The Royal Family’s five biggest PR disasters


Unfortunately Prince Andrew’s shockingly ill-judged interview isn’t the first time a royal has got it so very wrong…

PR disasters
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Words Michelle Davies 

Prince Andrew’s shockingly ill-judged interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis about his friendship with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein isn’t the first time a member of the Royal family has misjudged the public mood and expected support and deference only to receive the opposite. Here are five other times they got it woefully wrong.

PR disasters

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Meghan and Harry’s South Africa confessional

PR disasters

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It’s impossible to downplay the enormous pressure the Duchess of Sussex has been under since marrying into the Royal family – the vitriol aimed at her from some quarters of the media has been horrendous, prompting her to take legal action. Yet PR experts were left scratching their heads when she and Harry chose the end of their well-received and much-praised tour of southern Africa last month to complain to ITV News At Ten’s Tom Bradby about how unhappy they both were. The ensuing headlines meant, sadly, their excellent work on the continent was forgotten and now they’re said to be exiling themselves in America for six weeks over Christmas to escape the backlash. 

The Queen’s reaction to Princess Diana’s death

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Few people, least of all The Queen, could’ve predicted how the nation would respond to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. It became a show of grief on an unprecedented level, with millions pouring into London every day after Diana’s fatal accident on 31 August 1997 to line the streets with flowers as a mark of respect. However, when Her Majesty declined to return to the capital from Balmoral, where she was holidaying with family members that included Princes Charles and his grieving sons William and Harry, a backlash quickly ensued, with newspaper headlines asking, ‘Has the House of Windsor Got a Heart?’ Eventually The Queen did return to address the nation (she said her priority had been the emotional wellbeing of her grandsons) and she did lower the flag at Buckingham Palace to mark Diana’s passing, which she’d also been criticised for not ordering, but the feeling remained that she was so out of step with her subjects she’d failed them.

 Diana and Charles’ He Said/She Said interviews

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As Prince Andrew is learning to his detriment, sitting down with an interviewer to ‘tell your side of the story’ rarely goes well for the Royals. That’s why The Queen has long adopted the ‘never complain, never explain’ mantra. But in 1994, Prince Charles decided to ignore Royal protocol to tell Jonathan Dimblebyin a TV chat that he had indeed been unfaithful during his marriage to Diana. If that didn’t cause enough of a furore, in November 1995 she retaliated by doing her own sit-down confessional with Martin Bashir on BBC One’s Panoramaabout the ins and outs of their miserable marriage, blaming his ongoing affair with his now wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, for it ‘being crowded’. One month later The Queen wrote to them both telling them to hurry up and divorce for everyone’s sake.

 It’s A Royal Knockout

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Poor Prince Edward. As the youngest Royal sibling he really did struggle to find his place in the world and after an ill-fated spell in the Marines got a job working as a production assistant at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful theatre company. In 1987 he decided to combine his career and his home life by staging a Royal version of It’s A Knockout with him, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson competing in teams that included the likes of Gary Lineker, John Travolta and Rodney from Only Fools and Horses. It did raise £1 million for charity but no one wanted to see our HRHs dressed up in medieval costumes alongside celebs dressed as vegetables and it was roundly criticised for being the most undignified Royal display ever seen.

The Royal Family documentary

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Amid growing accusations that the Monarchy was out of touch with post-war Britain during the Swinging Sixties, in 1968 The Queen agreed to allow cameras to film the family for a documentary to tie in with Prince Charles’s investiture. However, scenes of Prince Philip barbecuing at Balmoral and The Queen buying ice creams for their children (dispelling the myth she never carries money) fell flat with viewers, who didn’t like to see Royals ‘being normal’. Historians pinpoint the documentary’s airing in 1969 as the moment a lack of deference towards the Monarchy began to filter through society.

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