LONDON (AP) — They present a united front in public — always. But Prince Harry has a very different story about the British Queen and the way they operate.
Harry’s explosive memoir, with damning allegations about the toxic relationship between the monarchy and the press, could accelerate the pace of change already under way at the House of Windsor following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Harry’s account of how members of the royal family leak unflattering information about other family members in exchange for positive coverage of himself is just one of a number of cheap allegations in his book ‘Spare’, released this week. The prince singled out King Charles III’s wife, Camilla, accusing her of feeding the media with private conversations as she sought to rehabilitate her image after her long-running affair with Charles when he was heir to the throne.
Far from the unity that is presented in public, the royal family and their staffs are depicted as scheming rivals, ready to backstab each other to make themselves or their bosses look better in public. The palace Harry describes resembles a modern version of King Henry VIII’s court, where courtiers jockeyed for the monarch’s favor and some lost their heads.
The book leaves the impression of a deeply dysfunctional British royal family whose members are so concerned about the tabloid press that they are forced to make deals with journalists, says Ed Owens, author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53.” And the public, when faced with this proposal, might think twice.
“I think there needs to be a kind of reset and we need to think carefully about what the monarchy is, what role it plays in society,” says historian Owens. “Because this idea of ’we British taxpayers pay and they deliver’ – it’s a really broken and corrupting equation.”
The monarchy, largely funded by the taxpayer, plays a largely ceremonial role in British society these days – a soft power ruler. But supporters say the institution still plays a vital role, uniting the country behind a shared history and traditions embodied both in the grandeur of royal ceremonies and in the daily work of royals as they open schools and hospitals and bestow honors on those. who serve the nation.
News coverage of the royal family generally falls into one of two categories: carefully orchestrated public appearances or sometimes messy stories about the royal family’s private lives based on unidentified sources.
But change may be at hand.
The history of colonialism – so deeply intertwined with the Crown – is being re-examined around the world. Protesters have torn down or defaced statues in British cities, and internationally renowned universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are changing course offerings. All of this adds up to one thing: An institution that was once a symbol of the British Empire is facing scrutiny like never before.
Charles, who became king after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September, faces the challenge of modernizing Britain’s 1,000-year-old monarchy to ensure its survival. He has already said he plans to cut the number of working royals and cut costs for the monarchy.
It may have taken a long time, but it was held back by one key factor: Elizabeth herself.
Personal affection for the Queen meant that the monarchy’s role in British society was rarely discussed during her seven decades on the throne. Now that she is gone, the royal family faces questions about its relevance in a modern, multicultural nation that looks very different to when Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952.
In Elizabeth’s world – ruled by the mantra of “never complain, never explain” – the kind of personal revelations in Harry’s book would have been unthinkable. He describes his mental health issues after the 1997 car crash that killed his mother, Princess Diana. a physical altercation with his older brother, Prince William, reveals how he lost his virginity and describes his use of cocaine and cannabis.
“Spare” is the latest effort by Harry and his wife Meghan to tell their own story after they left royal life and moved to California in 2020, citing what they saw as racist treatment of Meghan in the media and a lack of support from the media. palace.
Harry, 38, claims in his ghostwritten memoir that Camilla liaised with the British press and traded information on her way to becoming queen consort, essentially feeding the press unflattering stories about Harry and Meghan in exchange for better coverage of to myself.
The allegations are particularly sensitive because of Camilla’s role in the acrimonious breakdown of Charles’ marriage to Diana. While Camilla was initially shunned by many members of the public, she gained a following by engaging in a wide range of charitable activities and was credited with helping Charles appear less stuffy and more in tune with modern Britain.
Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover jumped to her defense and claimed Harry was just skinny.
“I would venture to say that some members of the royal family have passed stories to the press through their courtiers over the years, but it is absurd and naive to suggest that this was part of an organized attempt to destabilize Harry and Meghan,” he wrote. “The Royals are not puppets of the press because – if they have any sense – they realize they can be bluffed as well as praised. The wise know how to take the rough with the smooth.”
But unlike Elizabeth, who famously issued a statement suggesting “some memories may differ” when confronted with accusations of racism following Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, Buckingham Palace responded to the first major crisis of Charles’ reign with silence.
This has seen Harry dominate the headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, apparently being served tequila on a US late night TV show and repeatedly talking about dirty laundry at the House of Windsor.
As this is not the first scandal to rock Buckingham Palace – Elizabeth’s uncle abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcee, among other scandals – many of those who bought Harry’s book on Tuesday were confident the institution would weather the storm .
“They just have to shrug it off and be royalty,” said James Bradley, 61, when he bought a copy. “After the Queen’s death, the royal family’s stock has never been higher in my lifetime and this is just going to bounce back.” We won’t be talking about it in six months.”
But Steven Barnett, a professor of communications at the University of Westminster, expects Harry’s revelation to force the palace to be more transparent – perhaps more like other institutions such as the White House or the British prime minister’s office at 10 Downing Street.
“He did us a favor by exposing the secretive nature, the conspiratorial nature of the relationship between the royal family and the British press,” says Barnett. “They’re going to have to change the way they do print business. And that’s good. It’s a good thing for the monarchy and it’s a good thing for British society.”
Danica Kirka, based in London for The Associated Press, covers the British royal family.
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