The British Royal Family in the Newpapers
Paparazzi and the Death of Lady Diana
The Paparazzi have been blamed for the death of Lady Diana. A British inquest has found the former Princess of Wales (she lost that title upon her divorce from Prince Charles) was killed by a combination of two factors. One factor was the speed and driving manner of her extremely intoxicated chauffeur (the Frenchman Henri Paul). The next was the intense and ultimately deadly pressure applied by the paparazzi chasing her that night. They succeeded in catching her, but only after a horrific car smash that killed all in her car bar one. Undeterred, the paparazzi took photographs of Diana in the wrecked vehicle, mangled and dying. Her last words are reported to have been “leave me alone”. Until recently, these last photographs had never been published. A film, "Unlawful Killing", a trailer of which was shown at the recent Cannes Film Festival, displays Lady Diana's dying moments. Her eldest son, William, Prince of Wales, second in line to the British throne after his father Charles, recently married Kate Middleton in a spectacular event watched by two bilion people worldwide. William and Kate are enjoying their first year of married life. The publication of Diana’s death photographs can only serve to mar this first year. But I doubt there could ever be a good time to release such gruesomely intrusive imagery.
The cover of "Behind the Palace Walls" promises a rollicking journey through royal history and does not disappoint. But in the midst of the many entertaining stories of over-sexed kings and murderous queens are several poignant stories of courage and fidelity that make this collection all the more engaging for its humanity. Farquhar is a wonderful writer who clearly relishes his topic.
The sell-copy on the book's cover makes 'Royal Babylon' sound like nothing more than recycled gossip and titillating stories about Those Nasty Royals. It's actually a somewhat more systematic history than that, with in-depth profiles of several monarchs and thumbnail sketches of many others. Shaw also charts thoroughly the recurring incidences of mental and physical illness in the massively inbred family trees of European royalty, and tells tales of drunkenness and debauchery that never made it into the official history books.
Royal Sex shows how a certain number of key aristocratic families appear to have cornered the market in providing British monarchs with mistresses over successive centuries. The present Duchess of Cornwall is a prime example, her great-grandmother, Alice Keppel was a mistress of Edward VII, as the Duchess was of Prince Charles. The reason? To capture and exploit royal power and royal patronage to place a royal mistress or favorite at the centre of power.
Intense Media Pressure
Intense media pressure seems to be a burden carried by many celebrities in this era of information technology, but the load seems heaviest upon the British Royal Family. Film stars, politicians, and other famous people usually get to at least grow up without media attention. Many even get to experience part of their adulthood in reasonable privacy. Brad Pitt grew up in obscurity, Prince William did not.
A google search for “British Royal Family pictures” results in 11,200,000 hits within 0.25 seconds. An astonishing 17,200,000 hits comes up for “Prince William pictures” and for “Queen Elizabeth pictures”, 14,100,000 hits. Prince Charles comes in at 6,770,000 hits. While public figures must bear scrutiny and everyone loves looking at pictures of famous people at what point does public scrutiny become private harassment? The royals and those close to them are consistently followed, watched, scrutinised, judged, blamed, chased, harassed and even perved upon. The paparazzi are often the ones taking the photographs, but the media are buying them and writing the headlines and stories. Inappropriate pictures and ridiculous stories about the royals are an ever present feature of the media, particularly the British media.
Some examples from the endless list of recent headlines about the British Royal Family:
- “Where’s the British Royal Family Headed?” 20 May 2011, MorungExpress
- “Morrissey slams Queen’s Trip to Ireland: Blasts Royal Family” 20 May 2011, International Business News
- “Plans to Keep Prince Andrew away from Royal Couple” 14 May 2011, ABC News
- “Sarah Ferguson - Ex-husband Prince Andrew is my soulmate”, 20 May 2011, Us Magazine
- “Prince William and Kate to party in Hollywood”, 20 May 2011, Now Magazine Online
- “Robert Pattinson thinks Kate Middleton will have a hard life”, 27 April 2011, entertainment.ie
There are entire print newspapers and magazines singularly devoted to the royals. The tabloid newspapers in the UK consistently publish news/scandal/gossip about the royals. It does not matter if the stories are inconsistent or even true, so long as they sell news. For example, Kate Middleton is said to be unable to have children in current reports but just before the wedding they were reporting that she was pregnant, hence the marriage. A plethora of books, fiction and non-fiction, can be found in bookshops worldwide about the Royal Family. Lets not forget social media sites devoted to the British Royal Family. Pippa Middleton’s derrière even has its own Facebook page. The Royals are very big business for the media, a cash cow in fact.
The Queen's Response to the Media
The Queen typically maintains a dignified distance and does not comment. In an unusual deviation, the Queen responded to the Media in 2009 following an episode where Kate Middleton was hounded an harassed at her home by media and Prince WIlliam and Kate were chased by paparazzi after leaving a nightclub. The Queen, by her lawyers, called for the British media watchdog, the PCC (Press Complaints Commission), to rein in the hounds. She reminded the PCC of their role and sought their action to ensure that royals were not harassed by the media. Prince Charles has also maintained a position that the everyday private activities of the Royal Family should remain private.
The press itself has raised the issue of intense media scrutiny on occasion and what usually happens in these enlightened pieces is that they blame the reading public. The view is that if the public wanted to hear more balanced news items they would not continue to read (and pay for) rubbish. There is something smelly about this argument. Firstly it plays on the naiveté of many people who have a tendency to believe what they see in print. Secondly it does not relieve journalists of the obligation to act professionally.
Should Britain Stay Royal?
The media consistently question the value of the British Monarchy. They do this directly as well as indirectly through various intrusive articles that degrade or mock the royals. Robert Pattinson was right when he felt sorry for Kate Middleton and thought she was in for a hard life. At least she had her childhood away from the glare.
Imagine what it would be like to be one of the royals, Prince Harry or Princess Eugenie. They lead lives where they are wealthy and get all the clothes, food and travel that anyone could want, but they have no real freedom to make the kinds of choices that most people in western nations can. Imagine not being able to choose your profession (outside the military) because you have an obligation to perform public service. Even if you did opt out and choose a profession, say, something in health care, it would be awkward to say the least to have the secret service there with you and your patients. Imagine your patients telling the media everything that went on in the consult, people mobbing your surgery. Imagine rising in your profession due to who you are and never being certain of how well you are really doing. You could never be a teacher, an artist, a writer, or anything with a public face or customer service aspect without having to suffer microscopic criticism. Prince Edward was in the film business, but his career failed to a large extent because of the media pressure associated with who he is. He performs public service now.
Imagine, as a teenager or young adult not being able to make your own silly mistakes, learn and just move on. Instead, every time you get too drunk or say or do something stupid it becomes a worldwide media frenzy. Imagine never being able to lash out at the press and tell them exactly what you think of them. Imagine if the media had contributed to the death of your mother.
The media rarely report that the royals perform services that at some levels cannot be duplicated. They do not focus on the fact that no elected official could possibly match the political and diplomatic expertise of the Queen as Head of State. No politician could ever have her standing and respect throughout the world. No elected official could match the experience that Prince Charles has in the functioning of a constitutional monarchy. The media do focus on the fact that the royals cost a lot of money, but not that they make untold millions for the UK in tourism and trade. They make a massive contribution to charities. They add prestige, interest and significance to the image of the UK, despite media efforts to erode this. Like any institution they do have less favourable attributes, but there is much evidence to show the positives outweigh the negatives. The media do not note that if they were abolished as an institution, the British tax payers would have to pay others to perform the key work they do. They are cultural icons irrevocably interwoven into what it means to be British. For me it's a no-brainer, but maybe you have other ideas. I just hope you don't believe everything you read in the media and you do take the time to come to a balanced informed view.
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