Hi, friends. Once again, switching things up due to royal news. Below you’ll find my thoughts on two stories making headlines: Prince Charles in Barbados and a deep dive into the second (and final) episode of the BBC documentary, “The Princes and The Press.” At the end, I’ve squeezed in five recommendations for you.
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Barbados Removes the Queen, Becomes a Republic
Big news out of Barbados this week. The Caribbean island removed Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state to become a republic, electing its first president and ending nearly 400 years of British involvement. I thought that the Windsors might want to watch this historic moment from afar, but Prince Charles traveled to the country of roughly 287,000 to participate in the “handover” ceremony. “Wearing a mask, he sat, hands clasped, while a military display paid a final ‘compliments to the monarchy.’ Then, the Royal Standard flag was lowered to the tune of Auld Lang Syne,” reported Victoria Murphy for Town & Country.
Christopher Prior, associate professor in colonial and postcolonial history at U.K.’s University of Southampton, told NBC News that this was “a local manifestation of a very global conversation that’s being had about the legacy of the British empire and its colonial exploitation.”
The heir to the throne did acknowledge, albeit briefly, the “appalling atrocity of slavery” in a speech during the ceremony. “From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude,” he said.
Dame Sandra Mason was elected last month as the first President of Barbados. The 72-year-old politician has been governor-general since 2018 and was the first woman to serve on the Barbados Court of Appeals. As part of the ceremony early Tuesday, she presented Charles with the Order of Freedom from Barbados. Prime Minister Mia Mottley also declared Rihanna a national hero.
Barbados is the first country to remove the Queen as head of state in nearly three decades. Her Majesty remains the head of state in 14 nations, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Barbados will remain voluntarily as part of the Commonwealth, a group of 54 countries that have ties to the British Empire. “As you celebrate this momentous day, I send you and all Barbadians my warmest good wishes for your happiness, peace and prosperity in the future,” read a statement from the Queen.
But mostly: My hunch is we may see more of these departures in the coming years, especially after Charles becomes king.
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Episode 2 of ‘The Princes and the Press’
The hour covers the time period from fall 2018 to spring 2021, a messy stretch that has been hashed out quite a bit already. Still, there were a few confirmations and revelations, as well as a lot of insight into what the journalists behind the coverage were thinking.
I think the biggest takeaway from this documentary is that there is a lot required of royal watchers today. We all must draw our own conclusions about the House of Windsor. BBC presenter and host Amol Rajan summed it up with his closing comments:
Some of my thoughts below, with spoilers throughout.
“There’s Another Version of Events”
The second episode of “The Princes and the Press” opens with Valentine Low of The Times, the correspondent who wrote the piece published just before the Oprah interview about bullying allegations against Meghan two years earlier. I appreciated how Rajan presses him: “If this story was two and a half years old, why were you writing about it when you were writing about it?”
“I was writing about it when I was writing about it because that’s when I was told about it,” Low said. DING DING DING. It’s confirmation of what we thought at the time, that the story was, in Rajan’s words, a “pre-emptive strike” against the Sussexes’ tell-all. “If this had come out afterwards, no one would have cared,” Low continued. “By coming out beforehand, it was waving a flag. ‘Just remember everybody, there’s another story here, there’s another version of events.’”
Rajan asked specifically if the story had been “licensed by Prince William,” to which Low responded: “Absolutely not.” So now we’re left to guess whether it was the Queen’s office at Buckingham Palace or Charles’s at Clarence House that was behind the leak — or was an aide (or aides) gone rogue?
“A Soap Opera Narrative”
The documentary then (frustratingly) glides over a major turning point in the coverage around Meghan. Camilla Tominey of The Telegraph broke a story saying Meghan made Kate cry at a bridesmaid fitting ahead of the Sussexes’ wedding. Meghan told Oprah this spring that it was Kate who made her cry. Tominey’s retelling is intentionally vague, saying someone told her something to the effect of, “As far as I heard, like the Duchess of Cambridge ended up in tears.” (It’s worth noting, both could be true — Kate could have made Meghan cry and also cried herself.)
From what I understand, most of the interviews were done before the Oprah special aired, meaning before Meghan shared her side of the story. Still, I wish Rajan would have taken the time to dive deeper here. Because the damage the story did, much like Tiaragate, is quite profound. It set in motion “a soap operative narrative,” as Low called it. “Once people could seize on that, they could pursue it.” The sentiment of press coverage toward Meghan turned from mostly positive to mostly negative at this moment in time.
“They are Safe as Long as They are Dull”
From there, the documentary looks at Meghan’s baby shower in New York and how it was received as “ostentatious.” Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine, said something about the royal family that I think we should all keep in mind at all times. “They are safe as long as they’re dull,” he said. “The minute they’re having a good time, that all looks a bit too much fun.”
Like with the first episode, Rajan uses his on-camera appearances in the second episode to talk directly to viewers, clarifying and underscoring certain points. Some of the criticism about Meghan “arose from the feeling...that this isn’t how our princesses are supposed to behave,” he said. (Unlike the first episode, race or racism was not mentioned in the second installment. It should have been, IMO. Microaggressions and red flags abound here.) The sentiment towards the duchess is divided based on demographics. “The polling on attitudes to Meghan suggests the older you are, the more likely you are to have a negative view of the duchess. And also, by the way, to buy a newspaper.”
Another keep-this-in-mind-at-all-time conclusion here: Negative news sells better. This admission from Rachel Johnson of the Mail on Sunday later in the documentary says it all: “I’ll tell you what when I did write positively about Meghan — which I did — got no reaction. Nobody wanted to read it.” Sit with that for a second. And maybe we can all think before we click on a negative, click-baity headline next time?
“Very Destructive Journalism”
The divide between the brothers was bad enough that the households then split, with Harry and Meghan moving their office out of Kensington Palace with Will and Kate and over to Buckingham Palace with the Queen. And everyone starts briefing against one another (more on that in my recap of the first episode). This was a major opening for the press. “They have allowed a gap to appear. Through that gap, very destructive journalism will follow and flow,” Author Andrew Marr said. “And I think therefore this division is potentially lethal, very, very damaging for the whole royal family.”
Omid Scobie, author of Finding Freedom, says at one point he was asked what team he was on, Team Sussex or Team Cambridge. “And I thought, ‘Oh do I have to pick? Is this how it works?’” he said. “But actually what I have found, over time, is you almost have to pick because sometimes the narrative that you’re reporting goes against the narrative that another household or aide wants out there.”
“Don’t Expect Other People to Play By the Rules”
And then comes Archie’s birth. We all know the drama over the photocall, with people up and arms that they wouldn’t appear on the hospital steps. I didn’t realize until I watched the documentary just how mad the British reporters were, and what a turning point this was. The press was, and is, mad — big mad — that they were told she was in labor when, in fact, she had already given birth. The details the Sussexes tried to keep to themselves, including where Meghan gave birth, was received as a personal affront. “They made it so difficult for us,” Richard Palmer of the Daily Express, said. “It felt like they had deliberately gone out of their way to make the British media look stupid.”
I’ll be honest, I’m deeply torn on the entitlement of the media here. My journalist core supports timely release of what one might consider public information. And I will never condone misleading the press (just say nothing until you want to say something truthful). But with their demands, everyone seems to forget that Harry is not the heir! I am of the belief that he and his family should be freed of whatever expectations and traditions are set forth for his brother and father.
This moment was yet another major turning point. “It became clear that either they had not really grasped that in return for the fairytale you have to give the people outside the castle something. Or they just decided they didn’t want to play the game,” said writer and broadcaster Trevor Phillips. “And the point at which you decide you are not going to play the game, then don’t expect other people to play by the rules.”
“This Tremendous Stick”
Around this time came an onslaught of criticism over Frogmore Cottage over the amount spent on renovations. Jonny Dymond of the BBC described it as “an extraordinarily dilapidated property that had to be renovated so that Harry and Meghan could live in it.” But that’s not how it was portrayed. “It was used as this tremendous stick with which to bludgeon Harry and Meghan,” he said.
From there, the documentary gets into big (and uncomfortable to watch) Sussex vs. Cambridge territory. It strongly hints, carefully, at the ways in which Will responded to Harry’s actions. Take all the criticism of the private jets Harry and Meghan flew in? There are the Cambridges’, flying on a budget flight to Balmoral around the same time. Hmmmm.
Or how about the Sussexes’ tour of Southern Africa up against the Cambridges’ tour of Pakistan in the fall of 2019? Harry is depicted as uncooperative and even hostile, scowling at the press before announcing at the end of the tour that he and Meghan were suing a combined three outlets for their harmful coverage. “At this point, they were not just refusing to play the game, they were actively taking on the British press,” host Rajan said.
Will, on the other hand, is held up by the reporters interviewed as mature and composed, fitting for the heir to the throne. He invited the journalists traveling with them to the front of the plane, thanking them for coming on the tour. “He said, ‘You should all take this as a group hug,’” recalled Rhiannon Mills of Sky News. A GROUP HUG? Wowwwww. Makes clear how deep this divide was, doesn’t it?
“A Far Great Level of Manipulation”
Towards the end of the episode, there is a section devoted to the Tatler profile of Kate that caused a stir. It was largely positive — the headline was “Catherine the Great” — but written in Tatler’s signature snobbish tone. The classist comments on Kate and her family upset Kensington Palace. But it’s really important to remember that that single piece of writing, as unkind as it was, was nowhere near as damaging as the collective, yearslong negative coverage of Meghan.
The more damning portion of the Tatler discussion was how it underscored that when the Cambridges want to fight against a media narrative, they will. That article prompted a months-long battle between royal reps and the publisher of Tatler. The writer, Anna Pasternak, goes as far to suggest that the Cambridges’ team leaked some of the back-and-forth to the press, resulting in a massive spread defending Kate in the Mail on Sunday. “Most of the general public would assume that the monarchy are at the mercy of the British press,” Pasternak said. “When the reality is there is a far greater level of manipulation that goes on from the royal courts to the media than Joe Public would ever believe.”
This begs the question: What about all the other narratives out there — especially those about the Sussexes — that the Cambridges have not fought? Especially the first story about Kate crying at the bridesmaid fitting?
“Power from the Stories They Tell”
The remainder of the documentary felt a bit crammed. A few very big stories, including the BBC mishandling of the Panorama documentary, as well as the recent back-and-forth in the legal case between Meghan and the Mail on Sunday, get just a passing mention. I can understand why they wanted to touch on them to say that they did, but each is complicated enough to be its own documentary. To me, it muddied what had been a very well done documentary up to that point.
I’ll close by repeating this bit from Rajan’s final comments, because I think it’s something we all need to think about as royal watchers. “Both the monarchy and the media derive their power from the stories they tell,” he said. “What matters is whose version of it you, me, all of us believe.”
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Five Things To Check Out This Week
LISTEN: When I saw Brené Brown was a guest on Glennon Doyle’s podcast, I could not listen fast enough. Dream team! This episode is filled with incredibly useful advice. The bit at the end about connection vs. control? OOF. Lots of “both/and” in here, too. (We Can Do Hard Things)
WATCH: Another mashup of my dreams: Rent meets Hamilton.Tick, Tick…Boom is the story-within-a-story of Rent’s Jonathan Larson, directed by Lin Manuel Miranda. I was so impressed at how well Andrew Garfield holds his own in this frenetic musical. (Netflix)
READ: Vanessa Friedman on the very welcome normalcy of the White House Christmas decorations, as well as First Lady Jill Biden’s repeat dress. (New York Times)
SHOP: I bought this dollhouse for Bird. MEEP. It’s on sale and it’s so cute, I can’t wait to give it to her on Christmas morning. (Pottery Barn Kids)
Speaking of holiday shopping, how’s your list going? Have you started yet? I declared here I would be done by December 1. It was a very ambitious goal for yours truly.
On the eve of that deadline, I am feeling a little sheepish but a lot accomplished. About two thirds of my holiday shopping is done. Which is not all of it! But... it's a lot of it? This is a real first for me, to be this far ahead at this point in the holiday season. And it feels damn good. So I'm taking it as a win.
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See you on Friday, friends. Have a comment? Please hit “Join the discussion” at the bottom of this email and share your Thoughts. Have a question? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.