The Queen’s statement was a PR masterclass
Meghan is fond of referring to the Royal Family as “the Firm”. She appears to regard it as something of an insult. That’s a mistake, one of many she has made lately, critics say. If the institution is House of Windsor Ltd and the Queen is its chief executive, the monarch is as good as any boss of a FTSE 100 company, as the last 48 hours have shown.
The Queen will have been deluged with (mostly bad) advice from PR “experts” on how to respond to the criticism of the firm made by Meghan and Prince Harry in their interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday. Say nothing. Let the already“dead in the water” Prince Andrew carry the can for the alleged racist remarks about the colour of Archie’s skin. Say the palace will investigate any formal complaints of racism, safe in the knowledge that Harry is unlikely to name and shame.
In the end, her statement was a masterclass in how to defuse a very tense situation and get back to business as usual. First, don’t rush it. Going too fast risks errors. Also, a period of radio silence suggests that you do not regard the issue as urgent and, therefore, not too serious. Her statement is very short. If you are trying to take the heat out of a situation, the fewer words you say, the less ammunition you give “the other side” to respond to. It took two hours for Meghan to make her case. The Queen opted for three sentences.
She began, as she should, by acknowledging the couple’s suffering. “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan.” The expression of regret is genuine and warm. Note no formal titles: just “Harry” and “Meghan”.
But the addition of the phrase “full extent” raises the question of whether the couple really told the family how bad things had got. The use of the word “challenging” also implies that Harry and Meghan might have been partly responsible for their woes since they were not up to the challenge of royal life.
The question of what was or was not said to Harry, and by whom, about Archie’s skin colour could not go unaddressed or unacknowledged. “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning (and) they are taken very seriously,” the Queen said solemnly.
But she seized on the couple’s refusal to name the alleged perpetrator, nor reveal the exact words he or she said, as an opportunity to assert that the issue would be “addressed by the family privately”. She also uses Meghan and Harry’s failure to explain the tone of the alleged remark — blatant racism or dumb question? — to, again, inject a hint of doubt into the claim by noting “some recollections may vary”. The Queen knows the truth will never come out. All she has to do to protect the firm is muddy the waters a bit.
Her Majesty saves the best until last. “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.” What a fantastic sentence. On its face it seems simple and supportive. But there’s a subtle hidden meaning. The use of the world “always”, rather than, say, “will continue to be”, seems to suggest that nothing Harry and Meghan will ever do will bother the Royal Family enough for them to criticise or cast aside Harry and Meghan in the way that the couple have just criticised and cast aside the House of Windsor. Play the victims if you like, the Queen is saying, but don’t expect us to join in.