Yesterday morning we awoke to the usual fusillade of disturbing news in what is the worst crisis this country has experienced since the end of the Second World War.
The shortage of personal protection equipment for our courageous medical staff is worsening. The testing fiasco continues, and the Government seems unlikely to meet its self-imposed target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.
Death and suffering are all around. The economy is crashing. Jobs and livelihoods are at risk. Many are frightened, and some people are having to confront their fears alone, separated from those they love.
Amid this almost unbearable gloom, there erupted a very different story which seemed so discordant and bizarre that I could not for a moment believe what I was hearing.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex delivered a pronouncement from distant Los Angeles, where they are residing in a rented house said to be worth £8million, almost certainly subsidised by Prince Charles. Their message was that they no longer intend to have dealings with British tabloid newspapers, including the Mail.
Can you imagine a more frivolous and sententious intervention during a pandemic that threatens our way of life? When humans are worrying about the future of the world, Harry and Meghan climb into their habitual pulpit to reiterate their hatred for newspapers that account for some 80 per cent of the Press.
Pictured: Prince Harry is seen hand-in-hand with wife Meghan at their last official engagement as royals in London on March 9
Their pompous statement, signed by a lackey, contained the familiar and unsubstantiated allegation that newspapers have knowingly published stories about them which are ‘distorted, false, or invasive beyond reason’. Examples would have been welcome, but as usual none were forthcoming.
What astonished me was the apparent naivety of their statement. The two of them put themselves about in the hope of attracting publicity. They have their own website with 11million followers. Harry often sounds off.
Only yesterday, Meghan gave a television interview on Good Morning America, promoting a forthcoming Disney documentary about elephants which she has narrated.
Both the Duke and Duchess are mega celebrities trading on their royal status. They are hungry for coverage – on their own terms, naturally – which in the fullness of time will serve to fill their coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter a row of beans if they never engage with the British tabloids ever again. These publications don’t need official permission to write about the couple’s public antics. I grant it would be difficult if they took themselves off to a desert island, but they’ve absolutely no intention of doing that.
For all practical purposes, their self-centred statement was therefore utterly meaningless. Its only possible rationale was to enable them to let off steam against the Press, for which they have conceived such an unreasoning loathing.
My suspicion is that they realise perfectly well that not engaging with the tabloids won’t make a blind bit of difference. If they can’t grasp as much, they are either being advised by halfwits or are themselves implausibly dim – or both. Here are my questions.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (pictured in London in March) delivered a pronouncement from distant Los Angeles, where they are residing in a rented house said to be worth £8million, almost certainly subsidised by Prince Charles, writes STEPHEN GLOVER
Are relations between the couple and the British Press so damaged that any reconciliation is inconceivable? Will Meghan and Harry be the first members of the Royal Family to be in a state of permanent war with the media?
It’s hard to be optimistic but I shan’t give up hoping. One reason is that Harry is a fine young man, who has done many good things, such as launching the Invictus Games, which have given wounded service personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports.
As for Meghan, I may not be her greatest fan, but she is obviously intelligent, resourceful and talented. She has taken against the tabloids, though they have given her a great deal of sympathetic coverage in the past – as recently as her and Harry’s visit to South Africa only last year.
The trouble is that when relations sour, ill-will tends to ratchet up on both sides. She should take a lesson from the Duchess of Cornwall. Although Camilla was desperately unpopular after the death of her former rival, Diana, Princess of Wales, she good-humouredly and without rancour mended her fences with the Press.
As for Meghan (pictured during publicity for her new Disney film ‘Elephant’, I may not be her greatest fan, but she is obviously intelligent, resourceful and talented, writes STEPHEN GLOVER
Why couldn’t Meghan do the same? I can see that Harry’s not entirely wrong-headed conviction that the paparazzi drove his mother Diana to her death creates an obstacle. If only he could see that the newspapers he excoriates have their virtues.
Only two days ago, he took a swipe at his old enemy when he said that the situation in this country is ‘better than we’re led to believe through certain corners of the media’.
Note that – as usual – Harry didn’t name the publications he accuses of exaggeration. It is a generalised slur. But haven’t newspapers of every hue done a sterling job during this pandemic of holding the Government to account, and keeping people informed of the progress of the dreadful contagion?
Professor Karol Sikora, a distinguished doctor who has been an adviser in No 10 in the past, got it about right when he said in response to Harry’s ill-judged criticisms from 6,000 miles away: ‘I think that these remarks are outrageous.’
Alas, Harry is so bitterly and blindly at odds with the Press that he can’t appreciate its merits or understand its role in a democracy. Nor does he appreciate that in denouncing the tabloids he implicitly writes off the many millions of people who read them.
Harry (pictured during a zoom call with parents of disabled British children) is so bitterly and blindly at odds with the Press that he can’t appreciate its merits or understand its role in a democracy, writes STEPHEN GLOVER
Perhaps some of the couple’s youthful Instagram followers will unthinkingly lap up his strictures about newspapers they probably don’t look at. People who do read them may not relish his wholesale condemnations.
Incidentally, he was unwise last week to urge ministers to do more to help families with seriously and terminally ill children during the coronavirus pandemic. A splendid cause, no doubt, but members of the Royal Family aren’t supposed to lecture the Government in public.
Here, in one relatively insignificant incident, is the danger writ large. Harry and Meghan remain members of the Royal Family. If they make injudicious interventions from afar, they risk damaging the institution from which they have – rashly, I think – separated themselves, but of which they remain part.
There is a peril in pontificating from a great distance about a country you have voluntarily deserted. If such effusions persist, people may ask what right the detached couple have to treat us to their advice, however well-meaning it may be.
How telling that, while Harry and Meghan are holed up abroad, members of the Royal Family in this country should be doing so much to lift morale. Yesterday, 98-year-old Prince Philip came out of retirement to offer encouraging words for medics, scientists and researchers.
Can anyone at this late stage get through to Harry? His father? Brother? The tabloids can easily cope without any personal exchanges with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. As I say, they’ll continue to write about them as major public figures.
But I fear for Harry. For he and his wife to put themselves centre-stage in the middle of a pandemic is not just misplaced egotism. Harry is cut off, ill-advised, chasing the wrong demons – and tragically adrift from the country he loves and the institution he has served.
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