Last May, millions across the world tuned in to watch Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince Harry tie the knot with his American actress girlfriend Meghan Markle, with the media feting the couple as the epitome of glamour and royal modernity.
But less than a year later, the couple have found themselves on the receiving end of much less flattering coverage as they prepare for the birth of their first child this Spring.
“Frown Jewels: Meg is banned by Queen from using Di gems,” the front page headline on Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper the Sun said on Thursday over a story which claimed the monarch banned Meghan from wearing royal jewellery, reflecting rumoured growing tensions between Harry’s wife and senior Windsors.
“Meghan Markle ‘pretty difficult’ person to deal with – ‘Harry is Miserable,’” said a Daily Express headline last month, while the Daily Mail headlined a story in January: “How Meghan’s favourite avocado snack … is fuelling human rights abuses, drought and murder”.
There is no doubting the enduring, global fascination with the British royals. On Tuesday (April 2), the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, as Harry and Meghan are officially known, launched their first Instagram account. Two days later, it had 3.4 million followers.
While much reporting by the British press on the royal family has been positive it can be harshly critical, even cruel.
“The press here in Britain is very aggressive, and they don’t hold back,” said veteran Sun photographer Arthur Edwards who has covered the royals for more than four decades.
The first public acknowledgement that Harry and Meghan were dating in November 2016 came in a statement criticising the media for intruding into his then girlfriend’s private life.
It was indicative of how Harry views the media which he blames for the death of his mother Princess Diana. She died in Paris in 1997 when he was just 12 when her limousine crashed as it sped away from chasing paparazzi photographers.
“I think that the younger royals (Harry and Will) naturally have a difficult relationship with the press…they blame the press entirely for her death” royal commentator Claudia Joseph said.
In his youth, Harry found himself in the headlines for under-age drinking, wearing a Nazi outfit to a costume party and scuffling with photographers outside London nightclubs.
But his popularity grew both with Britons generally and the media who loved his antics when on official engagements, such as posing with the likes of Olympic gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt.
Newspapers were given minimal access to the couple’s wedding in May and there has been some discontent among senior figures in the industry about the level of access to the royals who continue to be a huge draw for readers.
But Robert Jobson, veteran royal correspondent for the London Evening Standard newspaper, said he thinks it is “no better or worse” adding “I think that actually in many ways it has improved”.
There have been numerous reports of excessive demands the new duchess has made of staff and of rifts between Meghan and Harry and his elder brother William and his wife Kate.
Also, Meghan’s family, particularly her father, have regularly made headlines with critical comments about her.
But in January, U.S. magazine People said five of Meghan’s close friends had broken their silence to speak out against the “lies and untruths” and “global bullying” the duchess had suffered and their fears about how this would affect her and her baby.
The following month, her friend and Hollywood film star George Clooney told Australian magazine WHO the media were harassing Meghan as they had Harry’s mother Diana.
But some in them media have questioned the intense focus on Meghan in particular.
“(It) Goes far beyond any story that her family are trying to sell or anything else that’s comparable frankly to one of her peers in the royal family” broadcaster and author Afua Hirsch said.
Comments from online trolls and heated social media arguments involving Meghan’s fans have led Britain’s royals to unveil a new online protocol warning users of possible police action.
“There’s been an awful lot of negativity online, social media, racism, all sorts of vile abuse but that’s not coming from the mainstream media,” Jobson said.
“The odd commentator may say something but actually on the whole it’s been very, very positive,” he added, but some of the public are not so sure.
“I think she’s been treated a bit unfairly from what I’ve seen,” said student Savanah Edwards. “I see that she’s criticized for a lot and I don’t think that’s fair to her.”
American student Laura Youngblood, 21, said: “I think that she gets a bit of bad rap. Marrying into the royal family is difficult coming from an American background which is a completely different culture. As Americans as a whole, we admire her so much – we think she’s great.”
Whatever the Windsor’s might think of the media, royal watchers say there is a symbiotic relationship between the two.
“The bottom line is when they’re doing their job they want to be seen doing what they’re doing and they’re quite happy to give access to the media,” Jobson said.
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