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Tanya Sweeney: Is Meghan and Prince Harry’s decision to take paper to court a wise move?

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have declared war on the tabloids after a slew of negative publicity but, asks Tanya Sweeney, how will the Press respond

Media glare: Prince Harry and Meghan are regularly featured in British newspapers
Media glare: Prince Harry and Meghan are regularly featured in British newspapers

Ever since the public - and the tabloids - watched a 12-year-old Prince Harry walk behind his mother's coffin in 1997, they have assumed a strange sort of maternal ownership over the young royal.

They rolled their collective eyes in a "boys-will-be-boys" way when he wore dubious fancy dress costumes to parties.

They swelled with pride when he joined the Navy and kept counsel when he went full playboy, flitting from love interest to love interest. That's our Harry, they seemed to say in unison. A lovable scamp, but with a heart of gold.

And then he met the woman who would become his wife, and the public turned into the stereotypical mother-in-law.

Disapproving of his choice of partner, clucking at her wardrobe choices, smiling begrudgingly when she did anything like profess a desire to advance feminism or put her weight behind a charity. Like any "monster-in-law", the public and the Press assumed that sense of ownership over Harry more keenly than ever, vowing to never let Meghan Markle become a fully-fledged member of the family.

Well, it has all backfired spectacularly. Harry has chosen Meghan over them. In a statement released earlier this week, Harry said that he and Meghan had been forced to take action against "relentless propaganda".

"I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces," the statement read. "I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer seen or treated as a real person."

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The statement, published on the couple's official website, also noted that the "painful" impact of intrusive media coverage had driven the couple to take legal action against The Mail on Sunday, who had published a personal, handwritten letter from Meghan to her father, Thomas Markle, a few months after she wed Harry in 2018.

He didn't mince his words when he said that his wife had "become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences - a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son".

Things seemingly came to a head last week, while the couple were on a royal visit to South Africa with their four-month-old son, Archie. There were grumblings on message boards and social media that Harry and Meghan had decided not to "debut" Archie properly back at home where, they note, taxpayers effectively fund the family's lifestyle. When Archie was photographed meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a £14.99 H&M romper suit last week, other pockets of the internet deemed it a gesture that was too little, too late. Some described it as a tacky, contrived PR stunt. Others made reference to the fact that the H&M romper suit was paired with Bonpoint socks, which retail at around £13 a pair.

Before H&M-gate, there had been calls for the Duchess of Sussex to reign in her reportedly profligate, Wallis Simpson-style spending. There have also been calls about hypocrisy, given that Meghan and Harry have travelled by private jet regularly, all while espousing measures to tackle climate change.

After dropping a reported £2.3m of taxpayers' money on renovating the Frogmore Estate cottage, Meghan came under fire for holding a £160,000 baby shower in a £60,000 a night penthouse at the Mark hotel in Manhattan.

And even though royal weddings are the very last word in extravagance and always have been, Meghan was blasted for being too damned Hollywood about hers.

You may recall that she famously wanted to spray fragrance in St George's Chapel at Windsor to mask the "musty" smell for her wedding (later on, Dyptyque revealed they "scented" the wedding).

To be fair, the numbers have seemed eye-watering on occasion. Reports have estimated that Meghan has worn around £600,000 worth of jewellery in the last two years. A nice accompaniment to the £500,000 maternity wardrobe, and the alleged £400,000 that she spent on 1,661 new items of clothing in 2018 (compared to Kate's £68,000 spend).

You might argue that if you were subjected to the hostility and relentless propaganda that Meghan has, you'd be well within your rights to take every royal perk going - the spendy wardrobe, the cushy travel arrangements, the scented candles - as some sort of salve.

After all, it's not as if Meghan is the first women to marry into The Firm and enjoy the lavish trappings of life as a public servant, albeit a most glorified one.

Harry's mother, Diana, was a noted fan of bling, bauble, and the odd five-star flit to the sun. And in the Eighties, her reported penchant for colonic irrigation, astrologers and numerologists was fairly unprecedented, and left the tabloid press rubbing their temples.

Around the same time, it was thought that the negative media attention focused on Sarah Ferguson, once married Prince Andrew, led to the eventual fracture in their marriage in 1992. Originally dubbed a breath of fresh air, Fergie was soon deemed many other things during their marriage by the Press and public: irrepressible, indiscreet, way too much.

So why has Meghan come under such unprecedented fire? Even 'Waity Katie', who endured snide remarks about her cabin crew member mum ("Doors To Manual"), didn't quite get it this bad.

Is it, as some commentators have noted, down to plain old racism and bigotry? Is it because Markle's practised polish - honed after years in the Hollywood system - comes across as smug? Is it because as an American, her effervescence rubs royal watchers, who prefer the musty decorum of tradition, up the wrong way? Is it because she's not so much a breath of fresh air as an Arctic blast?

Perhaps much of it has to do with the fact that Meghan is unlike any royal bride we have seen in recent memory.

She is not a jolly-hockey-sticks upper-class bachelorette like Fergie, nor a virginal innocent like Diana. Similarly, she isn't a blank canvas in the way Kate Middleton, who met Prince William in university as a teenager, was. Meghan, who married Prince Harry at 37, had made her money, formed her opinions, married and divorced her first husband, and lived plenty of the Hollywood high life before she was introduced to Harry on a blind date by a mutual friend.

What will become of this legal tussle with the British media is anyone's guess. There has been a precedent of sorts: in 2017, Prince William and Kate Middleton were awarded £95,000 in damages after French magazine Closer printed topless holiday photos of Kate in 2012.

Still, the tabloid media aren't known for taking these matters lying down either.

Will this heartfelt statement give editors pause for thought and affect the media's treatment of the couple? Or will the media double down and simply deem Harry a petulant tantrum thrower? Time will tell.

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