Kate and William’s friendly treatment of media shows Harry’s failings
In a candid eight-second video Kate Middleton and Prince William show exactly where Prince Harry went wrong.
Sometimes, just sometimes, being a member of the royal family looks genuinely fun. Not just glamorous (‘crack out the tiaras Ma’am, we have a State Dinner’) or awe-inspiring (looking down at a crowd of tens of thousands lining The Mall) or wildly privileged (walking past all the Reubens lining the hall every time one pops to the loo) but actually fun.
Currently, William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in Belize as they continue their week-long Caribbean PR blitzkrieg in honour of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Despite things getting off to a bumpy start, with a planned trip to a cacao farm having to be canned because of a small protest, since then it’s been a paint-by-numbers royal tour.
There have been flag-waving schoolchildren, a particularly toe-curling moment of watching two rhythmically-crippled people try to dance and the sight of a future queen trying her hand at a spot of local industry. (“That’s the way you burn off the calories before (you) eat the chocolate,” William joked as Kate was shown how to grind cocoa nibs.)
So far, Gan Gan (aka Her Majesty) must be well pleased with their work. And so far, the whole thing has been so soporific and predictable of an outing that we have steered clear of really reporting on it.
No one, aside from the most ardent monarchist (Tony Abbott is that you?) actually wants to hear about this rote charm offensive.
But then something happened on Monday when they visited a Mayan archaeological site in the jungle, dubbed the Sky Palace, and there they had what actually looked like fun. And here’s the real kicker: They had fun with … the press.
See, the journos who travel with them all now regularly post behind-the-scenes videos which offer a very tantalising insight into what actually goes on. (In short: A lot of standing around.)
One clip has been doing the rounds and shows the Cambridges posing for the press, with photographers positioned both on the ground and on the top of the ancient ruin.
As William and Kate turned and walked back towards the media pack closest to them they could be seen laughing, the Duke jokes, “We got one [group] one side and another the other. You are in each other’s photographs” while his wife grinned.
It was a totally off-the-cuff moment but a highly illuminating one that gets to the heart of why the Cambridges have flourished in their roles and why Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s royal careers hit the rocks.
It all comes down to the brothers’ totally divergent approaches to handling the press.
When they were boys, they were both in the car when their mother Diana, Princess of Wales would be tailed by marauding snappers and they both surely witnessed the toll that tabloid hunt took on her.
(”One of the feelings that comes up for me always is the helplessness. Being a guy and being too young to help a woman, in this case your mother, and that happened every single day,” Harry recalled last year.)
When they entered their 20s, so too did the demands of the press increase on them. Look at the photocall arranged to mark William’s first day at university in Scotland and his discomfort is obvious.
However, as the years have progressed, William has come to understand the wholly, and perhaps unhealthily, symbiotic relationship between Fleet Street and Buckingham Palace.
Each needs the other, a fact that the elder Wales has reportedly come to accept. (Like? Probably not.)
While in a perfect world the Duke of Cambridge probably wishes that the entire British press corp would find themselves permanently stranded on a remote outpost in the Outer Hebrides, he has developed, by all accounts, a mature working relationship with the select number of reporters and photographers whose job it is to cover all things royal.
After all, every time that he and Kate leave Kensington Palace for an official engagement, they would be seeing the same group of faces.
(When Kate was in Denmark for a whistlestop tour last month, she was seen giggling and chatting with the press after sliding down a huge adult-size slippery dip.)
Contrast that with Harry’s dyspeptic approach. Remember the falling-out-of-nightclubs and scuffling-with-snappers years?
While after that there came a period of time where it looked like he was growing up on this front, relations between him and the press took a nosedive when he started dating Suits star Meghan Markle.
A week after news of their romance broke he put out, via his press secretary, a blistering statement condemning the racist and sexist abuse she had faced.
Things then only went from bad to worse.
In October 2018, the newlywed Sussexes undertook a hugely successful tour of Australia and the South Pacific.
When he headed to the back of the plane to speak to the press who had covered the trip, he is reported to have said “Thanks for coming, even though you weren’t invited.”
(“Any engagement that I’m at with him he just scowls at us. I can’t stress that clearly enough, he can’t hide his disdain. It’s just so uncomfortable, he has fury and venom in his eyes. He’s very tortured,” one royal correspondent who was on the plane that day told The Guardian.)
A year later, while on tour in Southern Africa, he was caught snapping at a highly experienced royal reporter when she asked him a question.
Days later, he revealed that Meghan was suing the Mail on Sunday’s parent company for having published parts of a letter she had sent her estranged father and that he was suing The Sun and The Mirror for alleged phone hacking.
“He has grown increasingly into adulthood irritated with media coverage and had an almost unhealthy obsession with it, to the extent he would even read the comments beneath the articles online” former BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said during an interview in 2020. “He would then take up issues with the correspondents from those papers when he met them.”
Since then, the Sussexes’ antagonism towards the Fourth Estate only appears to have become even more deeply and irreversibly entrenched, with them having called in the lawyers over reporting by the most establishment of establishment outlets, the BBC and The Times in 2021.
Earlier this year, Harry launched libel action against the Mail on Sunday over a report about his application for a judicial appeal of the decision for the family’s official police protection to be withdrawn.
It is not though, that Harry and Meghan don’t want any media attention at all. Heavens no.
Post-Megxit they have been interviewed for podcasts, Meghan has taken part in a New York Times summit and appeared on the Ellen show, while Harry filmed a segment for TheLate Late Show with James Corden.
There was also their comically over-Photoshopped appearance on the cover of Time magazine, the duo, of course, also submitted themselves for the most softball of questionings by Oprah Winfrey for a prime time TV special and Harry appeared on camera for his mental health series The Me You Can’t See.
When you get down to it, it would seem that the difference between Harry and William’s attitudes to the media comes down to emotion versus pragmatism.
While William and Kate have taken steps, a number of times, to protect their children’s privacy they also understand that they need the leading newspapers, websites and TV stations to tell the world about all the good they are doing and which the press enthusiastically, and daily, does.
So too do the Cambridges also perceive that there is a world of difference between sneaky photographers trying to take pictures of their kids unawares and professional journalists from credible titles who cover the royal beat.
Being a working member of the royal family means selling the monarchy with boundless vigour and zeal every and any way possible. And that right there is the job: Sell, sell, sell.
You are never going to be able to do that if you are sulkily taking umbrage with the people trying to help you get your message out there.
What William and Kate have proven with this clip from the Belizean jungle is that the press does not have to be the enemy of the royal family. Would they choose to spend hours in the Caribbean heat with this lot of scribes and snappers of their own free will? Huh! Insert the derisive snort of your choice here. But what they are willing to accept is that this is work, pure and simple and sometimes that work is … kinda fun.
Enjoy it while you can, crazy Cambridge kids. You’ve got a good five decades of this ahead of you.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.