Duchess of division as privacy row boils over
Is Meghan Markle asking for too much privacy? Critics say she is betraying the unwritten contract by which the royals are funded by taxpayers in exchange for becoming VERY public figures.
Sally Jones has loved tennis since she was a little girl. She played at junior Wimbledon and eventually rose to become captain of a county team. In 1993, she became a world champion in the sport of real tennis, the 15th century game from which modern tennis evolved.
So, it is no surprise that she was to be found the other day in the members’ seats at Wimbledon, using her phone — like thousands of other fans — to take photos of Serena Williams.
She felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Would you not take photographs of the Duchess,” a voice ordered politely. “She’s here in a private capacity.”
Jones, a loyal royalist, explained that she had no idea the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, was there. The pictures on her phone were later published, showing only the athletic figure of Serena Williams in mid-serve.
A minor incident. Insignificant to most.
Yet when this story emerged on Monday in The Daily Telegraph, the paper of deeply monarchist middle Britain, it was as if a blue touchpaper had been lit on a time bomb.
An indignant fizzle continued through the week until, yesterday, the public wrath finally detonated.
“It’s tacky” said actress Tatum O’Neal on Good Morning Britain. “Diana would never have done it”.
“Yes, you can have a private life. In private,” said columnist Allison Pearson. “When you are sitting in the packed members’ area of Court One during a high-profile match, you can’t throw on your Hermès Invisibility Cloak and insist, in best Marie Antoinette style, that you can’t be seen.”
“This is so ridiculous,” said presenter Piers Morgan. “It’s rankly hypocritical and they’re not private people, they’re the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. If you want to be private, go back to America and live privately.”
From all over the world, highly-paid commentators and experts are still piling in.
“From obfuscating about when and where she went into labour (only to have actually given birth hours earlier) to bluntly refusing to release Archie’s birth certificate, to imposing a fatwa on media at his christening, she’s more prima donna than princess.”
“Meghan is behaving like a celebrity, not a royal.” “She’s a control freak.” “No wonder she is nicknamed the Difficult Duchess.” “Staff call her Me-Gain.”
What is really going on here? Is Meghan really wrong to demand her privacy?
Set aside the ugly hostility (which all should condemn) and there’s a serious point, says one camp. The royal family’s relationship with the public is essentially a transaction and always has been. Taxpayers willingly keep them in great luxury. In return, all they expect is that this family is willing to connect with and embody the hopes of the people. The Queen herself understands this. “The people’s princess” — Diana got it. “The people’s prince” — Harry gets it. To create barriers is ultimately to bring down the monarchy.
But another camp is more sympathetic. The press and the public are treading on dangerous ground. It is easy to whip up very nasty feelings in this hyper-connected age. Beware the reserves of racism and xenophobia that lurk beneath. No sooner is Meghan Markle hailed as a fairytale princess, than the world seems to have turned against her. She is a young woman, who has just had a baby. And she is an American, who has just married into a weird and often dysfunctional family. She needs our love and support right now.
- Does the public have a right to photograph royals?
- Will the monarchy still exist in 50 years’ time?
- Imagine you were Meghan Markle for a day. Write a diary entry for that day, assuming that nobody will read it until long after you are dead.
- Motion: “There is no worse job that being a member of the British royal family.” Hold a class debate!
Some People Say...
“Republics come to an end through luxury; monarchies through poverty.”Montesquieu, French philosopher (1689-1785)
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Royal reporting is dogged by secrecy. There is an awful lot of guessing, whispering, supposition and rumour. All we really know for sure here is that royal protection officers did ask one or two people to stop taking photos around the Duchess of Sussex, at Wimbledon last week.
- What do we not know?
- We don’t know whether it was Meghan Markle who asked for privacy, or whether it was someone else who made the policy that day. She might have simply been following advice from a senior courtier. We don’t know if she is really difficult or demanding in private. These are just reported from anonymous sources.
- One who supports and believes in the system of government that includes a king or queen as head of state.
- Middle Britain
- Phrase referring to middle class and lower-middle class people in the UK who hold conservative views.
- Blue touchpaper
- The slow-burning fuse at the end of a firework, normally made out of specially flammable blue paper.
- A famous French fashion brand.
- Marie Antoinette
- The notoriously snobbish and out-of-touch French Queen who, when informed that her people had no bread and were starving, said, “Let them eat cake.”
- Confusing the issue.
- Any religious decision under Islamic law. Famously, an Iranian cleric gave a fatwa sentencing British writer Salman Rushdie to death for what was judged anti-Islamic in Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses. Since then, Westerners have loosely used the term to mean a death sentence, or some harsh punishment.