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Let Them Eat Cake! The Cambridges Display A Surprising, Callous Side Amidst COVID

Friday, October 9, 2020

On September 15, 2020, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge undertook a series of engagements in London. Among them, the couple visited the London Bridge Jobcentre, where they highlighted the efforts the organization is making to help people find work in these economically challenging times. The press release from Kensington Palace said the couple wanted to “shine a light on individuals who have gone above and beyond to help others during this extraordinary time.”  While the Cambridges are shining the light on those who have gone above and beyond, unfortunately, in their own backyard, they have failed to go the extra mile to help those within their own sphere.  The royal family is not supporting some of the “royal industry’s” hardest working people with the most thankless jobs—the photographers. 



I have been very busy with work and not paying very close attention to the royal world of late.  Recently, though, I have really missed royal watching and decided to update my Instagram with some of Kate’s recent events that have caught my eye. As I perused the lovely photos of the Duchess, trying to decide which ones to license, I noticed that there was only one photographer’s name on the photos in any given set.  For example, all the photos from Kate’s visit to the University of Derby (just a few days ago) were by Arthur Edwards—wonderful guy and a total legend.  But where were the photos from all the other royal photographers? Then I looked at the picture set from Kate’s visit with the Scouts—they were all taken by Daniel Leal-Olivas. These were all pool photos and it was quickly apparent what is going on: the royals seem to only be permitting one photographer to attend any given engagement. I did some digging and found out that most royal photographers have had almost no work at all and the Palace has given them no indication on when they will be permitted back. They have been foreclosed from making their living. 

 


Although all but invisible to the millions of fans worldwide, royal photographers are critical to "royal watching" and to the promotion of the British royal family. The pictures we get of our favorite royals don’t magically happen. Real people—talented, real people—spend a lot of money to buy very expensive, high-definition cameras and show up in person to the public engagements of the British Royal family.  


 

The pictures they take they then license, either directly or through picture agencies (e.g., Splash, Getty, etc), to major news outlets like the Hello! and the Daily Mail, and to small operations like this blog, From Berkshire to Buckingham.  All of us, big and small, pay money either to picture agencies that operate as middlemen, or directly to photographers, for permission to use their photos on our websites and social media accounts.   



This is important, because the money that all the outlets pay for the pictures is income for the photographers. Photographers make a living taking pictures of the royals. If they didn’t make money taking pictures of royals, they’d have to go do something else.  Soon, thanks to the current state of affairs, many of them will have to do just that. 

 


Being a royal photographer is hard work. You have to be a little scrappy and work strange hours and unusual days.  Think about the crush of photographers camped outside of the Lindo Wing for days on end in the broiling summer sun waiting for Kate to have George, or the weeks they all spent away in Australia covering that almost month-long tour!  Think about major holidays like Easter and Christmas morning. Photographers have to leave their own families and celebrations to work on those morning so we can have beautiful pictures of Kate’s holiday finery. They stand outside Kensington Palace in December to catch a fleeting snap of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge zooming by on their way to the Diplomatic Reception. Real people have to wait on a dark, cold, and sometimes rainy road and wait for that second or two to snap away. They wait throughout the morning and afternoon to capture pictures of the royals headed to the Queen’s annual Christmas luncheon. From major public events to the brief, but hotly anticipated glimpses around the holidays, we all rely on the photographers to skip time with their own family or evenings-in and show up somewhere to take pictures for us to enjoy.



The Royals, of course, benefit from this coverage immensely, too. One thing Meghan Markle does understand is that to have a platform you need a certain amount of exposure. Without the high-resolution photos of the royals there simply would not be the same interest in the royals or their work.  The royals are lucky that other people make a career of photographing and sharing their lives.



Like so many during COVID, these photographers' incomes flatlined when the world shut down.  Not only were the royals not going out, no one else was doing anything, either.  When you make your living following the royals and the occasional celebrity red carpet extravaganza, a global pandemic that cancels mass gatherings is a huge problem. 



I felt a sense of relief for them all when William and Kate (and other members of the family) started to return to public engagements, and we’ve been getting lovely, high-resolution photos for weeks now. But, as I said, when I slowed down and started paying attention, I saw all the same names on the pictures and realized they were all pool photos...and I knew there was a problem. One photographer noted with discouragement the irony of watching Kate and William visit a centre dedicated to helping people find work, and then  to watch Kate do a sit-down about mental health in the time of COVID, while the royals refuse access to the photographers who need to support their own families.




When the Cambridges left the Brick Lane Bakery on September 15, a single photographer was there capturing a single angle of the couple departing, while a cluster of excited fans waited to film and cheer them from the sidelines (below). Why couldn't the other photographers have been there as well? It is wrong for the royals not to let the photographers work. It is wrong for them not to let the photographers decide for themselves whether to take the precautions they need (wash their hands, mask up, get a temperature check) and get out and make a living.  



This is a terrible, terrible attitude on the part of the Royal Family. It is always contemptible when people who are financially secure have no empathy for those who must work to survive.  In the United States, there were breadlines forming a month into the shutdowns, and half the nation neither knows nor cares. People who could comfortably work from home imposed or supported seemingly endless extensions of shutdown, while millions of others lost their jobs and livelihoods.  I truly don’t know how people are surviving. They must be wiping out their savings and retirement funds—I don’t know. It is a time of terrible, terrible hardship, and the royals could do their very small part to help simply by letting the people who have spent their professional lives following the royal family around (to the royals’ great benefit!) work—letting them mask up and show up.  William is out trying to save the literal planet; can't he save a few people's jobs right under his nose? To deny these photographer's their living has echoes of the damning attitude ascribed to Marie-Antoinette—let them eat cake! 


 

I love following William and Kate, but if they don’t rectify this, it will be a stain on their reputation they will never wipe away.  They've done so exceptionally well throughout the pandemic--making an early in-person appearance to visit with emergency support staff, maintaining busy schedules on zoom calls, rallying their charities and boosting spirits, and even now returning to public engagements and bringing some normalcy and rhythm back with them. Royals are supposed to lead with courage, and it seemed that is what these two were doing. But, they are supposed to take care for their subjects, too. The royals are overwhelmingly privileged people; they must do better for those who are suffering within their sphere of influence.  Leaving the photographers out to dry in this time of crisis reeks of callous hypocrisy.  I hope William, Kate, and all the royals change course quickly and truly use their influence to bring relief to the lives so close to their own. 




This Is What Is So Damaging in the "Catherine the Great" Tatler Piece

Thursday, June 18, 2020


This past month, Tatler unveiled its July/August cover girl, and it was none other than Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge. The headline was: Catherine the Great. 



If you thought such a glowing cover would have a correspondingly glowing feature article, think again. It was a first-rate hit job. Cloaked as an ode to Kate, it wove in biting and damaging comments throughout. I could analyze every paragraph, but it would be too time-consuming. The article is one tedious regurgitated slur against Kate and the Middletons after another. It revives the snobby complaints about Kate’s commoner background, Carole’s smoking, and Pippa’s supposed envy of Kate (hint: I think Pippa, married to a fabulously wealthy man, with a sweet little baby, and with all of the perks Kate has and none of the burdens, has finally found her happy spot). The Tatler piece hits almost every nasty headline we saw throughout the dating days—without updating any of the stories with facts that have come out since—e.g. Kate said in her engagement interview that she did not have a poster of William on her wall. I guess the intern at Tatler who was tasked with pulling together the research to fluff out this article didn’t do enough of a deep-dive. 

I don’t think that any mainstream paper has every attacked Kate over her weight (plenty of weird tabloids have), but Tatler went there, repeating the supposed musings of other who have wondered if Kate has an eating disorder. We’ve hashed that silly idea out many times here. Kate is slimmer than many women, but nowhere near anorexic. She is clearly disciplined, naturally thin, and very athletic. One look at her legs last summer should have silenced even the most obdurate anorexia-theorist. It is truly outrageous that a magazine of Tatler's prominence would publish such obviously unfounded gossip.



The key to this piece, though, the reason it was written, was to level a very serious and damaging rumor at Kate. 

To set the stage, the article supposedly begins to praise Kate’s sense of duty and work ethic around the time Harry and Meghan were cratering out of the BRF, but it slips in an editorial comment that will, whether consciously or unconsciously, poison your attitude. The article says, “In the wake of Harry and Meghan standing down as senior royals and seeking exile in North America, Kate took on 11 royal engagements in a month—three in the space of 24 hours. It was grueling.” (emphasis added).  What? I am sure it was a busy week, and I bet it was a grueling month for Kate, but for a lot more reasons that 11 engagements and 3 in the space of 24 hours. Add to that the intense pressure within the family as it literally fractured while the world watched, the looming crisis of COVID, and her responsibilities as a mom, and I am sure it was a grueling month. But to whittle it all down and name those numbers as if Kate considered those engagements alone grueling, is to deliberately plant a seed in the reader’s mind that Kate is pampered and out of touch. Also, it might be good to note that there are plenty of examples of busy bursts of activity in the royal world, when we have seen William and Kate do back to back engagements like that. It wasn’t an unprecedented workload. Naming the numbers alone, without further context, was a deliberate and ugly attempt to set up the chief point of this article, which came in the next paragraph. 

Out went safe shift dresses, in came silk pussy-bow blouses and softer blowdries. Everywhere, there was talk of Kate, opening up on podcasts about ‘mum guilt’. As a good friend of hers points out, ‘Kate knows what the country needs and wants. Championing how to raise your children is perfect.’ Yet, privately, said another friend, ‘Kate is furious about the larger workload. Of course she’s smiling and dressing appropriately but she doesn’t want this. She feels exhausted and trapped. She’s working as hard as a top CEO, who has to be wheeled out all the time, without the benefits of boundaries and plenty of holidays.’ Some say that beneath the yummy-mummy exterior is a spine of steel; that, in many ways, she’s reminiscent of the late Queen Mother, whom Cecil Beaton described as ‘a marshmallow made on a welding machine’. Because surviving, let alone thriving, in the House of Windsor is no mean feat. (emphasis added).

There are three words in that paragraph that should sound familiar: exhausted, trapped, and thriving. This paragraph attributes to Kate the very attitude that did so much irreparable damage to Meghan’s reputation. I am not saying that Meghan is the source of this story, what I am saying is that this paragraph, these allegations, are damning for any royal to express. They are the very type of complaints that Meghan expressed multiple times in her short stint as a royal and that did massive damage to her reputation and popularity. Meghan expressed emotional exhaustion and feeling hunted and boxed in, she complained it wasn’t enough to survive, she wanted to thrive, etc. She made all those statements while jetting about living an elite lifestyle and it backfired catastrophically, because the common person isn’t inclined to feel sorry for fabulously wealthy and privileged people who enjoy every life advantage, complaining. Meghan destroyed so much sympathy and goodwill with her emotional and out of touch interviews. Who here believes that Kate, having watched her sister-in-law self-destruct on the world stage, would then follow her down that path just a few months later? After flawlessly performing her own duties as a member of the BRF for close to a decade, and seeing someone else make all the wrong moves, are we really supposed to believe that Kate decided to start whining about her lot in life now? It is absurd.

The royals challenged this article, and the writer stood her ground, which suggests she is confident in her sources. William and Kate are suing threatening legal action against Tatler, which is certainly the right move. 

Here is what I think. I am sure Kate is tired. Who wouldn’t be? She is homeschooling three children and working. Every mother in the midst of COVID will agree it is a tiring time. I am sure it is a stressful time for her, too. She has young children in the midst of a pandemic; she has a lot of new responsibility in the BRF; her father-in-law actually caught COVID, she can’t see her family, etc. I am sure at some point she expressed exhaustion to someone. She is human. She probably has also at some point confided in friends her disgust for Harry and Meghan’s behavior. That should not surprise you--most of the world is flabbergasted by the Sussexes’ behavior; their nearest and dearest can’t be any different and indeed it must be much worse for them. I bet the author of this piece has mishmashed those various accurate reports into this single paragraph. Someone, or several someones, betrayed Kate. She confided in people at various times and those thoughts made their way to a society reporter who clearly doesn’t like Kate. When put together, Kate sounds petulant, spoiled, and out of touch.  Melding together various discrete comments to form a cohesive thought is misleading, and it is my suspicion that that is what happened here. 

Ironically, the article goes on to criticize Kate for her careful reserve calling her bland and repeating all sorts of disparaging assessments others have made of her over the years. Kate’s brilliant blend of sincere warmth and polite reserve are what make her such a magnificently successfully royal. The article quotes a friend” saying “I don’t know if [Kate] would know how to let her guard down now, even if she wanted to.” I am sure that is true when she is in public. That’s the whole point of being a careful public figure--at some point you can't let your guard down in public. The insinuation that Kate has morphed into an emotionless Barbie who can’t even relax at home, though, which is the sense you are left with, is ludicrous. All famous people grow more and more careful when in public. People who don’t—cough, cough, Meghan—get burned. And Kate is right to be cautious with whom she befriends and confides, since someone (or several someones) clearly betrayed her confidences by repeating private reflections that she never would have shared with the public. And as I say, I believe those reflections are almost certainly out of context and melded together to create a damaging narrative. 

If I went through every ugly comment in this article, every back-biting and snide putdown, I’d be here all day, and none of us have time for that, but most of what was printed in this piece was nasty, but run-of-the-mill. That carefully blended-in allegation, though, is potentially very damaging, as we've seen with Harry and Meghan. The article is a hit job. You do have to wonder what is up at Tatler to run such a ruthless piece so boldly.

Meghan and Harry Wanted to Stay Royal, Here Is Why

Sunday, May 17, 2020



You see it everywhere in the Megxit discussion: “they wanted out,” Harry and Meghan “finally got what they wanted,” and “they finally have the life they wanted all along…” etc., etc. The reality is that Harry and Meghan did not want out and they don't have the life they wanted all along. Although Harry and Meghan weren’t happy with their position in the family, and they wanted to change the status quo, they did not want out of the royal universe. They didn’t want to relinquish their royal status, and their current situation is far from what they had planned. At its simplest, Meghan wanted, essentially, to change the couple's place in the royal pecking order, but the two didn’t want to be thrown out of the coop. 

I get a fair number of angry messages when I make this point, many of them saying, “how do you know what they wanted—did they tell you?”  To which the answer is a very simple, “yes, they did tell me.”  They told everyone…literally. They press-released to the world exactly what they wanted. Let’s refresh our memory on that. Here is their January statement:
“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment. We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity. We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.” [emphasis added]
  
Read the statement. It talks about money, independence, and space, but what is the only specific attribute they attach to their desire for space?? Space to build their own brand. It certainly does not express a desire to relinquish their royal ties, indeed it underscores multiple times their determination to remain fully royal even while they chart their own course. It doesn’t talk about privacy, the press, a desire for a hidden life, or even protecting Archie.  The only context in which it mentions Archie is to underscore they will be raising him with the constant reminder of his status and royal blood. In short, Meghan and Harry weren’t thinking of leaving behind their royal status in any way, shape, or form.

Meghan was desperate to break free from the royal hierarchy and compete with the Cambridges for the most prominent position in the family. Her reasoning was clear—money confers autonomy. She didn’t consider, as I have harped on in more than one blog post since the couple’s marriage, that you can’t fight the Palace on this. You can’t change a thousand-year-old institution that is only hanging on in our modern world by walking with extreme care down a neutral pathway. 

You all know the story from here.  The Queen put the kibosh on their plans. You just can’t circumvent the hierarchy in a monarchy. That goes against the core principles of a hereditary monarchy!  I do think the Queen genuinely wanted the two to stay in the family, so they did choose to walk away, but they did not choose freely with a full range of options. They had boxed themselves in and chose from two unpleasant options. 

But, if they didn’t want to leave, then why did they?

The Sussexes were facing a choice: get back in line and behave, or leave the fold and try to make it big on their own.  They chose what they obviously considered the lesser of two evils.  And if you look at it from Meghan’s perspective, it was better to roll of the dice. There was no wiggle room with Option 1—she’d be immediately defeated in her quest to be the international, UN-style x Royal superstar she wanted to be.  Option 2 wasn’t very palatable, because she hadn’t planned to step out that far from the Royal Family and it involved enormous uncertainty and risk, but at least with Option 2 she had a shot. She had a chance to work her connections, work her title, and stay a mega-star on her own terms, rather than agreeing to a life as a secondary royal. You can see why Option 2 was attractive. I am not sure, though, that Meghan fully grasped the risk she was taking with Option 2. 

In addition to the lurking difficulties of being a “royal in exile,” it seems that Meghan made the above calculation without even fully understanding what it would mean for her immediate future. Just like Meghan thought she could challenge the heir and his wife and win, she also obviously didn’t fully understand that the Queen is the font of royalty.  The Queen controls the brand.  When Meghan chose Option 2, she might not have fully understood just how thoroughly the BRF could freeze the Sussexes out.  As discussed in a previous post, Meghan obviously thought that Harry had a kind of independent claim to “royalty” the way people claim their last name. She thought Harry’s claim would permit the couple to continue to operate as royals even if separated from the Palace. Obviously, the error in that theory was not fully brought home to Meghan until after the two made their decision at the Sandringham Summit, because they didn’t hammer out the trademark dispute until several months later. It was in accepting defeat over her trademark that Meghan got the full force and bitterness of the Queen's royal supremacy. But, by that time they were some ways down the road from the Summit and their fateful decision.  

Nor is the narrative that Harry finally has the life he dreamed of an accurate one, either.  Harry has not always wanted out, and this certainly isn't his dream life. Harry has always had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He has borne a grudge stoked, frankly, by an overly emotional press about his mother’s tragic death. The press didn’t kill Diana; a drunk chauffeur killed her. That pain is truly crippling, but, the aggressive press Diana battled (and that did not kill her) is long in the past. No one is spitting at Meghan or Kate; both women go about their daily lives largely unbothered and certainly unmolested. Long lens shots happen, press packs happen, negative headlines happen—none of this equates to Diana. Harry has unhealthily fixated on the press and the only person that has hurt is himself. 

Harry has been frank in talking about his mental health struggles, but he was also getting better. He was happy and stable when he met Meghan; now he is living in a world of fabricated victimhood. Almost everything Harry thrived on he got from his royal status. He served honorably and should always be commended for that service, but his military career beyond his stint in combat is almost all a tale of advancement based upon royal status. His charity work for children, for wounded warriors, for endangered species—all of which seem to be his real life’s passion—all that is an option for him because he is royal. If Harry were a normal guy, he wouldn’t be traveling the world doing charity work, and he wouldn’t have been the Captain-General of the Royal Marines. Someone who really loved Harry and wanted his good would have given him some tough love. Royalty has its drawbacks, but its perks far outstrip the negative aspects. His passion and talent in connecting with people was given wings by being royal. He should have been grateful for the fortune of his birth.  Instead, he indulged in whining self-pity and worked himself into the delusion that his privileged life was somehow a cage. Do you know the most miserable I think I have ever seen Harry as an adult?  The night he made his final appearance as Captain-General of the Royal Marines. His pain was etched all over his face as he appeared to fight back tears in response to the standing ovation he was receiving.




He belongs there in Britain, doing the work he loves, supported and promoted by his powerful family. His charism, charm, and warmth—all of his strengths—flourish as a happy royal. He has destroyed himself by his self-pity which amounts to complete delusion.  
  
People complain that Meghan unjustly bears the brunt of the blame for this fiasco, but the truth is that most everyone can see that Harry would still be a senior, active prince in the British Royal Family—living and working in the United Kingdom—if it weren’t for Meghan.  Meghan has never been happy with her place in the royal family. She is one of the most obviously ambitious women I have ever seen on a national stage. Obvious is the important word there. There are a lot of ambitious women, but Meghan isn’t very good at hiding it. I hasten to add that I don’t have a problem with ambitious women—you could say I am one—but, ambitious women should know what their goals are and not follow life paths that box them out of the very goal they are seeking. Meghan married Harry, which she should have known would foreclose any possibility of being the top star in the royal stratosphere or being a politically active personality on the world stage. 

Yet, Meghan married Harry. She knew he was the “second son,” the “spare to the heir.”  She knew Kate was the queen of her generation, that the Cambridges would always be first, and that she could not pursue political or even very controversial “philanthropic” activities. She knew all that. It is no use saying she didn't realize it. You have to choose: she is either a moron who was completely naive to reality, or she is a smart woman who understood the score and proceeded regardless. 

So, why did Meghan marry Harry knowing what she did? Almost certainly because figuring out (down the road) the roadblocks presented by Harry’s position was a small price to pay for the skyrocketing position she acquired by marrying him. Meghan was not even a B-lister when she met Harry. The narrative that she was a big star in her own right is simply fabricated. There is a reason that when news outlets figured out the identity of Harry’s girlfriend the headlines simply said actress, rather than Meghan Markle. If Harry had been dating Emma Watson, or any number of starlets, the paper would have led with a name.  The papers didn’t lead with a name, because the name was, for all relevant purposes, meaningless. Again, this isn’t a negative spin, it’s tough reality.  For a very ambitious woman who wasn’t going to make it big in Hollywood, Harry was Meghan's ticket to fame and an international platform. None of this is to say she wasn’t also in love with him, but you can’t really divorce all the extraneous attributes of a person from a relationship. People are drawn to those people who have similar tastes and want the same lifestyle--it is called compatibility.  Meghan was marrying Harry for what she loved in him on a very raw human level, but also for their "lifestyle" compatibility   Being a wealthy prince who lived the luxurious lifestyle that accompanies that status is part of who Harry is. People cannot and do not truly judge other people without those considerations. I know I am going to take flak for this, but think about it...it is human nature and it is true.  

Meghan loved being royal. Royalty was an absolute jackpot. She never wanted to relinquish the ultimate A-lister status she had finally achieved. As we've discussed before, royalty has a special magic and a special stardust all its own. 

So Meghan and Harry did not want out; they did not choose their current position. It has been a nightmare that has spiraled out of control for them. From the moment the BRF balked at their initial January statement, to the showdown at Sandringham where they had to make their choice, to the humiliation of losing permission to use their HRHs (a veritable stripping of their status), to the loss of their brand name/trademarks, to the current catastrophe of trying to launch a new (profitable venture) in the midst of a global pandemic, they have had a wretchedly rocky road. That's the problem with choosing the option with risk...

Re-Watch William and Kate's Royal Wedding

Wednesday, April 29, 2020


It is our Royal-Watching-World National Holiday: Royal Wedding Day!  It is hard to believe that nine years have flown by since William and Kate tied the knot at Westminster Abbey. I haven't had the chance to rewatch the wedding every year, but I did play it this morning while I was drinking my coffee and getting ready for the day.  Each time I watch or listen/watch, I am struck again by how magnificent a ceremony it was, simultaneously grand and intimate, and flawlessly executed.  John Rutter's "This is the Day," which he arranged specifically for the couple's wedding, remains one of my favorite choral pieces.  I am out of champagne, but I am going to pick up some this afternoon and play the wedding again tonight. If you want to rewatch the wedding, too, jump in right here: