Saturday, April 20, 2024

Omid Scobie on What Royal Stories to Trust and Understanding Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle’s Image

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For days, outlets have reported on pieces from Omid Scobie’s Endgame that focused on the strained relationships between Prince William, Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton, and even King Charles. Taken out of context, it is easy to mark off the book as just another tome about royal family drama.

But Endgame is a meticulously-reported, shockingly candid deep dive into the systems that maintain the royal family’s image—the press, the palace staff with its courtiers, and the royal family members themselves. Following Charles’ coronation, Scobie believed this new chapter offers a chance to have a conversation around the relevancy and place of the monarchy.

“I wanted to write something that could A, join that conversation, but also I guess provide an unvarnished, unbiased, fearless take on all of it, even if that came at the cost of me losing all of my connections and tomorrow no longer receiving an email from the palace ever again or anything like that,” he told ELLE.com.

The threat of losing access is in part why the royal rota is more limited in their coverage: “Unlike the White House press pool, there is an expectation of perhaps adhering to a more royalist code of conduct in your reporting that, as you may notice, often the coverage in certain newspapers is quite breathless and puff piece-esque,” Scobie said. “If you try and divert from that, you will definitely get comeback from the palace who will question why you are not doing the same as everyone else.”

But Scobie is not afraid of the pushback or burning his bridges. Providing a more honest account and shining “a light in what are potentially darker and more shadowy places” in the institution is worth the cost to Scobie.

He speaks to ELLE.com below about making sense of the reports about the royal family and how Kate and Meghan are really seen by the Firm.

london, england march 09 prince william, duke of cambridge, catherine, duchess of cambridge, prince harry, duke of sussex and meghan, duchess of sussex attend the commonwealth day service 2020 on march 9, 2020 in london, england photo by phil harris wpa poolgetty images

WPA Pool//Getty Images

In Endgame, you break down how the British press works with the royal family. I want to understand how the U.S. press, which is not allowed in the royal rota, works with them, too.

As a member of the American press, your access is optional to the palace. It’s not like being a member of the royal rota where whether they like it or not, as a member of the British press, you have to be there because they have to be transparent with their work in front of a nation that publicly funds that work. With Americans, it’s very different, but you also go further afield. That world of supermarket tabloids in the U.S. and all of the anonymous insider quotes and all the rest of it, I’ll lift the lid on some of it.

A lot of that comes from royal correspondents in the U.K. and the press pack who are just making a bit of extra money on the side and not putting their name to the story, or they’re putting things out there that perhaps they may feel more comfortable putting in the American tabloids than they would in their own work.

You wrote about how different houses in the royal family will brief against each other. As somebody reading royal news, how do you know what stories to trust?

It’s very difficult because the speed and pace of digital coverage is fast and rampant. It only takes something an hour to appear in a tabloid newspaper in Britain, and [then] there’s going to be pickup on every major website around the world that is just simply citing that outlet as the source without even having the time to fact-check.

One of the things that many people don’t always know is that listen, for example, if you’re reading coverage in the [Daily] Mail about Camilla, the relationship between The Daily Mail and Camilla and their royal correspondent is much cozier than you would find with any other journalist in that press pack. Anything about Camilla [in The Daily Mail] is always going to be presented in extremely positive light. If it’s a situation involving another member of the royal family, you can guarantee that in that case Camilla is always going to come out well in the story.

We don’t always know about these relationships and agreements that take place behind the scenes.

On a more sinister level, as I talk about in the book, those rumors that could potentially cause more damage to the royal family, such as the fallout between William and Kate and Rose Hanbury, which started on the pages of The Sun newspaper in the U.K., ended up completely disappearing out of the public conversation thanks to diverting attention at The Sun newspaper to stories about Harry and Meghan. At face value, that sounds like a conspiracy theory so I wanted to break down in the book how that change actually happened, the conversations I had with the communications aides at Kensington Palace who were desperate to get rid of this rumor or get it out of the eyeline of a specific tabloid newspaper.

It may sound like tit-for-tat or really small petty issues, but when you line them all up, it then helps us understand how we’ve reached the position that we’re in today and just what has gone on behind the scenes and who was involved to make that happen.

prince harry, meghan markle, camilla, and kate middleton during trooping the colour 2019

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Camilla, and Kate Middleton during Trooping The Colour 2019.

Neil Mockford//Getty Images

How are Meghan and Harry being used today still to deflect away from stories the royal family doesn’t want taking center stage?

You only need to look, [this past weekend] The Guardian newspaper broke a staggering story about how King Charles had secretly profited from the assets of dead British citizens, that the assets of thousands of people in the northwest of England were being used to upgrade his property empire via some archaic custom.

These are details about the royal family that we don’t know about and should know about, but when you look to see which newspapers in the rest of the media landscape have picked up on that story today or covered it, it’s few and far between because people would much rather spend their time getting swept up in hysteria over whether Meghan steps out on a red carpet last night or has a new Netflix projects in the works, or whatever thing that they choose to be angry about at that time.

I think that for the right-wing, mainstream British newspapers, it benefits them to rely on the easier, lazier style of reporting when it comes to the royals because ultimately it keeps them in the good books of the royal family. If they were to all seize on this story about Charles profiting from the assets of dead citizens, that would then turn it into a nightmare for the palace.

You have this media that is almost enabling specific goings-on within a publicly funded institution because ultimately, they benefit from that relationship with the palace. … The two are now in this very weird symbiotic relationship where they’re keeping each other alive and at the same level of magnanimity as each other whilst the rest of the world changes around them.

Is the Palace still briefing against Meghan and Harry when they want to distract from stories like that, or is it just commenters making up their own things?

Listen, for years the Palace was hugely involved in briefing stories about Harry and Meghan. There is proof to support that, I have proof, Harry and Meghan have spoken about it. At this point it is fact upon fact, upon fact. I think if you look at it today, things are a little different.

I don’t see much evidence of wheeling out stories about Harry and Meghan specifically from Kensington Palace since they changed their complete communications team. It seems that there is perhaps some hope that they can move away from that kind of approach.

We still see stories that come out that clearly came from the Palace, The Sunday Times as a prime example. It’ll be stories about the Sussexes: Are they going or not going to Sandringham at Christmas? Have they been invited to this? Are they going to acknowledge Charles’ birthday? This or that or the other, so much of this comes from a royal correspondent picking up the phone and chit-chatting with a communications aide, and whatever comes from that conversation ends up becoming the story.

The reality is that the papers know that Harry and Meghan are the more clickable, interesting story, whether people like them or not. I think a lot of people do it out of hate. I think they’re a couple that receive a lot of hate clicks, but they still receive more attention and engagement than anyone else. That in itself is a problem for the institution of the monarchy because if their main players aren’t the ones getting the attention on the front pages, then where do you go from there?

prince harry and meghan markle during the walkabout to greet wellwishers at windsor castle following the queen’s death in september 2022

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during the walkabout to greet well-wishers at Windsor Castle following the Queen’s death in September 2022.

Chris Jackson//Getty Images

I read your interview in People and you said Harry and William don’t look like they’re about to reconcile. Is there any hope for Meghan and the royal family? Is it just a case where as long as Harry and William are not on good terms, it’s not going to get better for Meghan or anybody else?

Everything that I’d looked into and reported on for the book about Harry and William all pointed to this reconciliation being highly unlikely and certainly not on the horizon. Even if that was to happen, I don’t think it changes Meghan’s position.

We’ve seen her in the last year really establish herself as an independent individual that is not riding on the coattails of her royal past or really even interested in being involved in that world. I know her team spoke about [how] she wasn’t coming over for the coronation because of Archie’s birthday, but I also know from speaking with people that there was also a desire to stay away from the noise and hysteria that comes any time she sets foot near the country, let alone the family. And the way they were treated during the time of the Queen’s death and the funeral really reinforced for her that she had not only made the right decision, but didn’t want to go anywhere near [it] again.

They said it loud and clear that they were looking for conversations and accountability and for people to own their roles and everything that had happened, and no one has so there is no reason for anything to change moving forward. One could argue the balls are all in the royal family’s court, and we know that they’re not hitting them back anytime soon.

I want to shift to Kate a little bit. I read your chapter on her and I also have seen reports in U.S. outlets about how she is trying to modernize her image now. Can you tell me anything more that you’ve heard about that?

I think Kate’s in a really interesting position because in many ways, she’s the last main attraction in terms of the guaranteed crowd-puller, the guaranteed front page, the attraction within the royal family when it comes to all the glamour and mystique and mystery that comes with the Firm. She does a good job of maintaining that, too. We still know very little about her, we don’t really know her thoughts or feelings on much beyond the early years, but I think that we have seen an evolution in Kate.

I remember when Meghan was still a working member of the royal family, I was writing Finding Freedom, and I was talking with a senior aide at Kensington Palace that worked with all four at the time, and they described Meghan’s arrival doing all of these big projects and going from one thing to the next and wanting more. That was always her attitude. They described it as—and they never finished their sentence—but it was a bit of a rocket up [the …] for Kate.

We’ve seen that continue to evolve over time, and I don’t think it’s about Meghan in that situation. We’re all in competition with the people around us, whether we consciously accept it or it’s all subconscious.

With Kate, we’ve seen these small changes in her character and her approach to work but also just in her demeanor, her confidence, even her appearance. I’m no style expert particularly with royal style, but we have seen a change even in her working wardrobe.

We have seen an evolution in her on all fronts, but I also feel that there’s a huge amount of pressure on her moving forward … being kind of the last shiny thing in the royal family. That’s a huge amount of pressure for someone who has, so far, carried out much less engagements than any other member of the royal family. Who, although we don’t ever say it, is technically a part-time working royal.

She’s only human, so are the expectations too high for her? It’s going to be very interesting to see how that plays out over the years ahead as the children get older and William and Kate take footsteps closer towards their time as king and queen.

kate middleton and meghan markle at wimbledon 2018

Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle at Wimbledon 2018

Clive Mason//Getty Images

Another interesting thing about the way Kate has been portrayed in the media is that you see stories about her being a “peacemaker” in private, trying to help things between Harry and William. But then there are other stories about how she doesn’t see herself being close to Harry again. She’s so quiet in public, but somebody’s sharing these different messages to the press. Why is she being presented this way?

I have questioned where Kate the peacekeeper stories come from because I’ve certainly not had anyone tell me anything of the sort. From my observations and the conversations I’ve had with people, Kate likes to stay out of that stuff, and we’ve certainly not seen any efforts from her made to smooth things over with any issues with herself and Meghan or with Harry or any kind of encouragement between the two brothers to talk. I don’t know where the peacekeeper stuff comes from.

I sometimes think that it’s just lazy journalism that of course this sweet and innocent wife would just want to get the men together to smooth things over because perhaps in a movie or a TV show, that’s how it would be portrayed. I sometimes think that we know so little about Kate and the people around her are so guarded that I think the press often puts onto her what we expect from her or what we think she would do in those situations, which in many ways is smart because that’s how it was like with the Queen.

We knew so little about her, we knew [the Queen’s] opinion on very little beyond horse racing. That was largely down to her being an extremely private person, but also the people around her respecting her privacy and receiving that palace protection at all times. I think Kate has that too, and she’s very fortunate compared to a lot of the other royal women who came in and were completely left to fend for themselves.

I often find that a lot of the coverage about Kate is either wishful thinking or more insinuating than anything. I also find some of the coverage on her a bit disrespectful at times. Just any kind of infantilization of her, the kind of like, wow, doesn’t she sit well? And wow, she twirled her hair. It’s always very breathless and I think well, she’s a grown woman. She’s got a lot more to say and do and prove beyond that. But the comfort zone with the press seems to be how well she can flip a pancake.

Maybe it’s part of this tabloid wishful thinking, but I know in the book you talked about Kate and William’s marriage being very solid, but I’ve seen more reports about there being trouble between them. Maybe that’s just trying to make something to get clicks, but I’m just wondering why is that stuff coming out now?

I think partly, rumors take on a life of their own online, and so there will be a bigger hunger for things that aren’t even true about someone. I think William and Kate have largely been protected from that with the British tabloids who often do lean on these very lazy rumor spreading and whatnot. But with Kate and William, particularly with their great relationships with a lot of the important newspaper editors and publishers, they managed to be kept out of that.

But of course, there is no control over things in the U.S., and we have seen them become fodder for a lot of the supermarket tabloids for stories about their marriage being in trouble and all the rest of it. I’m not here to comment on someone’s marriage. I can only go by what I have heard from people that are much closer to the situation that I’d imagined a source for InTouch magazine is. I’ve not heard anything about a marriage being in trouble.

I’m always very careful with that stuff as well. Just as much as I will disregard that story, I’ll also disregard the stories of Harry and Meghan’s marriage being in trouble. I think it’s very lazy tabloid journalism at times because you can’t make money off people just being happy all the time. You need them to be in crisis for their lives to be more interesting, and I think sometimes two people can just be in a very safe and perhaps slightly dull marriage and that’s okay.

prince william and kate middleton during the south korea state visit earlier this month

Prince William and Kate Middleton during the South Korea state visit earlier this month.

Max Mumby/Indigo//Getty Images

I think Endgame is such an intriguing portrait of a very complicated, very historic system. Are you a little afraid of how British tabloids are going to respond to your book and cherry-pick different quotes from it?

I know that that will happen. I mean, it’s inevitable, and I hope that there are readers out there who feel far more comfortable with reading something for themselves than being dictated what to think of something by an angry journalist at the Daily Mail who has a completely different agenda. I’m okay with it at this point. I can’t change the British media, and I have seen and read enough bad negative headlines about myself to develop the thick enough skin, I think.

[Being a target to hateful comments], it has been tough at times. I don’t like it when it affects my family, but it’s a job. I’ve got to finish doing it. I’m here now. I’m not preparing to leave or bow out until I finish my work. I’m not going to let anyone make that decision for me.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


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Alyssa Bailey

Senior News and Strategy Editor

Alyssa Bailey is the senior news and strategy editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage of celebrities and royals (particularly Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton). She previously held positions at InStyle and Cosmopolitan. When she’s not working, she loves running around Central Park, making people take #ootd pics of her, and exploring New York City.

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