by Rob Lownie
Friday, 9
December 2022
Reaction
17:05

Meghan and Harry are right about the royal briefing war

Courtiers are the real power behind the throne
by Rob Lownie
Recollections may vary.

Yesterday saw the release of the first three episodes of Harry and Meghan, and with it a climax to the royal briefing war which had given the programme so much publicity. In the Netflix series Prince Harry claims, “There’s leaking but there’s also planting of stories […] It’s a dirty game.” Though he doesn’t name the dirty players, it’s not difficult to imagine who he is referring to

Underhand tricks? Isn’t this more the preserve of politicians, rather than the Crown? Really, though, Britain’s two metonymic palaces — Buckingham and Westminster — are far closer in their media strategy than we might imagine. Most indicative of this is how many royal PR bigwigs previously worked in Whitehall, and indeed vice versa: the current head of the Civil Service, Simon Case, was previously Private Secretary to Prince William and before that held the same position for David Cameron.


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Case is far from an isolated example. The Prince of Wales’s current Private Secretary, Jean-Christophe Gray, was the official Downing Street spokesman for Cameron. A Sunday Times profile of Gray last year mentioned his ‘reputation as Whitehall’s most assiduous bean-counter’, and it is no surprise why William would want someone like that to troubleshoot and deal with venomous briefings from across the Atlantic. 

On the other side of the royal rumble, the Sussexes once employed Samantha Cohen as their Private Secretary after she had served the late Queen as assistant private secretary. In February of this year, Boris Johnson chose her as his ‘gatekeeper’; shortly before his resignation in July, she ascended to the role of acting chief of staff, following the promotion of Steve Barclay to the health brief. Cohen wasn’t a Westminster insider at the time of her Downing Street appointment, but she didn’t need to be. The press management and occasional skulduggery required in Whitehall are skills she could well have honed during almost two decades serving the royal family.

For all their faults, Harry and Meghan are right to say that leaking is an oft-used practice between royal households, even if they aren’t explicitly naming the household. In a now-deleted tweet from 7th December, Times foreign correspondent Catherine Philp stated, ‘It is no secret that certain courtiers briefed against Meghan and Harry and it is no secret who they were representing. Everyone in the press knew.’ In a later tweet, also deleted, she added, ‘I only saw it second hand, but it was pretty blatant, not hard to figure out’. 

Just as politicians spread gossip and stir trouble through mouthpieces accredited as ‘sources’ and ‘allies’, the Windsors have long conducted a proxy war in the national press by way of ‘unnamed courtiers’. According to the historian Robert Lacey, ‘In a sense the real rulers of Britain’s palaces are not the royal family but their staff, the courtiers.’ Princess Diana frequently referred to ‘men in grey’ within the royal household, a term immediately calling to mind the ‘men in grey suits’, the obscure bureaucrats who really hold power in Westminster. 

Windsor’s men in grey are not entirely confined to the shadows — Times royal correspondent Valentine Low has just written a whole book about them — but their influence is too often undersold when we consider the psychodrama currently threatening the family’s stability. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex may have defected to join the ranks of California’s incurious rich, but they can still recognise, and occasionally use, the strategy that sustains power players in both royal and British political circles. To stay on top in ‘The Firm’, you have to be willing not just to vanquish your rivals but also to cast aside one-time allies when your position is weakened — as with the palace’s ruthless treatment recently of Lady Susan Hussey.

The press isn’t completely united against the first couple of Montecito. The Mirror’s Polly Hudson reminds us that ‘many behind the scenes in royal circles have been secretly briefing against them – at least Harry and Meghan are saying what they think in public, right to everyone’s faces’. Regardless of all the times that the Duchess has taken a liberal approach to the truth, the suggestion that dark arts are being used by royal aides is far from a conspiracy.

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Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago

By not supporting Lady Hussey, the royal family made themselves look weak in the face of critical race warriors like Ngozi Falani. Unfortunately, King Charles seems more susceptible to this form of bullying than was his late mother.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Not supporting Lady Hussey is indicative of King Charles’ wokeness which he has been cultivating for decades – his softness, his talking to his plants, his yearning for public acceptance has made and will make him susceptible to political activists with a bone to grind now and into the future. ‘Strength’ is not the quality emanating from his court and could turn out to be the nail in the monarchy’s coffin. Queen Elizabeth clearly carried a velvet hammer ….so far, not so her heir.

Last edited 1 month ago by Cathy Carron
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 month ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

I’ve given you a uptick but talking to plants to improve their growth is based on scientific fact. Some commercial growers are now feeding their greenhouses with extra CO2 which partially accounts for it’s scarcity. I grow some veggies indoors between September and Christmas and talk to them morning and evening and I sure ain’t Woke. I sometimes use language that would make a trooper/stoker blush and they thrive on it. You are spot on with the velvet hammer. Queen Anne would have wielded it with better effect tha her younger brother.

Glyn R
Glyn R
1 month ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Or perhaps it’s indicative of the fact that he a Prize Useful Idiot?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

I have heard it said that Ms Falani was carrying a tape recorder about her person.
Can this be true?

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 month ago

Please, Please, Unherd – keep this wretched duo, and their pictures, off Unherd. I so loath seeing them, seeing stories of them, it makes me stressed.

It is impossible to read Daily Mail as at least half of the thing is devoted to them…

Two top articles at once today in the top header – just try to not do it, try to be the one refuge from these creeps and their creepy entourage and message.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

Why would you call them wretched? At least they don’t have Tampongate to live down.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 month ago

All the Miserable Markles have to live down is gaslighting the public, flirtation with Naziism, spinning lies, dishonoring Queen Elizabeth by mocking her, conveniently using the race card to besmirch those who don’t heel to their desires and a truly grotesque grasp for publicity and riches.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 month ago

I don’t find anything particularly new here, ruling a country has always been a political task.

I think you will find every king or queen has both employed spin doctors and been the subject of spin from rivals.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 month ago

Luckily for the glamorous duo, they hire people like Scobie, the head of ITV, the British judiciary and several v expensive PR firms to help them out, poor things.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

They’re not “glamorous” for me, whatever that might mean. They’re essentially merely vacuous nonentities with zero talent. Like all other “celebs”. If you don’t like it, don’t watch or read it. I find such self-serving attention seekers tiresome. We’ve all got real problems to solve, instead of wasting time on this rubbish. Please stop feeding the trolls.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
1 month ago

Charles cravenly bending the knee to race grifter, and African cultural appropriator, Ngozi, in firing his mother’s lifelong friend will only encourage the anti-Windsor industry managed by Meghan and sidekick Harry to come after them for more.

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
1 month ago

It’s an odd choice to use your position as part of something to try and destroy that something, and as a result become nothing. Hey ho, it’s amusing at least.

Margaret TC
Margaret TC
1 month ago
Reply to  Leejon 0

Team H and M are making capital – cultural and monetary – from the institution they pretend to want to see dismantled. Of course they want no such thing – having cast themselves as victims of the monarchy they will want to milk these roles for all they can get. In this they are like so many others who create and then make money/fame out of their role as victim.

Roy Cooper
Roy Cooper
1 month ago

Whatever the problem within your family you never, ever, wash your dirty linen in public. And that’s Megan’s speciality and Harry’s naivety and weakness. The real fireworks will soon come home to roost in Montecito. It’s guaranteed when you look behind the curtains.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 month ago

Are the appointments forced on Charles or William? Do these PR people plant stories that William and Charles do not want planted? Either William and Charles are complicit in the game being played or they are idiots.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
1 month ago

“Harry and Meghan: The Sad Tale of Two Spoiled Grifters”. Watch at the risk of nausea.