The Markle Debacle: Has Poor Palace Management Caused A Pre-Wedding Crisis?

The Markle Debacle: Has Poor Palace Management Caused A Pre-Wedding Crisis?

By Katie Rosseinsky Posted on 17 May 2018

It was all going so well. Since their engagement was announced by the Palace last winter, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s personal rom-com had been progressing smoothly towards its final scene: a royal wedding that would see things done their way, swapping a Westminster Abbey spectacular for a low-key service which would ‘reflect the personalities of the bride and groom’ (and still be watched by millions of people around the world, naturally). But, just days from the ceremony itself, the finely-honed royal PR machine has become completely unstuck.

Even in the early days of preparation for Harry and Meghan’s wedding, a question mark was hung over the bride’s father, Thomas Markle Sr – and, more specifically, whether this ‘reclusive’ former lighting director would be the one to walk his daughter down the aisle. But when an extensive briefing from Kensington Palace was released earlier this month, confirming that Markle Sr would take a major role in proceedings, a line had been drawn under such speculation – or so we thought.

Just days after the Palace brought out another statement, this time asking the press to stay away from the 73-year-old, it transpired that the pap shots conveniently showing Markle Googling pictures of his daughter and her royal fiancé (in a very public Internet café) weren’t as authentic as we’d assumed – and that sums of up to $100,000 had been exchanged for said pictures. Another plot twist saw Mr Markle give a series of no-holds interviews to American gossip site TMZ, detailing how he wouldn’t, then would, then again wouldn’t be attending the wedding. This ricocheting saga of ‘will he, won’t he?’ hasn’t just threatened to overshadow Saturday’s happy event; it has also raised the question of who exactly is in control of this particular narrative. Indeed, the Palace appears at once to have mismanaged its new relationship with Meghan’s father, and its long-uneasy relationship with press in the UK and beyond.

As of today, the Palace have finally taken (some) action, releasing an official statement in which Meghan confirms that her father will not be present for her wedding day. She goes on to shares her hope that ‘he can be given the space he needs to focus on his health’ following heart surgery. It’s brief, but also quite heartbreaking, and it’s certainly it’s too little, too late; a move that can’t help but smack of last minute damage control. Whoever walks Meghan down the aisle on May 19th (whether that’s Doria, the Prince of Wales, her future brother-in-law or perhaps no one at all), the media’s investment in the saga of Thomas Markle (neatly framed as ‘the Markle Debacle’ in newsprint headlines) is unlikely to intensify any time soon. So, how could the Palace’s idiosyncratic approach to media management have contributed to this mess?

While the Palace has been happy to slowly drip-fed superficial details of Harry and Meghan’s nuptials – there’ll be a father-son horse duo! Named Storm and Tyrone! Prince George will definitely be there! – they’ve been remarkably slow to respond to comment requests from media pertaining to anything a little more difficult – with the non-response to the Markle Debacle serving as a case in point. In doing so, they’ve created a vacuum which has been filled by uncorroborated gossip and, most recently, TMZ reports. In a new investigatory piece fromBuzzfeed, the Sun’s long-standing royal photographer Arthur Edwards has said that ‘Nobody actually knows [what is happening] because it’s one website in America putting out this news and it could be totally inaccurate. But we don’t have anyone confirming things at Kensington Palace.’ If crisis management is often casually referred to by PR as fire-fighting, this has been a case of sitting and watching the whole thing go up in flames.

This adversarial stance has naturally been traced back to Prince Harry’s own tense relationship with the media. The press, of course, is hardly blameless: having grown up with first-hand experience of the horrifying ways in which the paparazzi treated his mother Diana, it is no surprise that Harry would be deeply suspicious of the media circus that surrounds the royal family. At the start of his relationship with Meghan, Harry took unprecedented measures to stand up to attacks in the press, issuing a dramatic statement detailing a ‘wave of abuse and harassment’ that was indicative of ‘outright sexism and racism’ in the British press’s handling of his new girlfriend. ‘Harry’s attitude towards the press is that he doesn’t like the press,’ former Sun royal editor Duncan Larcombe commented in a recent Town & Country feature. ‘The chance of leaving journalists out in the street for the royal wedding is a gift for him […] In Harry’s mind, it was the press that killed his mother.’

The tabloid press’s interest in the royal family – and, in particular, royal women – is certainly disturbing in many instances. But this is a machine which, for better or worse, needs special handling, and in failing to participate in the media game (let alone to shift the game onto their own terms) in this most recent instance, the Palace’s actions have arguably had a contradictory effect, causing harm which could have been averted by early intervention (with Thomas Markle as collateral damage). Meghan’s father could, surely, have been eased into this new life. As another former Sun reporter, Phil Dampier, notes in Buzzfeed’s piece, ‘They should have flown out there months ago and met her father, or a senior courtier should have gone out there, put an arm around him and told him how to handle the press.’ Perhaps they tried to do so and were rebuffed: we can, after all, only speculate about what happens behind Palace doors, but the fact remains that Meghan’s father has not yet even met his future son-in-law, an oversight which has fueled a number of negative narratives (not least from within Meghan’s own extended family).

At this stage, all we can hope is that this saga has a happy ending - and that the Palace and the press can build a more positive relationship from the fallout of this spectacularly messy episode.

Will you be watching the royal wedding on May 19th? This is how events will play out on the day…

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9:30am: Wedding guests begin to arrive

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9:30am: Wedding guests begin to arrive

Wedding guests will begin to arrive – by coach, no less – from 9.30am until 11am, and will walk over to the South Door of St George’s Chapel. Prepare to spot assorted Suits stars, Priyanka Chopra, Jessica Mulroney and the Beckhams.

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11:20am: The royal family arrive in Windsor

Keep your eyes peeled from 11.20am as members of the Royal Family start to arrive at the Chapel, some on foot, others by car.

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11:45am: Harry and William will arrive together

Prince Harry will arrive at St George’s Chapel by foot, accompanied by his best man the Duke of Cambridge, and will enter via the West Steps. Here, they’ll take the time to greet the members of the public gathered in the Castle precinct, including the charity representatives positioned at the Horseshoe Cloister (just outside the Chapel).

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11:50am: Meghan will travel to Windsor Castle with her mother

At around the same time, Meghan and her mother, Doria, will leave their overnight location and travel to the Castle by car, passing through the Long Walk where members of the public are expected to gather. They’ll briefly stop at the Castle, allowing Doria to travel on to the Chapel while Meghan is joined by bridesmaids and page boys ahead of her big entrance to the Chapel.

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12pm: Meghan walks down the aisle

After Thomas Markle confirmed that he would no longer be walking his daughter down the aisle, having suffered a heart attack last week, it’s assumed that Doria will accompany her daughter.

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12pm: The wedding service begins

The wedding service itself will take about an hour, with a full order of service set to be unveiled to the public on Saturday morning. We already know that Lady Jane Fellowes, Harry’s aunt and the elder sister of the late Princess of Wales will give the reading. All three of Diana’s siblings will attend the ceremony, and Harry and Meghan have expressed happiness that they’ll be able to celebrate her memory on the day.

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1pm: The couple will greet charity representatives

Once they’ve officially tied the knot, the first thing that Harry and Meghan will do is to greet the 200 representatives from Prince Harry’s chosen charities, who’ll be gathered in the Horseshoe Cloister. In doing so, the couple are acknowledging how important these organisations will be in their future work; according to the Palace, they are ‘delighted that these people who will be such an important part of their official work in the years to come will be the first people they see after the wedding.’

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1:05pm: The carriage procession

Then, close family members will gather on the Chapel’s steps to wave the couple off, as it’s time for Harry and Meghan to step into their carriage (that’s the same Ascot Landau that Pippa Middleton rode in at Will and Kate’s wedding, in case you needed a refresher) and embark on a 25-minute procession around the castle and town. Hopefully neither of them have previous history with RSI, because all that royal waving could get very tiring. Meghan and Harry’s guests will then file out of the church to catch the start of the carriage procession, before heading on to St George’s Hall for the reception.

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7pm: The couple head to Frogmore House

For all the national excitement, the wedding is a private event, and after the carriage procession, there won’t be much left for us to see. The last thing that we’ll be able to catch will be the moment that the bride and groom leave the Castle for Frogmore House, where the evening reception will take place.

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