Title me in charge
Two largely unseen and unknown children based in the USA are now officially titled Prince and Princess. (Not to be confused with musical genius Prince or the sons of Michael Jackson named Prince or even ‘Lady’ Gaga or ‘Dr.’ Dre (he can’t actually treat your ingrown good toenail, folks). Not even to be confused with Duchess Katie Price’s daughter, ‘Princess’.
The new Prince and Princess, Archie and Lillibet, the children of Harry and Meghan, do have the added bonus though, of being in the line of succession for the British throne.
There is currently much heated debate going on across social media as to why and how these two kids have the titles. I’m not getting into that.
I want to look at another aspect of the story.
The titles were not announced by Buckingham Palace, nor has there been any official congratulatory message. Instead, the story broke in a cheap US tabloid called People. This magazine repeatedly and pointedly still calls the Princess of Wales Kate Middleton. It had access to the five friends of Meghan Markle in that long-running saga about the letter to her father that ended in a court case. They broke this story of Lillibet’s christening and the Markles’ intention to use royal titles. People mag, one can assume, has its sources.
The British media seemed taken by surprise by the story. All those who claim to have a direct hotline to the palace had given no hint of this story breaking.
So, what did the palace have to say?
A nameless, faceless Palace spokesman responded pretty quickly, saying that the Royal website would be updated accordingly. It was a confirmation of sorts that the story was true. But some found it all rather tacky; the stuff of cheap celebrity gossip not the workings of a powerful monarchy. Why was a tabloid breaking the story? Why was the palace having to confirm a story about the serious business of conferring titles rather than officially announcing it?
Unfortunately, this has become par for the course. The palace, increasingly finds itself having to react to Harry and Meghan, rather than being proactive and setting the tone for a story.
This allows for the mainstream media to run a narrative that the palace is constantly “blindsided “, “taken unawares “, “baffled” – thereby giving the impression of a monarchy that is unprepared, on the back foot and not in charge. The palace does little to counter this narrative.
Dignified silence in the face of vulgar, classless attacks is, generally, a good thing. Playing the long game and checkmating a stupid opponent is, generally, a good thing. Ultimately, Harry and Megan are an irritating insect buzz amidst the orchestra of the 1000 year old Monarchy. However, we are in the era of social media and slick PR.
Meghan Markle was never a Hollywood star. The peak of her acting career was to be a supporting actress on a cable show filmed in Canada. However, she has learnt some savvy PR moves over the years. She uses strong words such as racism, suicide, pain and now ‘birthright’ when she throws her grenades. People understands these words – even if they are used with no evidence to back them.
The palace response to these attacks is usually muted, opaque and seemingly half-hearted. A faceless, nameless spokesman, sounding like an older version of the aristocratic Harry Enfield character ‘Nice but dim’ gets wheeled out to answer the latest assault. He gives the impression of being unprepared, as if he’s been pulled away from the drawing room where he was enjoying port and billiards to comment on some ghastly matter concerning the ‘help’.
“Erm, yes, golly,” he mumbles, “the duchess (always with the title) seems, er, somewhat disingenuous in saying……”
Forget it. You’ve lost the audience already. No one knows what the heck ‘disingenuous’ means. And no one cares either.
These spokesmen come across as if they still think they’re explaining the palace position to a few Telegraph reading Colonels. They’re not. The world is now a village run by WiFi and simple soundbites. People expect a firm rebuttal. They want this endless, exhausting, cheap drama brought to a halt. Otherwise, even a minor, irrelevant story can fester for days on end, sometimes weeks, with the media endlessly picking over the carcass of it because it’s easier to sit at a keyboard and speculate about a non story than go out and break an actual one.
King Charles is far more popular than the media would have you believe. You only have to see the large crowds that he and Queen Camilla attract when they go out to meet the public. The Prince and Princess of Wales are Royal rockstars, with a huge fan base. This enormous popularity and respect is something politicians and celebrities would kill for. It’s something Harry and Meghan crave and would give their right eye to replicate. It’s what they assumed they would automatically get in the USA because of his background and his titles. Instead, they got the brilliant Southpark with its cutting episode about a ‘dumb prince and his stupid wife‘.
The searing episode which aired two weeks ago, skewers a balding, red haired, prince promoting his book entitled ‘Waaagh’, who allows himself to be wound up by his complaining wife, to such an extent that he goes out and makes an arse of himself on the world stage defending her by exposing his frozen penis. The non royal wife, who, very pointedly, has no title, because she is entirely reliant on the prince’s royal status for relevance, is depicted as inappropriately dressed, with unkempt hair and who, when her head is lifted off her shoulders, is discovered to be hollow and empty inside.
Empty vessels make the most noise?
The Royal family has to be more effective in dismissing this noise as an irrelevance and thereby make better use of its own unparalleled popularity and standing. A more more internet savvy media response team would enhance that standing. They don’t need to respond to every attention seeking jibe but when the need arises, they need to be able to nip a story in the bud, swiftly and effectively, leaving no room for rumour and conjecture.