How will the Royal Family handle media scrutiny of Prince George and Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana
Even during the last lap of a knife-edge general election, a royal birth can still swamp the news agenda. Just look at the 30 pages of gushing, glowing coverage in the Mail on Sunday, for starters.
It’s also a fair bet David Cameron is hoping that the old theory holds water that a royal baby tends to trigger a national feelgood mood that tends to favour the status quo and that this 8lbs 3oz bundle of royal joy could prove the X-Factor to give him a decisive bounce on 7 May.
But for newspaper editors the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first daughter, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana represents a short-term (and very welcome) circulation booster and a longer-term headache. How to cover the lives of Prince George and his new sister in the post-Leveson climate and in the unruly age of cyberspace and social media?
It’s a big question and you can be certain that it’s already also concentrating the mind of Sir Alan Moses, the distinguished former High Court judge who now heads the newspaper industry’s self-regulator IPSO. Not least against the backdrop of the general election when, depending on who emerges as prime minister, the thorny issue of press regulation might well return to the political agenda in a big way.
For one thing is certain: Prince William is a dad determined to protect his children from what he perceives as unwarranted press intrusion. And it’s open secret among royal advisers that he will be far more inclined than his father Prince Charles to head for IPSO, or the High Court, to confront newspapers who he thinks have overstepped the mark.
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In the words of one senior Palace official: ‘William has drawn a line in the sand with regards to the media and it’s one he refuses to re-draw, even when the Prince of Wales and some older advisers think he’s being over-sensitive. But William strongly believes that the post-Leveson climate puts him in a much stronger position than his father and, particularly, his late mother were with the press - and that the court of public opinion is now on his side’.
William’s willingness to tackle intrusion head on was exemplified by his tough legal action against the French magazine Closer who snatched those topless photos of Kate during a private villa holiday in Sptember 2012.
No one in the Duke and Duchess’s circle doubt that they would be equally aggressive in protecting their children now and in the future as they grow up, go to school and enter their teenage years as members of the world’s most media-magnetic family.
Although his aides will officially deny it, those close to William acknowledge that - in contrast to his younger brother Harry - he has never been genuinely comfortable with the media attention. Partly this is because, it’s said, he is haunted by the idea that his mother Princess Diana was driven to her death by the paparazzi. It’s also said that William refuses to accept the reality that his mother was herself deeply complicit with certain journalists during the ‘War of the Waleses’ period that did so much to damage the Royal Family’s popularity both before and after Diana’s tragic death.
It’s also well-known that as he grew up William resented being the focus of the cameras that followed him when he went to the park with his nanny, his first days at school, his trips to watch his father play polo or to a theme park with his mother and even when the royal PR machine invited photographers inside Kensington Palace and Highgrove for family photo opportunities.
The legacy of that resentment is reflected in the well-telegraphed resolve of William and Kate to ration their children’s exposure to the media spotlight. Both are savvy enough to realise that the press and TV are an essential dimension of making the monarchy visible to its subjects and that without the media they would risk slipping into taxpayer-funded—and ultimately resented—irrelevance.
But what is abundantly clear is that William is determined to be the one calling the shots and that there should be a line set in stone between his childrens’ public and private personas, now and throughout their adolescent years.
Yes, William and Kate knew only too well that they would have to play to the cameras that greeted their emergence with their baby daughter from the Lido Wing of St Mary’s Hospital; yes, they appreciated that Prince George’s trip to meet his new sister was the stuff of a mass photo opportunity and there may well be a more limited one when they arrive back at their Norfolk home.
The evidence of William and Kate’s determination to give their children as normal life as possible is already there. George has been photographed much less than William was during his first two years and only once did a paparazzo manage to snatch an unauthorised picture in the park.
Even the more ruthless paparazzi have got the message that Britain’s editors are no longer in the market anymore for royal baby snatch pictures and that they’ll have to make their money abroad (at the risk of flying injunctions if Prince William’s track record is anything to go by).
Whether that holds when George and his sister become teenagers and start exploring London’s nightspots is another question and a fascinating dilemma for whatever tabloid newspaper editors are still in the business come the 2030’s.
It’s significant to note that the first official photos released of Prince George were taken by his grandfather Michael Middleton in the garden of the Middleton family garden and not by a big-name celebrity photographer.
Similarly George’s first birthday photo was taken in the Natural History Museum butterfly house rather than the Palace and last Christmas’s family photo on the steps of Kensington Palace was the work of an aide pressed into service rather than the previously favoured elite society photographers.
And when last year George joined his parents on his first official overseas tour Down Under, they made sure the photo-opps were strictly limited and carefully managed.
The message from the Duke of Cambridge more, perhaps, than any senior royal before him is that there is a great divide between public role and private life. It’s a difficult distinction he makes in respect of himself and his wife and far more so regarding his children.
In the post-Leveson, post-Diana age, he can almost certainly count on the British press’s co-operation as far as his childrens’ formative years are concerned and, to a less certain extent, for himself and Kate.
But in the age of social media and almost every member of the public armed with a phone camera and the technology to send an ‘unauthorised’ snap globally viral, the old British red-top ‘excesses’ may be the least of the privacy-seeking royal parents’ worries. Just ask ‘Uncle Harry’….
Paul Connew is a media commentator and PR adviser and former editor of the Sunday Mirror and deputy editor of the Daily Mirror and a co-author of the book, ‘After Leveson’.