A big behind-the-scenes change at Cambridge’s office points to one thing: the royals are upping their game in the brothers’ battle.
The last British monarch to lead his troops on the battlefield was George II in 1743 during the War of the Austrian Succession, which saw several gout-ridden kings arguing over whether one woman should rule the Habsburg Empire. In the centuries since, the various kings and queens who have enthroned the UK have preferred to stay far away from the front lines and anything pointed and sharp – instead preferring to stay close to a decent gin and tonic. Smart.
But all rulers need skilled soldiers and gifted tacticians to help them – and the future King William V is no different.
Right now, behind the scenes, personnel changes are going on at the Kensington Palace office of William and wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, leading to one conclusion: they are quietly preparing for the fight of their lives.
Last month, the Time’ royal editor Roya Nikkhah confirmed months of speculation that the Cambrdige family is preparing to move from their home in Kensington Palace to Windsor and that their three children will all go to school in the area. (Since then, the four-room Adelaide Cottage has been named as their new home.)
But tucked away in the same report was the tantalizing fact that they’ve hired a new communications secretary.
Unlike previous hires for the position that have experience in government, this time the Cambridges have instead chosen 34-year-old Lee Thompson, the outgoing vice president of global communications and strategic partnerships at NBC. Those who know Thompson, according to the Timedescribe him as “an inspired hire” and “a brilliant, super-engaged guy who really gets the international stuff”.
And it’s those last two words – “international stuff” – that tell us so much.
If there’s one thing the past nearly two-and-a-half years have taught us, it’s how inadequate the traditional royal playbook has proven to be when it comes to managing media and image when the rules of the game suddenly change.
When accusations came flying – or institutional racism, of cruelty, of a family and a business that put grim survival far above the suffering of some participants – what did the Windsor house do? They turned to the most powerful tool in their arsenal (duh, duh, DUH): the statement.
In the wake of OprahBuckingham Palace thought it appropriate to publish a response so short you’d think they were paying the writer by the word. While it has questioned the famous “memories” of the Sussexes, it in no way opposed one of their most serious claims.
The pen was certainly no more powerful than the TV snitch.
Obviously not wanting to be dragged into a slingshot contest, the Palace decided on a strategy of staying well above the prime time struggle, only making them look scornful and, to some, guilty.
The whole thing was a bit like taking a partridge fork to a knife fight — and it worked.
In the UK, the Royal Family may now be enjoying a purple fling in popularity, with the recent Platinum Anniversary probably pushed approval ratings even higher, but outside of Britain, the royal family seems to be viewed with sideways skepticism at best.
Post-Oprah last year, a “senior royal aide” told the Time that: “We have a problem in the US.”
This situation probably only got worse in March when William and Kate set off on their Caribbean tour to fly the flag for Queen and Country with no one really considering that this would be the first international trip after the worldwide Black Lives Matter- settlement. The Cambridges rolled up with their SPF 50 and biggest smile and instead clashed with the horror of the colonial past and Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.
Photos of the couple riding atop a special Land Rover, past saluting soldiers of color, looked like something fished out of a Cinema Pathé reel and, for many, only cemented the image of the Royal Family as an oppressive and archaic institution.
If the situation isn’t great now, well, it could only get a lot worse in terms of how much of the world sees William and Kate.
If everything goes according to the original timetable, at some point in the coming months the royal tell-all to end all tell-all will fall when Harry publishes his memoirs† Promising “a first-hand account of my life that is accurate and completely truthful” and costing Penguin Random House a reported $27 million advance, London’s loins should now be girded about.
A p***ed off prince who seems to enjoy the checkout? His publisher should be rubbing their hands gleefully and royal assistants reaching for their smelling salts.
In February, a friend of Harry told the Mirror that the book “would shake the monarchy to the bone” and, “If they think he’s gone limp, they’re wrong.”
Meanwhile, other reports have suggested Harry could be targeting the bête noire of his late mother, his current stepmother Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
A friend of Harry told the Telegraph end of April, “[Harry] needs a new target and she will… I’m sure he’ll say some nasty things about her, or try to make her a ‘bad guy’, but that doesn’t mean it’s real.”
There’s also the “at-home” docuseries that the Sussexes are reportedly filming for Netflix.
When page six broke the news in late May, the report quoted “a high-ranking Hollywood insider” as saying, “I think it’s fair to say Netflix is getting its pound of meat.”
That ominous-sounding “pound of meat” doesn’t exactly suggest that all producers are eager to capture the pair, a trusted clique of staffers and a whiteboard that plans caring campaigns and more PR opportunities for their chickens. Netflix has lost nearly $300 billion in value since the beginning of this year; they desperately need the kind of must-watch hit that will have subscribers flocking to the service and that would mean a show that offers some sort of really gory, nose-to-the-glass insight into royal life.
The problem here is not only what will come of the pike, but also when it will happen and where. The Cambridges could potentially land in America at the time of its release. (Aaron Spelling at the height of his soap opera powers could not have imagined such a dramatic crescendo…)
The second round of this year’s Earthshot Prize awards, the $87 million project started by the Duke to fund practical solutions to the climate crisis, will take place in the US and possibly as part of a wider tour.
There is also the fact that the Time has reported, according to royal sources, “Kensington Palace is ‘very much alive’ to position William in statesman’s field,” with the Duke of Cambridge rubbing presidential shoulders at last year’s G7 and Cop26 rallies.
With so many moving pieces, international maneuvers and incoming PR mortar shells, the mind positively baffles all the dexterous planning, tightrope walking and all round juggling required in it all.
Against this backdrop, William and Kate’s hiring of Thompson, who is, after all, a “man who really understands international things” begins to make perfect sense. The Cambridges look like they’re getting their ducks in line to take on the very serious challenges that are just around the corner for them.
Interestingly enough, it seems that they are not alone in this kind of thinking.
Last week, Charles and Camilla’s Clarence House made an eyebrow-raising announcement: they too have hired a new chief of communications, chosen by Tobyn Andreae, former deputy editor of the Daily mail† Not only is their decision to go for someone with a tabloid background interesting, Meghan successfully sued the newspaper’s parent company after they published parts of a letter she sent her from her estranged father, while Harry also recently sued them for libel for reporting his legal stoush to the Home Office over are taxpayer-funded security schemes.
At this point, with the royal family’s annual migration north to Balmoral approaching and the Queen’s summer vacation about to begin, things are starting to calm down. But all this may well be the calm before the new international storm…
Daniela Elser is a royal pundit and writer with over 15 years experience working with a number of leading Australian media titles.
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