By Dr George Venturini
There is no question that Harry and Meghan represent some kind of ‘second phase’ of, as well as source of hope for the resurrection of the Windsor business house, the kind of relative new adventure that Ms. Rita Ann Clifton, C.B.E., a British advertising professional, would call “the brand innovators of the Royal Family.”
Patrick Jephson, now the founding partner in a ‘boutique communications consultancy’ operating from Washington, D.C., but for many years before Princess Diana’s private secretary and author of Shadows of a Princess, who was accused of ‘betrayal’ and is said to have angered the Royals after publishing the bestselling book, opined that the new ‘combination’ of Harry and Meghan is a “carefully crafted strategy, now in the ‘Royal bloodstream.’ ” Maybe.
“There are generations now of Royal spin doctors – he says – who have come into palaces claiming to be able to portray the Royal clients in the light that they want to be seen in.” Again, maybe. Dizzying stuff!
Again, Ms. Clifton pointed out how important is ‘The Royal Family’ to charity organisations. She says that: “… there’s the contribution they make to charity – 3,000 charities have a member of the Royal Family as their patron and the Queen’s charities alone have raised 1.4 billion pounds.”
Ms. Clifton believes that ‘the Royal Family’ brand is appealing in a divided world. “Britain is having a slight collective nervous breakdown at the moment when it comes to social, political, in some cases economic issues,” she says.
“There is something enduring about the Royal family brand – about the stability, the security, the longevity, the trust and so on, that actually is a very important property to hang on to at the moment.” (L. Milligan, ‘Windsor Inc: The corporate machine that’s led the Royal renaissance,’ abc.net.au, 29 October 2018).
The Invictus Games having closed on 27 October 2018, two days later the A.B.C. Four corners presented a rather full view of ‘Windsor Inc.’
Ably reported by Ms. Louise Milligan, the programme welcomed contributions from disparate persons. It was fairly frothy, light and entertaining but of little substance when not redundant with salamelecchi, an Italian word from the Arabic salaamalekum (actually: “peace be with you”) which translates the best as bowing and scraping.
For almost two weeks Australia had felt the full force of ‘a royal charm offensive’. The visit by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had been a triumph for the Royal couple and, particularly of the ‘House of Windsor brand’.
“I think the marriage…has injected a real shot of adrenaline into people’s interest in the Royal Family.” said a tabloid royal correspondent.
It is a world away from the scandalous 1990s when the Royal Family was embroiled in a rolling series of crises, indiscretions and P.R. disasters leaving them out of fashion and out of step with the times. Some were even talking about the end of the monarchy itself. “All bets were off with the Royals in the nineties. Spectacular own goals, things that 50 years earlier would have had discreet veils drawn over them: Camillagate, Squidgygate, Tampaxgate, all those terrible, terrible, gruesome little scandals.” said another authority on the subject.
The programme was designed to show how ‘the Royal Family’ has rebuilt its reputation and changed the way it manages ‘The Firm.’
“From those ashes, a lot of lessons have been learned. There’s obviously had to be more deliberate management about how people behave, what they’re saying, what they’re wearing,” ventured a global advertising consultant.
“It was the Royal family accepting that things needed to change if they were to survive. Survival is the name of the game for the Royal family.” said another.
The programme revealed a highly controlled operation with spin doctors and media management at the forefront.
“You don’t see it but … what we see and read about the Royal Family is pretty much controlled by them,” was the view of a former Private Secretary to the Royal household.
The Royals are increasingly bypassing traditional media and finding new ways to offer their message by joining the ranks of social media of influence. Those combined efforts have resulted in one of the most spectacular ‘rebranding’ exercises in modern times.
“In many ways, they’ve brought innovation. They’re brand innovators to the Royal family,” said the same global advertising consultant.
This new image has helped divert attention away from questions over the funding and financial interests of the Royal household.
“We don’t know where the money is invested. We don’t know where it’s spent. We don’t know what the income is. We only know what they tell us,” said a former U.K. member of Parliament.
As ‘The Palace’ prepares for the next generation to take the throne, Four Corners examined the very corporate campaign to future-proof the Crown.
The venue for the symposium on the Queen was ‘Cliveden’ in Buckinghamshire.
Ms. Flora Fraser Soros, an English writer of historical biographies, acted as moderator for the gathering of lesser known participants.
The reporter: “Also here is the Queen’s biographer, Robert Lacey, who was historical consultant to the wildly successful television series – The Crown.”
Mr. Robert Lacey, a British historian and biographer of Queen Elizabeth II ponderously remarked that the Queen has the apparently easier job of being what he called “a representative queen – whatever that may mean.
He then explained: “When a monarchy’s working well, it’s in harmony with the society it represents. A monarchy’s a bit like love. And many of the words associated with monarchy are to do with love and emotional values.”
The reporter noted that: “As she nears the end of her reign, Britain has fallen back in love with the Queen.”
Professor Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and professor of British and Commonwealth History at School of Advanced Study, University of London, explained: “In previous generations, [the Queen] was seen as a slightly staid, slightly boring figure, But the fact that she’s managed to be this non-political Constitutional Monarch for so long is widely recognised, widely admired, now. So, she’s having this magnificent sunset.”
“Non-political Constitutional Monarch”? Clearly Professor Murphy is embracing the typical fallacy in which a conclusion is taken for granted in the premises. He was definitively begging the question.
Ms. Emily Andrews, Royal correspondent for The Sun, made her heavy contribution: “I think we are in a golden age of royal popularity. We’ve got the Queen, she’s 92. She’s bomb-proof! Her popularity is unassailed. When she dies it will be the end of the second Elizabethan age.”
She was followed by Professor Murphy: “You have the younger royals, who seem to be copying her playbook being very discreet, very non-political, not feeling the need to express their own political opinions. But they’re glamorous, they’re relaxed, they’re good with people.”
To which Emily Andrews rejoined: “And I think the marriage of Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, and Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, has injected a real shot of adrenaline into people’s interest in the Royal Family.”
The reporter: “The wedding of Prince Harry to American actress Meghan Markle gave Windsor Inc. a whole new lease of life.”
Omid Mio Scobie, who is a London-based American journalist and editor who has extensively covered the lives of the younger members of the British Royal Family for over seven years, added this: “Seeing Meghan take that role as the Duchess of Sussex and bringing in this massive societal change is incredibly exciting. I think for the UK, this is our moment, very much the same as when President Obama took a seat in the White House. It changed things for the future. I think that’s exactly what Meghan’s done by marrying into the Royal Family.”
The reporter: “For the royal image-makers of the 21st century, it was a PR triumph that showcased a whole new House of Windsor.”
Emily Andrews invited the present to reflect on “this multicultural wedding, we had a multiracial musician and musical display. We had the preacher. We had the Reverend Michael Curry. From the U.S. of A. I mean think he was only supposed to speak for five minutes. I think he actually spoke for fifteen minutes.”
Actually Ms. Andrews extended herself by emphasising: “Meghan’s biracial, mixed race, she’s the first non-white member of the Royal Family. It’s fantastic. Literally dragging this old, white, pale, stale family, dragging them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”
The reporter: “For choir conductor Karen Gibson, it heralded a new dawn for Britain’s relationship with the Royal family.”
Asked by the reporter: “How did you feel as a woman of colour in Britain about that moment?” Ms. Karen Gibson replied: “Very proud, actually. Very proud to be, to be setting a precedent. It was definitely a precedent, we know that. And very proud to be able to represent people of colour. I know it was a big deal. To the black community. And I think the wedding being so inclusive and so diverse, I think that’s done something for the country. I feel like something has shifted.”
A detour is necessary here to explain: Ms. Gibson is a choir conductor and workshop leader with Londons Kingdom Choir, that she founded. It was she who led the Kingdom Choir’s gospel performance of “Stand by Me” at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May 2018, after which she was described as “Britain’s godmother of gospel.” One feels like being in the presence of a new planetary system.
The happy-go-lucky-new-and-improved Westminster System? Maybe.
At this point Patrick Jephson, the already mentioned Princess Diana’s private secretary, pointed out that: “Meghan didn’t know the black preacher. There was no long association there. It was put on for effect. In presentational terms, looks great. What’s behind it? Nothing much really.”
Amidst general surprise Patrick Jephson proclaimed that it was spin. “Yeah”, he said.
And to that he added: “There was an assumption that Meghan Markle was going to be a breath of fresh air and drag the fuddy duddy old monarchy into the 21st century. And that may yet happen, but I think it’s very unlikely.”
After which he made a sobering point: “[The Queen] is, after all, constitutionally, pretty much insignificant. Given that Harry is now way down the pecking order to the throne. And also, the monarchy, you know, it’s a very old institution. It has seen Meghan Markles come and go for hundreds of years.”
Where upon the reporter wisely noted: “The Harry and Meghan wedding is not the first royal marriage to be sold as a fairy tale and a moment of generational change. In 1981 the world watched as the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, married Diana Spencer. The fairy tale was a mirage. The marriage was deeply troubled and it was the beginning of more than a decade of disaster for the royal family… much of it self-inflicted.”
Stephen Bates, a British writer and award-winning journalist, author of Royalty Inc. a work which combines a history of the British Crown’s evolution through the modern age with a journalistic peek behind the curtain at the machinery which sustains the Windsors today, observed: “The Royals went off in several really questionable directions, the first of which, the nadir, was It’s a Royal Knockout. It was a really, really naff program, but terribly popular and the royals, or at least Prince Edward, thought the royals could cash in on this with. But, in his opinion, It’s a Royal Knockout was completely the wrong sort of message to give.”
In 1987 It’s a Royal Knockout collected the most sordid details of the Windsors’ private life, beginning with the following memorable exchange:
“Prince Charles: ‘I just live inside your trousers or something, be much easier’.
Camilla Parker-Bowles: ‘What are you going to do, turn into a pair of knickers. I think you are, you are going to come back as a pair of knickers.’
Prince Charles: ‘Or god forbid a tampax.’ ”
Stephen Bates commented: “All bets were off with the royals in the nineties. Spectacular own goals, things that fifty years earlier would have had discreet veils drawn over them. Camillagate, Squidgygate, Tampaxgate, all those terrible, terrible, gruesome little scandals.”
Patrick Jephson philosophised: “A lot of our energy and resources was spent on maintaining an untrue picture of the reality. And once you do that for a long enough time, once you invest enough money and effort and credibility in it, it has a corrosive effect on the whole organisation. We weren’t dealing in the truth. We were dealing in whatever today’s truth was and the media knew that, they could smell it and on a certain level we deserved all the crazy stories that were written because, uncomfortably, lots of them were true.”
Emily Andrews moved in: “With the war of the Waleses, how bad it was for the Royal Family? The Queen saying it was an annus horribilis, Windsor Castle burnt down. Charles and Diana divorced.”
Robert Lacey: “Fergie is discovered with her lover sucking her toes. How is that meant to give us an example of how we should live, particularly in difficult times? That of course is when Australia started saying why should we put up with this? Why should we look up to this? And people in England, Britain, were asking exactly the same question.”
Patrick Jephson remembered “when the Princess phoned me and told me that she and the Prince had had a final meeting, and decided to separate, my overwhelming feeling was of relief. My relief was because we didn’t have to pretend any longer.”
Princess Diana told him: “There were three of us in the marriage.”
And Patrick Jephson commented: “Yes, the annus horribilis was a series of PR disasters, but only if you think PR is a substitute for the truth. Ultimately, the annus horribilis was a PR triumph because against all the, or despite all the attempts we had made to conceal what was going on, the truth came out. And the institution survived it. Amid the crisis, the Palace called an emergency meeting of its committee, known as ‘The Way Ahead’, which was designed to salvage the monarchy.”
It is thought that the Queen ordered her children to sort out their private lives. Reforms were later introduced, including the Queen paying income tax, and trimming the number of Royals subsidised by the public purse.
Stephen Bates: “ ‘The Way Ahead’ was a group set up as the Queen grew a bit older, to try and look at the future of the monarchy and how it should conduct itself. How the organisation of it should be run, how the institution should evolve. It was more or less the first time that that had been done on a serious basis by Buckingham Palace and it did produce a slimming down of the hangers on and the flunkies. It was the Royal Family accepting that things needed to change if they were to survive. Survival is the name of the game for the Royal Family.”
Continued Wednesday – Terminal adolescents (part 4)
Previous instalment – Terminal adolescents (part 2)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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