“Every time I see a camera, every time I hear a click…it takes me straight back…it’s the worst reminder of her life”. To Prince Harry, the invasive British press act as a reminder of the troubled relationship between the press and his mother, which he believes drove her to her death. He has drawn parallels between those events and the recent media treatment of his wife, Meghan Markle. “I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a person”.
‘Commoditised’ is a good term for describing the place of the royal family in twenty-first century Britain. As a whole, the royal family are treated as a sort of cultural, or even financial asset. Claiming the redundancy of the royals is often rebuked by shrieks about the amount of tourism they bring to the country. A cultural commoditisation was plainly evident in the extravagance of the 2011 and 2018 royal weddings, which pumped up the country with patriotism and cheer, created much ado about fashion and ratings, and in 2011 shallowed the taxpayer’s pocket by £34 million without much complaint. The case of Meghan and Harry, however, evidences that this commoditisation is a double-edged sword. Certain members of the family are closely regulated, scrutinised, and dehumanised, the press vindictively invading their private lives, and there would appear to be a double standard depending on which royal you are. Indeed, Prince Andrew’s groping scandal failed to drum up quite the controversy of Harry and Meghan’s use of private jets. In recent months, a war has ensued between the British press and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Harry has rightly launched a legal offensive on the Mail on Sunday for publishing private correspondence between Meghan and her estranged father. Meanwhile, William was reported to be “furious” with Harry’s comments about their fraternal relationship.
A number of Windsors desire to be dignified with a certain level of respect from the press, and to be granted a greater degree of privacy. The Mail on Sunday’s invasion into Meghan’s private life was undeniably reprehensible, and nasty undertones lurk beneath the pages of certain press commentaries on her. The commoditisation and ensuing dehumanisation of the royals which the wider public is guilty of – but shines particularly harshly through the lens of the press – needs to stop. The pain in Meghan’s eyes was obvious when she thanked a reporter for asking how she was doing because “not many people” do.
There is, however, a flipside to this. In a society where the British taxpayer loses $468 million per annum to have a Head of State, it would be impossible for the royals to avoid a certain level of public scrutiny, at least concerning their material position. Economically, the royals are a commodity. Harry and Meghan’s yearning for a more private life is entirely understandable. But just as the press must understand lines which should not be crossed, the royal family need to understand that rightly or wrongly, they are a commodity of the British state, and their position in its current form will always be accompanied by public scrutiny. If there is to be a short-term solution for the emotional wellbeing of the royals, one thing is clear. Where private affairs are concerned, the media and the royals must keep their distance.