A murderer may have broken into the grounds of Buckingham Palace this week and spent seven long minutes strolling in the shrubbery before being apprehended by police, but when it comes to the walled garden of their private lives, the royals are showing fewer signs of permeability.
Indeed, they have been actively priming and testing their defenses in recent months. And this week the royals received two massive boosts to their eternal and existential battle with the press.
First, the Queen won a ruling from the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO) that a headline in the Sun “Queen backs Brexit”, described by the paper as an “exclusive bombshell” was “significantly misleading”.
Then, on Friday, IPSO made a further ruling which declared that a story in the Daily Star that Prince Harry had a “secret romance” with Pippa Middleton was “completely untrue”.
Sharp-witted readers of the Daily Beast will recall that the Royalist shot down the the Harry/Pippa story, an apparent piece of fan fiction published in America by OK! Magazine, within hours of its appearance.
“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 among other wild stories that Kate Middleton herself is pregnant with 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.”
The Prince probably wouldn’t have lodged a complaint had the tall tale—which described how the Prince and Miss Middleton had “snogged” at the Royal wedding in 2011 and “hooked up” in a bathroom—not been published in a UK paper.
But after it appeared in the Star, he decided to act.
A key part of Harry’s argument was that the Star claimed to have contacted royal press officers for comment, but, it turned out, the reporter actually had not done so. By “suggesting that the newspaper had sought to stand up its story”, and implying that the palace had not contradicted the story, the newspaper had attempted to give “further weight to the claims”, IPSO said.
(Incidentally, the Daily Beast did, of course, contact Harry’s press team at the time we wrote about it, and and was told that they hadn’t commented on the story.)
The Queen has long shared with Kate Moss and Johnny Depp an attitude that the best approach to fictional stories in the press is to neither explain or complain, for fear that doing so will only draw attention to the article.
So there was general amazement when the Queen officially objected to the Sun’s story claiming she backed the UK seceding from the European Union in the forthcoming referendum on the issue to be held in the UK this summer.
It is possible that having had David Cameron publicly disclose her position on the Scottish referendum in his ‘open mic’ remarks to Michael Bloomberg forced her hand. Anyway, the Queen’s advisors clearly counselled that it would be worth the publicity to slap this highly political story down publicly.
Although the Queen’s complaint was a surprise, William, Kate and Harry have consistently demonstrated that they are less willing than their grandmother to suffer fabricated stories silently.
William attempted to pursue the photographer who photographed Kate topless in France through the French courts, but the efforts eventually fizzled out and the proceedings have now been quietly forgotten.
Foreign media, which cannot be cowed in the same way as domestic outlets, are these days steered by the medium of the stern but polite letter, sent on headed Kensington Palace writing paper, when they publish invasive stories or run ‘unauthorized’ pictures of the royals.
Penny Junor, the prolific royal author whose recent books include biographies of both Prince Harry and Prince William, told the Daily Beast: “The younger royals do get very annoyed that the media are constantly prying into their private lives. If you look back to when William and Kate were going out together, he started sending legal letters to the press and to photographers who were following her.
“Harry has got a bit of the same bloody-mindedness. He has said that he is feeling under pressure at the moment and talked about how difficult it is to find a girlfriend. The minute he sees anyone he is being married off to them. But there is particular sensitivity in this case because the story was linking him with Pippa, not just A.N. Other blonde.”
Junor says that the press themselves are now getting ‘hacked off’ with the younger royals, “There is a feeling they are becoming uncooperative towards the press. Camilla—who I am writing a book about at the moment—is so easy and friendly. When she gets out a of a car, she stops and looks at the cameras and smiles. When Kate gets out of a car she seems to deliberately turn in the opposite direction. It’s annoying the press, and that is a really dangerous situation.”
The renewed rattling of royal sabers in regard to press stories is also a function of the fact that almost four years after the conclusion of the Leveson enquiry into the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal, none of the legislation proposed to curtail the British press has actually been introduced.
The British press is now confident that it never will be, and newspapers are starting to flex their own muscles once again. And one of the best ways to test the water is to write nasty things about the Royals, and see what comes back down the palace drainpipe.