Ordinarily, it must be generally quite easy to be the Queen’s lawyers.
You stop people from slapping royal warrants willy-nilly on unsanctioned biscuit tins, occasionally get Princess Anne out of a pickle over a bitey dog (she’s still the only member of the royal family with a criminal record thanks to that one) and do your darnedest to keep Prince Philip’s will out of the public domain.
But, not this week.
The reason? That pesky national broadcaster the BBC and their decision to air a highly controversial two-part documentary series, The Princes and the Press.
This morning, the second half of the series aired, fronted by the channel’s media editor Amol Rajan, and you can confidently bet that the pinstriped legal hordes who bill Buckingham Palace by the hour were tuned in, Mont Blancs at the ready.
The hour-long episode delved into the period following Harry and Meghan’s wedding and raised allegations that sources close to Princes William and Harry had ‘briefed’ them against one another.
So why has this show gotten royal knickers in such a twist?
Prince Charles attends a reception during a visit to Homerton College at the University of Cambridge on November 23. Photo / AP
Last week, Prince Charles’ Clarence House, Prince William’s Kensington Palace outfit and Buckingham Palace took the unusual step of releasing a rare joint statement, labelling the show’s claims “overblown and unfounded”.
On Monday, the Daily Mail’s royal editor Rebecca English reported that the royal family had not “ruled out taking action against the BBC”.
Now, while that level of legal intervention is unlikely, the palace usually only throws its legal weight around when a former royal staffer suddenly gets the urge to write a tell-all or when topless pictures of a future Queen are splashed all over a French tabloid. The palace is taking an unusually combative stance.
“All three royal households – Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace – are understood to be in ‘lock-step’ over their reaction to the documentary,” English reported.
Elsewhere, William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge have reportedly banned the BBC from airing an upcoming charity carol concert the duchess is hosting from Westminster Abbey, turning to broadcaster ITV instead.
On Tuesday, it emerged that a podcast meant to accompany the second Princes episode “has been delayed amid concerns about how Buckingham Palace will respond to the second episode.”
Prince William and Kate, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are seen after watching the Royal Variety Performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London on November 18. Photo / AP
Given that myriad documentaries, biographies and press outings raising all manner of accusations about the Queen and her lot are ignored, with courtiers refusing to acknowledge such supposedly mischievous gossip, why are they taking this BBC outing so seriously?
Why, after decades of the adage ‘never complain, never explain’ being the guiding principle, has that particular position suddenly gone out the window?
Also on Monday, it was alleged in a new book that Charles had questioned the skin colour of any future children of Harry and his then-fiance Meghan Markle. In response to the new claim, a spokesperson for Charles told The New York Post: “This is fiction and not worth further comment.”
Enter stage left, Prince William.
It’s not being too dramatic to say that the future of the monarchy rests on his and wife Kate’s shoulders. While his father Charles is tolerated by an apathetic public as the Prince of Wales, and will be likely tolerated by an apathetic public as king, that lukewarm support is hardly going to keep the monarchy puttering along into the next century.
The survival of the royal family relies on the unwritten contract between the crown and the public remaining in place, and for the passive acquiescence of the people to the monarchy’s existence to not face any sort of dramatic test.
Queen Elizabeth II watches the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall in London on November 10, 2019. Photo / AP
Consider: Eight of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren ended up as Kings or Queens across Europe including Sophie, Queen of the Hellenes, Alexandra, Empress of Russia, Marie, Queen of Romania, and Kaiser Willhelm II of Germany, monarchies which have all long consigned to the history books. The precariousness of any monarchy is a legitimate anxiety deeply embedded in royal DNA.
Ensuring that similar fate never comes to pass in the UK falls to William and Kate. They are the royal family’s great hope and the fortunes of the monarchy are pegged to their popularity and the levels of public support they can maintain, one High Street-clad outing at a time.
So far, William’s standing with his future people has been reasonable, having managed to avoid being caught in flagrante telephono fantasising about being a tampon or being one half of the world’s most miserable marriage, like his father.
Protecting that popularity and support is crucial to royal endurance plans. In the same vein, any threat to his reputation is a fundamental threat to the future of the crown.
A threat like a documentary raising allegations of palace loose lips, which hardly smacks of the sort of regal dignity one might expect the leader of the armed forces and Defender of the Faith to possess.
And this is very risky territory for the palace to be on. Letting a seed of doubt about William take root in the public’s mind is a risk they cannot afford to take.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, arrive at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for the Salute to Freedom Gala on November 10. Photo / AP
Hence, the unusual level of palace pushback.
While we will have to wait and see if the Queen and co’s legal eagles will be called on to swoop into action, this will still be a watershed week for the Windsors and their courtroom manoeuvrings.
On Thursday night, Australian time, we will find out if the appeal lodged by the Mail on Sunday’s parent company in the now years-long privacy battle between the publisher and Meghan is successful. (The former actress sued the paper, and won, after the Mail published portions of a letter she had sent to her estranged father.) If the Mail is successful in overturning the judgement, it raises the possibility of a trial which could even potentially see the Sussexes called to the stand and questioned under oath, a prospect that should panic every courtier to the bone.
One can nearly start seeing the billable hours ticking up already.
I suppose the moral of the story is: The lawyers always win. New Mont Blanc anyone?
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.