“As always the Royal Family. and their dignified silence are the picture of stoicism.” The animated commentator on the TV in the background of my office reeled off a line I’ve heard numerous variations of over the past week. It's a sentence used almost every time the monarchy faces scandal – and this time, in the wake of Prince Harry’s memoir release, it has been no different.
But, while it may be true that Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace have chosen not to answer requests for comment from journalists (including myself) about the revelations in Spare, in my experience of royal reporting the reality of the institution’s silence might not be quite what it seems.
Despite the tired “never complain, never explain” facade, an assortment of Royal Family sources and friends have all been busy speaking to media outlets since the contents of the book first leaked to British newspapers ahead of its 10 January debut.
Whilst these sources may be speaking out entirely independently, given how tight knit the Royal Family inner circle is, I doubt they would speak to the media without at least some form of tacit approval from the royals.
Follow this beat long enough and the location of each quote won’t surprise you. First up was a Sunday Times article by the go-to journalist for Prince William and his inner circle. “He won’t retaliate, he never would, because he’s dignified and unbelievably loyal,” said a source, retaliating on the Prince of Wales’ behalf. “It’s cruel, cowardly and so sad for William to keep taking the punches. He’s keeping quiet for the good of his family and the country.” A friend threatened, “You could have a f***ing field day with shit on Harry. So could William, who is as clean as a whistle.”
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And then there were the numerous palace aides and “royal sources” quoted in the Daily Mail. Before a blistering attack from a “source close to the family” in The Independent – one of the few times the publication has published anonymous royal source quotes – who claimed Harry’s wishes for a reconciliation are “impossible” because the King, Queen Consort and Prince William fear anything they say will be made public.
“He has been kidnapped by a cult of psychotherapy and Meghan,” their source added. “It is impossible for him to return in these circumstances.” It's one of the few times the left-leaning site has published anonymous royal source quotes, but perhaps the start of a new direction for the publication since former Daily Mail boss and Camilla pal Geordie Grieg took over as editor-in-chief last month.
The wagons are circled just as tightly on television, too, with individuals often sympathetic to the institution quick to have their say. Royal photographer Arthur Edwards – who Camilla and Charles posted birthday wishes to on social media – sat down with Piers Morgan and a former Boris Johnson girlfriend (both friends of Camilla) to discuss Harry’s “attacks” on the Queen Consort. "I really wanted to smack him one,” said Edwards. “[Camilla’s] been nothing but nice to him!” Charming.
Still, the official silence seems to be working for the family, despite the unflattering claims made by the Duke of Sussex in his memoir. A new YouGov poll claims that 70% of British residents have a positive view of Prince William and over half (54%) for the Royal Family. Prince Harry, on the other hand, received just 24%. Having said that, more than four in 10 young Britons still see Harry favourably and, on the day of the book’s release, I was approached by a number of young people in London who wanted to tell me they had bought the book and were supporting him.
Audiences in the US have shown a similar response. Harry walking out to chants of his name on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert reflected the majority mood in the country. And his appearances on 60 Minutes and Good Morning America pulled in record ratings.
Just like in the UK, the book has already become the most successful memoir in US publishing history. While the Royal Family may have chosen not to put their names to any official response to the issues raised by Harry in Spare, this challenging time might not be over for the British monarchy for a while.
Media coverage of engagements by King Charles and the Waleses after the book’s release largely ignored their work and instead centred around Harry’s book. And while ignoring Spare is one thing, brushing away the problematic issues of misogyny, image manipulation (and toxic relationships with the press), institutional cruelty and unconscious bias that it raises may not lead to such a positive outcome in the long term.
Just like the Sussexes' Oprah interview in 2021, today's “dignified silence” will soon start to look like the Royal Family yet again not caring about upholding the values it supposedly promotes.
And what’s a shame is that so much of this could have been avoided. As I have been reporting since as far back as summer 2020, Prince Harry has only wanted accountability from his family for some of the things that he and wife Meghan experienced during their time as working royals.
That makes it well over two years King Charles has had to stop the unresolved grievances between 'The Firm' and his son from escalating. Instead, he chose to bury his head in the sand. Charles may have done a solid job of continuing the Queen’s busy schedule of daily duties, but his inability to convene and command his own family has left his leadership skills looking weak.
It reminds me of how the Royal Family ignored Princess Diana's cries for help after the breakdown of her marriage. That stiff upper lip in public may have briefly lived up to their brand of keeping calm and carrying on, but the long term outcome of their cruel silence still haunts them to this day. Twenty years from now I have a feeling we will be saying the same thing about Spare.