'Palace’s Meghan nightmare comes true'
You know the phrase, "There's no rest for the wicked"? I think in 2020, it's time we updated that a bit because this year, "There's no rest for the wicked - and all royal press secretaries" seems far more apt.
Overnight a cavalcade of extraordinary new details about Meghan, Duchess of Sussex's legal stoush with Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), the parent company of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, over an alleged breach of privacy were revealed.
In new documents filed with the British High Court, the duchess' lawyers argue that she felt "unprotected by the Institution" of the royal family during her pregnancy and she was not allowed to defend herself from negative press coverage.
"The stance of "no comment" was taken by the KP (Palace communications team without any discussion with or approval by the Claimant, as is standard practice for Royal communications," the papers state.
The new documents also argue that five of her confidants felt compelled to speak anonymously to People magazine in February 2019 because they were "rightly concerned" for her welfare, specifically as she was pregnant, unprotected by the Institution, and prohibited from defending herself.
"Her close friends, including those that had visited her in the UK, and others who did not, were equally concerned for her mental health and wanted to help."
Other notable details include the claim that the Sussexes' wedding generated $1.8 billion in tourism revenue for the UK and the argument that Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie and Prince Michael "undertake paid work".
All of this comes as a series of explosive books about the royal family, which have aired allegations including that Meghan "shouted at a member of Kate's staff" (Tom Quinn's Kensington Palace: An Intimate Memoir from Queen Mary to Meghan Markle); that she wanted to leave her first official event as a member of the royal family because she was "bored" (Lady Colin Campbell's Meghan and Harry: The Real Story); and that during the early days of their marriage, the Sussexes' spending "rang alarm bells" for Her Majesty (Dylan Howard and Andy Tillett's Royals at War).
We are barely in the middle of this publishing onslaught with the much hotly anticipated Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, which is expected to offer a particularly sympathetic account of the Sussexes' recent history out next month, followed by renowned historian Robert Lacey's Battle of Brothers: William and Harry - the Friendship and the Feuds.
(If you were basing your knowledge of the royal family solely on book titles, you would assume that there are really only two members of the Windsors who matter at all.)
Which brings us back to those poor palace press secretaries, left to somehow contend with this publicity barrage. While they might have had a busy year thus far, it seems unlikely they are going to have a particularly peaceful second half of 2020.
While no exact court date has been set for Meghan's courtroom showdown with ANL, it is expected that the matter will be heard either later this year or in 2021, making this a protracted situation for the royal family.
Likewise, with the gloves coming off on both sides of this courtroom fight, there is every chance we are going to see more and more damaging revelations and counterclaims such as this most recent swathe coming out.
The new documents also make it clear that Meghan has no compunction about airing her frustrations with how the royal family and the palace machine treated her during her barely two-year stint on the inside. Including the claim that the duchess felt "unprotected by the Institution" and by saying that she disagreed with the palace's approach to media relations, would seem to dash any notions of her lingering fealty to the royal family.
Today's revelations raise the prospect of having broken ranks once, will she do it again? And again? In short: It's likely to be a lengthy, bruising experience for the royal family.
The big picture here is that no matter who will ultimately win in the high court, no matter which side is vindicated and which is chastened, the Firm will be the big losers.
If you happen to be the Queen, this sort of drawn-out family drama clogging headlines and constantly rehashing and re-airing various alleged histrionics and ructions is the stuff of regal nightmares. The end result: The monarchy, rather than representing an admirable, dogged commitment to duty and opening regional Scout halls, will look more and more like a two-bit soap opera, albeit with added sceptres and dorgis.
Moreover, for months, if not a year or perhaps more, the royal narrative looks set to be utterly dominated by all things Sussex, despite the fact that they have quit as official working HRHs.
Further complicating things here is the fact that Meghan's privacy fight is something of a departure from other instances in which the Windsors have gone to court. While the royal family is not shy about calling in the lawyers over press intrusion or intrusion of privacy, this case stands apart. In previous instances, the newspapers or magazines called to account often promptly capitulated (the Queen on several occasions, Princess Diana and Kate Middleton prior to marriage received apologies and damages). While it took five years for a conclusion to the proceedings that Kate brought against two European tabloids for printing topless photos of her, the actual case was a dreary, dull exercise in legal manoeuvring.
Meghan's case is anything but. She clearly feels deeply aggrieved and her stance seems to be one of ramrod, iron resoluteness to see this through. (And perhaps change the way the royal family are treated by Fleet Street for the better.) Meanwhile, ANL has made it clear they will defend the case vigorously and previous reports have raised the possibility of both Meghan and her father taking the stand. (The prospect of Markle Vs Markle, the royal and her 75-year-old father facing off in the Old Bailey, would seem too fantastical for even the writers of The Bold and the Beautiful.)
Whatever comes next, I think it is safe to say we are in for far more drama before this case is over. This week the Queen shuld have been making her annual pilgrimage to Edinburgh where she takes up residence for a week in her official Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Today should have seen her enjoying a summer garden party in the palace's grounds, a cavalcade of hats, finger sandwiches and a lot of polite standing around.
Instead, she is stuck in a draughty (I'm guessing) castle, having not seen her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren for months, and facing the possibility of the monarchy being entangled in this particular legal melodrama for a while to come. Let's hope someone at least brought her some scrummy finger sandwiches to cheer her up.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.
Originally published as Palace's Meghan nightmare comes true