9 November 2016
By Adam Leigh
Prince Harry’s decision to rebuke sections of the British media for their coverage of his girlfriend’s life and background is widely seen as a milestone moment in the relationship between the Royals and the Fourth Estate.
Rarely, if ever before has a senior member of “the Firm” engaged in such direct terms with their Fleet St tormentors. The directness, tone, and deployment of idiom (“smear”; “thick skin”; “social media trolls”) in the statement released yesterday by Kensington Palace are without precedent.
And what makes Harry’s intervention such powerful PR is that it’s clear this is no carefully calibrated statement from an old-school Palace press officer in military tie and blazer, but instead bears the fingerprints of the Prince himself. Impassioned and indignant, he directly accuses some of the nation’s most powerful editors of orchestrating racist, sexist coverage of his private life. It’s a cry from the Royal soul – and a far cry from Royal tradition.
Let’s face it, Leveson Inquiry notwithstanding, Britain’s newspapers aren’t used to being called out on their excesses, and all the evidence is that they don’t much like it.
But the Prince is a cherished national figure these days. The fundamental sincerity of his take-me-as-I-am persona, coupled with his distinguished military service in Afghanistan, and the success of passion projects like the Invictus Games, has elevated his status far beyond the “spare” to Prince William’s heir.
By calling out the entrenched “isms” of the tabloid press in stark and chivalrous terms, he’s making a direct pitch for public support. And the fact that he’s knowingly taken on such powerful interests compounds the effect of making him look like the little guy standing up to the bullies. Yes, he says, I may be rich and Royal; I may lead a life of incredible privilege; but I’m allowed to have feelings, too. You’d have to have a hard heart to disagree.
But hard hearts – and long memories – are among the defining characteristics of our national media. Emboldened by the limited fallout from Leveson (as evidenced by the personalised nature of last week’s attacks on the judiciary) the Mail’s Paul Dacre and the Sun’s Tony Gallagher in particular believe Harry to be fair game, and won’t take kindly to being put back in their box.
While reminding the rest of us that even princes (and their girlfriends) are entitled to some basic compassion, Harry has bravely set out to advance the Royal cause. And by alluding to “nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers”, “substantial bribes”, “bombardment” of Meghan Markle’s friends and former partners, he is allowing a rare insight into the private agonies of those in the public eye.
Yet when the smoke has cleared, however, he’s likely to find the gimlet eye of his Fleet St adversary remains firmly locked on target. Harry’s statement may be a “moment”, but Fleet St knows a juicy story when it sees one. And the tale of the young prince with the TV star lover remains box-office gold. It’s a story too good to ignore. Watch this space: you’ll soon be able to read all about it – all over again.
Adam Leigh is Strategy Director of W, and former Deputy Editor of The Independent
PR Week, 9 November 2016