussexes need to focus on. ‘Doing’ Archewell, ‘doing’ hit shows for Netflix and Spotify and ‘doing’ their new liberated lives.
‘Doing’ is what will create their legacy, define them as leaders and rise above all the noise.
Now if anyone knows a nanny looking for a gig, there’s a hardworking couple in Montecito who might be hiring …
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.