The Duke and Duchess of Sussex used a documentary on Sunday night to talk about the negative press they had experienced. The programme was designed to rehabilitate the Royal couple and yet some would argue that it simply generated yet more unfavourable headlines after Meghan complained that, due to the negative press, she had been ‘existing not living’. This from a couple who have come under fire for their multiple trips by private jet and their costly tax-payer funded refurbishment of their new marital home.
Rumours of a rift between Harry and William are filling column inches daily, and it seems Harry and Meghan’s PR may need an overhaul.
But the Duke and Duchess of Woke are not the first Royals to fall foul of the British press.
Princess Margaret’s ‘toyboy’
In February 1976, a picture of Margaret and British Baronet Roddy Llewellyn in swimsuits on Mustique was published on the front page of a tabloid, the News of the World. Princess Margaret was still married to Lord Snowdon at the time, although rumours had already been circling that the marriage was on the rocks. Due to the seventeen-year age gap, the press portrayed Margaret as a predatory older woman and Llewellyn as her toyboy lover.
On 19 March 1976, the Snowdons publicly acknowledged that their marriage had irretrievably broken down. Some politicians suggested removing Margaret from the civil list. Labour MPs denounced her as “a royal parasite” and a “floosie”. But as Princess Margaret acerbically acknowledged to the American writer Gore Vidal, when there are two sisters and one is the Queen, who must be the source of honour and all that is good, it was inevitable that the other must be the focus of the most creative malice, the evil sister. It seemed she was aware throughout her life of the role the press were casting for her.
Harry the Nazi
Who can forget the time a young Prince Harry thought it would be a jolly funny wheeze to dress up as a Nazi officer? Photos of the incident appeared all over the press, with Clarence House issuing a statement noting that Harry realised “it was a poor choice of costume”. Harry dressed as a Nazi is perhaps second only on the Harry Scandal Scale to the time he got caught wearing nothing at all, during a game of strip billiards in Las Vagas. Harry later apologised for letting everyone down. But I’ll be honest: I miss Fun Harry.
The Duke of Edinburgh
Following the D of E’s retirement from public life, hacks will have to look elsewhere for scabrous Royal barbs. Described by the historian David Starkey as “HRH Victor Meldrew”, the D of E’s remarks have regularly made the news. In 1999, he apparently remarked to some deaf children at a pop concert, “no wonder you are deaf listening to this row.” When the Queen asked an army cadet who lost his sight in an injury from an IRA bomb how much vision he retained, Philip joked, “Not a lot judging by the tie he’s wearing.” Either “a cantankerous old sod” (his words) from a bygone era or an amusing if unreconstructed wag, this January the 97-year-old faced something of a backlash when he drove his Land Rover into another car near Sandringham. He eventually sent a letter of apology to the driver – with no jokes. (A fun fact: the entertainer Hughie Green was once involved in a group who wished to overthrow the Labour government in the 70s and install Philip as the leader of a right-wing junta. Suffice to say, it didn’t happen – and the D of E was not involved in the plot.)
Sarah Ferguson, the now ex-wife of Prince Andrew, is no stranger to scandal. In 2010, “Fergie” was revealed by The Guardian to have accepted a bribe of £500,000 in exchange for dishing the dirt on Andrew. She later apologised, describing the incident as “a serious lapse in judgment”. “I was in the gutter at that moment,” she told Oprah Winfrey, “I’m aware of the fact that I’ve been drinking, you know – that I was not in my right place.” Perhaps her most nauseating – and famous – run-in came nearly two decades earlier, however, when photos emerged of John Bryan, an American financial manager, sucking her toes whilst on holiday. Oh, Fergie!
The red tops had a field day in 1992 when The Sun published details of a call between Prince Diana and rumoured lover James Gilbey. In the transcripts of the telephone conversation, Gilbey refers to Diana as “Squidge” or “Squidgy” 53 times. The revelations came during Charles’ and Diana’s acrimonious pre-divorce media war, referred to at the time as the War of the Waleses. Despite the embarrassing revelations, Diana won the battle for public sympathy by releasing a book called “Diana: her True Story”, which hit the headlines with salacious details of her personal battles with depression and eating disorders. The Queen later described 1992 as her “annus horribilis”.
The Death of Diana
Though many royal run-ins with Fleet Street might seem amusing with hindsight, the period after Diana’s death was an extremely serious one for the Royal Family. The Queen’s response to the Princess’ death was judged by the public to be starchy and distant, and for the first time in her reign it seemed like the monarchy could be in jeopardy. Newly anointed Tony Blair became involved in the Palace’s attempts to respond. In the end, the Queen rehabilitated herself, with a moving address to the country. Since then, she hasn’t put a foot wrong and has studiously guided the Royal Family into the 21st Century.