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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. 

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