“Why doesn’t the palace say anything?”
That was the question a friend asked me this week after a new and completely fabricated story about a romance between Harry and Pippa started doing the rounds.
It’s a reasonable query.
Ever since Prince Harry was tasked with the job of escorting Pippa Middleton out of the church after the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and the two smiled and grinned at each other with an undeniable crackle of chemistry, there has been endless speculation about whether the two in-laws might someday get together themselves. (Yes, that is the sound of your correspondent putting his hands up, by the way).
The artist Alison Jackson even created a series of parody photographs in which a look-alike Prince Harry rested his hand lightly on a look-alike Pippa’s derrière.
It is a consummation that continues to be devoutly wished for by a certain class of royal obsessive, but there’s a difference between wanting something to be so and putting it on the front cover of your magazine, as the American edition of OK! magazine did this week, brazenly making up a cover story that Harry and Pippa are a (very passionate) item.
Seeing as they were in for a penny, the magazine decided to be in for a pound, and went so far as to combine two separate pictures of the young royals on their cover, both wearing swimming gear, with the headline CAUGHT.
The effect was to make it look to the unwary like a snapper had grabbed a picture of them on holiday together.
The story itself was equally inventive. It went into some detail about the supposed romance, claiming it all kicked off when Kate caught Pippa and Harry ‘snogging’ in the toilets after the royal wedding.
“There’s always been sexual tension between them, even when they were dating other people,” an alleged source told the magazine, which has, in the last few months, claimed that Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton are expecting a child together, alleged that Amal Clooney is pregnant with George’s baby, and that Kate Middleton herself is going to have twins.
The story said that Pippa once turned up on Harry’s doorstep in tight jeans and a sheer top, prompting Harry to light candles and serve up “a pasta carbonara that he’d prepared himself.”
I know, pasta, what a romantic, eh?
The palace has declined to issue a rebuttal, even off the record. They fear that comment only extends the life of this kind of story and (as I explained to my friend) these stories should not be dignified with any response.
But there is no doubt that the story is a complete fabrication (the big giveaway, of course, is that Harry likes posh blondes, not middle-class brunettes).
The story has been comprehensively shot down, it has been rubbished and ridiculed across all mainstream media in the days since its publication.
It has also likely generated monster traffic for OK! Even the articles trashing the story will be sending traffic back to it.
So it’s pretty clear why celebrity magazines such as OK! continue to put fabricated royal stories on their covers—clicks are not fact-checked after all—but what’s less clear is why the punters continue to buy them.
Jo Piazza, a former tabloid magazine editor and author of the book Celebrity Inc, told The Daily Beast: “Readers believe the majority of this stuff is fan fiction at this point, which is sad because it takes away the credibility of actual celebrity reporting.
“That said, readers don’t get these magazines for facts. They get them to indulge in a fantasy. It’s like watching a movie or a bad television show. The reader just wants to be entertained. There would be more of a reader uproar if a magazine stopped publishing pictures of a celeb’s cellulite than when a magazine lies to them.”
However, another former editor of a mass-market US tabloid told The Daily Beast that she was not convinced that the vast majority of readers would realize that the story of Harry and Pippa was completely made up.
“The Royals are a fairytale, and the readers want stories like this to be true so much that they do believe them,” she said.
The editor said that the readership of OK! magazine are largely ‘middle America,’ and they “pick the magazine up in a supermarket to be entertained. That’s it. They are used to the fact that people trash those magazines, and it doesn’t bother them, particularly because once in a while—as with [the early reports around the transition of] Bruce Jenner—the story actually does turn out to be true.”
The fact that the Royals never rebut these stories makes life easier for the editors of gossip magazines that do decide to cover these entirely fanciful stories, and the rewards are huge, she said. “People can’t get enough. Put the young royals on the cover instead of a trashy reality star and your issue will do really well.”
Telling the readers of OK! magazine to go online and check the story out themselves is probably pointless. Online search engines pander to our prejudices these days, and will be busily directing the readers of OK! magazine to Celebrity Dirty Laundry and other sites with a disregard for the truth and content supporting the story.
Even if they were minded to start parsing the verity of the Harry/Pippa story in detail, the hydra-like nature of online news means that once a story is out of the bag—or invented—it’s very hard, perhaps impossible, to un-invent it completely.
So, why don’t the palace say anything?
Yes, they don’t want to add to the frenzy…but more than that, really, what would be the point?