‘Sorry Clooney, you’re wrong about Meghan’
With all respect to George Clooney, he’s wrong.
The actor and coffee purveyor’s suggestion that the Duchess of Sussex is being “pursued, vilified and chased” in the same manner as Princess Diana may have gained him some headlines but his scaremongering is unfounded.
Clooney claimed “history is repeating itself” with Meghan and, in a warning full of portent, remarked: “We’ve seen how that ends.”
Clooney, whose wife is apparently a close friend of the Duchess, spoke out after details of a letter Meghan wrote to her father was disclosed to the media. Five of the Duchess’s friends spoke to People magazine about the letter she wrote last August which, in turn, prompted Thomas Markle to reveal large sections of the five-page missive.
Drawing parallels between Meghan and Diana makes for easy clicks — and gains Clooney attention — but it’s a ludicrous comparison. The fact is that 22 years after Diana’s death the royals and their private lives could not be more respected by the press.
As someone who worked for a British newspaper during the 1990s and covered Diana’s death I’m fully aware not only of the media’s failings but the Princess of Wales’s determination to beat the press at their own game.
Yes, I may have spent a day in the British Airways first class lounge at Heathrow boarding then offloading four times as it became apparent that Diana and her new lover Dodi Fayed would not be flying to New York as had been tipped. But, equally, I was in the newsroom one evening when she called to tell the newspaper that she and her driver had rescued a homeless man who’d fallen into the Serpentine, a lake near her home at Kensington Palace.
Indeed, my then colleague, royal correspondent Richard Kay, had been photographed meeting with the Princess several times as she secretly co-operated with him on stories in much the manner she had been the source for Andrew Morton’s groundbreaking book Diana: Her True Story.
It is not like that now. While Diana was routinely pursued and photographers followed her every move, the industry regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), has had a profound impact on royal coverage in the UK.
In short, paparazzi photographers no longer hound the royals because media outlets won’t publish their images. In fact, royal protection officers sometimes insist members of the public delete images and video they’ve taken with their mobile phones.
The proof is in the pictures. Or lack of them. Whereas Diana was regularly photographed on holiday, going to the gym or seeing her various alternative therapists, there have been few such photographs of Meghan and Harry.
They were not photographed on honeymoon or their rumoured holiday to the Clooneys’ Lake Como home and they are not snapped going to the gym or walking their dog.
The pictures we see are taken at events to which the press is invited, a process which involves extensive vetting before accreditation is granted.
Had there been intrusion, as Clooney claims, we would’ve seen images of the couple from their private night on an island in Fiji, their holidays to Botswana, Meghan going to medical appointments and candid photographs of them with friends. Harry is reportedly proud of the fact that no one outside their circle knows the name of their Labrador.
As veteran royal photographer Arthur Edwards told the UK’s Telegraph, “it’s nothing like the old days”. As he pointed out: “There are no paps chasing Meghan whatsoever.”
The truth is that if Meghan is being “pursued and vilified” it’s by her own family and, as with anyone of her status, that in itself is legitimately newsworthy. If Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian was estranged from a parent that, too, would be reported. If Clooney wants to blame anyone, he should look no further than the extended Markle family who are largely responsible for feeding the saga.
Of course, there are still information leaks from inside the palace because that’s how the royal court has always worked. But far more industry-trained PR professionals now populate the royal press office and social media has armed them with the tools to control the message.
Crucially, the relationship between press and princess is more symbiotic than ever. Only permitted photographs of the royal offspring, George, Charlotte and Louis, are printed and in return the Duchess of Cambridge regularly releases a picture or two she’s taken herself.
Princess Diana’s death, the phone hacking scandal that led to the Leveson Inquiry and the rise of “snatched” pictures, prompted a much-needed reckoning for the British press. The arrangement that has come about as a result meets the needs of all parties.
Clooney should stop the grandstanding and stick to speaking about subjects he knows about: tequila and coffee.