'Do they think we’re stupid?' How the Palace buries controversy with gossip and distraction

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·Royal Executive Editor
·5-min read
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The British press was more interested in a vague mention of Meghan than in the Royal Family's finances. (PA)
The British press was more interested in a vague mention of Meghan than in the Royal Family's finances. (PA)
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With the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee only four weeks ago, the Royal Family should still be riding high on the incredible four days of celebrations that filled the streets of Britain and lit up televisions around the world. After all, set-piece festivities like that are designed to shore up support for the monarchy for long into the future.

But with the news of the family’s eye-wateringly high taxpayer-funded spending, and slew of controversial reports about Prince Charles appalling judgement (from accepting bags of large cash donations for his charities to giving a top royal honour to a tycoon who had just bailed out a failed business venture), last month’s royal sparkle has quickly started to dull.

You would be forgiven for not being completely aware of these stories. Last week, the most dominant headlines about the Royal Family revolved around family members who left the fold over two years ago — Meghan’s “bullying” allegations and Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor meeting Charles for the first time.

The coverage was no coincidence. Never complain, never explain may slowly be becoming a thing of the past at the palace (well, according to Prince William at least), but a different order of the day has quickly risen within the institution of the monarchy: deflect and distract.

You see, when the Prince of Wales was forced to announce via his spokesman that he will never again accept plastic bags filled with €500 notes for his charities, one of his senior aides also briefed journalists with adorable details of the heir’s first time meeting granddaughter Lilibet last month. (Yes, one of the same private family moments royal sources had “feared” the Sussexes would leak. The irony).

The Prince of Wales' finances has been under the spotlight recently. (PA)
The Prince of Wales' finances has been under the spotlight recently. (PA)

The strategy worked. Later that day a quick news search for Prince Charles brought up a long list of headlines about his “very emotional” time with Harry and Meghan’s two children. You would have had to search further down the results to see his £3 million mea culpa.

It was a similar scenario when the Royal Household revealed last week that, while Britain continues to struggle with a devastating cost-of-living crisis, the Royal Family has spent more money than ever. The latest Sovereign Grant Report showed that in 2021-2022 the royals cost taxpayers £102.4 million ($122.9 million)—17% more than the previous year — and their travel costs had rocketed from £1.3m ($1.5m) to £4.5m ($5.4m).

Outrage over spending, including the £100,000 ($120,000) spent on just three royal train trips, made its way across more serious media outlets, but the news failed to make the front pages of the country’s most-read tabloids. Instead, their headlines focused on something else - a suspiciously timed update on the investigation into bullying claims against the Duchess of Sussex.

Watch: Prince Charles ‘had very emotional first meeting with Lilibet’

It was the Queen’s treasurer who had been tasked with briefing royal correspondents an update about the controversial investigation. Though their annual finance report does include some HR matters, the privately funded inquiry into how they handled 2018 claims made by former Kensington Palace private secretary Jason Knauf (not whether they were true or not) was not part of the published document.

Still, it was shared by Sir Michael Stevens, that palace’s “policies and procedures have been taken forward” now that the mysterious investigation was complete. Any other findings or details will remain private (even to those who agreed to participate).

It’s not the only time that accusations of Meghan’s “bullying” have been wheeled out at an opportune moment. The allegations were first shared with a major newspaper by “royal aides” just before the Sussexes bombshell special with Oprah Winfrey aired.

Though reporting didn’t include any examples of such behaviour (I’ve also spoken to a long list of former staff, all of whom can’t recall any moments that would fall under such a description), it was still enough for the Palace to release an official statement to journalists around the world about their plans for a full investigation - and conveniently overshadow some of the news made by the couple in their primetime interview.

Harry and Meghan have been used as a scapegoat before. (PA)
Harry and Meghan have been used as a scapegoat before. (PA)

You would think that if the establishment was so keen to strengthen its Human Resources office, they might have also launched an investigation into Meghan’s claims that the same HR department turned her away when she approached them with fears for her mental health and suicidal ideations as a working member of The Firm. But, I digress.

In an era where transparency is vital for any public officials to survive, the days of the royal family being able to hide transgressions or mistakes are long gone. A free and fearless press makes sure of that. Which is why the institution has instead resorted to activating distractions in times of crisis.

I’m just not sure who it is they think they are fooling? The public aren’t stupid. And a brief look at social media shows that a large majority of individuals can see straight through the smoke and mirrors. It’s why #TheRoyalFamilyLies trended high on Twitter for four days last week.

I’d say it might be time for a new strategy, but with news that Prince Charles has just replaced his short-lived head of communications with an editor straight from the Daily Mail newsroom (the same paper that his son and daughter-in-law has launched and won lawsuits against for libel and invasion of privacy), it looks like more of the same is on the horizon.

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