Thu. Aug 11th, 2022
The truth about palace briefings and how we get stories about the royals

It was all pretty uncontroversial – and I get the distinct impression that viewers are going to feel decidedly let down at this new BBC two-part series on the royals, despite the palace’s reported “fury” that they have not been offered a proper right of reply to potential claims about the relationship between Princes William and Harry.

First of all, I know the second of the two programmes has had to be extensively rewritten since the Duchess was forced to apologise for “unintentionally” misleading the court over whether she collaborated with the authors of the biography Finding Freedom during a Court of Appeal hearing in her case against the Mail on Sunday earlier this month.

So it seems as if it is not a case of the BBC withholding preview copies from the palace – but rather that it is still being edited right down to the wire.

The palace appears to be worried that Rajan has been told that royal aides purposely briefed the story of Megxit to the press, in an attempt to undermine Harry and Meghan. The Duchess has already claimed, incorrectly, that they briefed against her to me, when I wrote a story in November 2018 suggesting that Meghan had made Kate cry during a bridesmaids’ dress fitting.

Again, without wishing to reveal my sources – that is not an accurate description of how I came across that piece of information, which I still stand by despite Meghan’s claims it was Kate who made her cry. Perhaps they both cried? We’ll probably never know.

Omid Scobie, who has also contributed to the documentary, may have accused the palace of briefing against Harry and Meghan, but in the words of Mandy Rice-Davies, he would, wouldn’t he? The former European bureau chief of US Weekly, who I know personally, took a commercial decision some time ago to become a cheerleader for Team Sussex. Good luck to him.

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Do you want to know the real truth about royal briefings?

I can honestly say that in my 16 years covering the royal family, I don’t think I have ever been called by the palace press office and actively briefed a story. Funnily enough, they don’t call us up saying: “You’ll never believe what Meghan did today.”

That’s not how it works. What happens is a journalist finds something out (which could be from anyone or anywhere), does some digging to stand it up and then calls the palace for a response ahead of publication (or not, if the intel is reliable enough).

Sometimes they offer guidance – but more often than not they decline to comment in line with the Queen’s long held “never complain, never explain” mantra.

The palace’s role is largely reactive, rather than proactive. Obviously, the PR machine goes into overdrive in response to something like Harry and Meghan giving a 90-minute bombshell interview to Oprah in which they accuse members of the royal family of being racist – but that’s what they are paid for (and why Harry and Meghan continue to employ spokesmen to brief back).

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I appreciate that even the royal family have complained in the past about households briefing against each other (William and Harry apparently once feared their father’s press office was planting negative stories about them to make Charles and Camilla look better). I wasn’t reporting on the royal family then, and I was too young to cover the so-called War of the Waleses, so I cannot comment on that – though many reporting back then have long accused the palace press office of repeatedly lying to them over the heir to the throne’s adultery.

It isn’t hard to understand the relationship between “the Princes and the press”, however. The Princes would rather nothing negative ever appeared in the press about them – and employ people to spin in their favour. It is the job of a journalist to see through that spin and report what is really going on in a fair, accurate and contemporaneous manner – whether the royal family likes it or not.

By admin