Media tactics unravel in run-up to big day

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Jonny Dymond Royal correspondent @JonnyDymond on Twitter

Meghan Markle’s family has found itself on the world stage ahead of her wedding to Prince Harry on Saturday. As more doubt is cast on whether her father will attend the ceremony, the Royal Family’s closely-controlled media operation has at times seemed to be unravelling.

How has Kensington Palace, the office and residence of Prince Harry, which has rolled out the royal wedding plans and strategy over the past few months, dropped the ball so spectacularly in the last four days?

This was going to be a different wedding – no massed ranks of dignitaries, no traditional wedding cake, members of the public invited to view the happy just-married couple, sustainable, seasonably and renewably sourced victuals.

Over the last couple of months announcements have come and gone, by and large slavishly followed by broadcasters, newspapers and websites well aware of the interest of the audience.

And now this.

Rumour and conjecture

The usual tactic of the palace is to say nothing about stories that come up that run counter to the royal narrative, and wait for them to go away.

Given that there are so few reliable sources for real royal news, and that broadcasters are unhappy running stories on rumour and conjecture alone, it was by and large a winning strategy.

But with the entertainment website TMZ apparently having a hotline to the father of the bride, the palace’s near-monopoly on information has been broken.

TMZ has functioned as a rival press office, issuing apparently well-sourced bulletins on Thomas Markle’s health and state of mind that left the palace blindsided.

The response to 24 hours that entirely contradicted the previously stated plan for the wedding? No comment.

Who will walk the bride down the aisle? No comment.

What on Earth is going on? No comment.

Amongst the many who are now ever-so-wise after the event, there are questions.

How could the palace have let Mr Markle fall into a paparazzi trap? Why wasn’t someone sent out to mind him?

But was someone really going to sit in a town outside Tijuana for six months, fighting off photographers?

And maybe a man who is clearly not wild on company didn’t really fancy that?

Drown out the discord

The palace media operations are not that big, sometimes (like many press offices) not that good, and they operate by and large on precedent.

We do it like this because we’ve always done it like this; this is public and we will comment, this is private and we will not comment.

That means they don’t appear to think strategy as much as they might, and they don’t seem to have had a contingency plan for what might happen with Ms Markle’s family.

The families of previous brides understood the rules, even if as so-called commoners they knew that a single narrative of the wedding would preserve the event.

And they knew that if they stepped out of line they would be out in the cold.

But Ms Markle’s extended family – most of them with little left to lose as they haven’t seen the bride for many a Moon and will spend the wedding in TV studios rather than in St George’s Chapel – are different.

They have descended en masse on Britain, all with stories to tell and bank balances to improve.

And the previous reliance on the palace for titbits – that cake recipe, those flowers, that photographer – has vanished like dew on a spring morning.

At some point – presumably soon, as the current situation (“no comment”) is untenable at this late date – there will be resolution.

An announcement will come as to who will do what on the day.

And the hope of the palace – probably well-founded – will be that the long-planned mechanics of the occasion will drown out the discord of the past four days.

But for the moment there is that thing that nature abhors, a vacuum. And every well-laid plan of the palace is consumed by the soap-opera drama playing out well beyond its control.

 

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