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Eilis O'Hanlon

If Harry and Meghan really want to do their bit for the Covid-19 crisis, they should consider a prolonged period of public silence

Eilis O'Hanlon


What on Earth made the Sussexes think that now was the right time to issue the latest salvo in their ongoing war against the Press, asks Eilis O'Hanlon

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have laid down law to British tabloids

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have laid down law to British tabloids

PA

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have laid down law to British tabloids

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are currently said to be renting an £8m mansion a stone's throw from Elton John's equally palatial home in Los Angeles. That would put them in LA County, a district where, as of yesterday, there have been over 12,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 600 deaths.

They're obviously aware of the seriousness of the situation because they've been pictured wearing face masks while out walking their dogs, as well as helping out on a couple of occasions to deliver food parcels, apparently incognito, to affected residents. Harry's own father Prince Charles tested positive just a few weeks ago as well.

So, what on Earth made them think that now - in the midst of a deadly global pandemic and economic shutdown that will see tens of millions of people around the world losing their livelihoods - was the right time to issue the latest salvo in their ongoing war against the tabloid Press in Britain by stating, through a spokesperson, that they will henceforth adopt a policy of "zero engagement" with the Sun, Mirror, Mail and Express after a series of "distorted, false or invasive" stories about them. Are their PR advisers really that bad at their, presumably highly paid, jobs?

It's not that Harry and Meghan are wrong about the tabloids. The private lives of public figures have long been considered fair game by the media, whether it's Boris Johnson having a late-night row with his girlfriend or the married stars of Strictly Come Dancing who've been caught out having affairs. All that attention can have tragic consequences, as the suicide of TV presenter Caroline Flack in February illustrated.

It's still the wrong time for the Sussexes to wade into battle again. Other senior royals have risen to the challenge posed by the coronavirus to park their egos for a while and muck in.

William and Kate are Face-Timing the children of key workers at the few schools which remain open during the lockdown. Other royals around the world, including the Danish Crown Prince, King Phillipe of Belgium and King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, have made rare TV broadcasts to encourage solidarity in their respective nations, while a staggering 24 million people in the UK watched the Queen laud the NHS in an address broadcast from Windsor Castle earlier this month.

Princess Sofia of Sweden has even trained as a medical assistant so that she can help out with the country's fight against coronavirus at the hospital in Stockholm where she's an honorary chairwoman. In stark contrast and despite having said at the end of March, when they formally withdrew from royal duties, that they were focused on how "to best contribute" as Covid-19 made its way around the world, Harry and Meghan are hanging out in California with Elton John and George Clooney and issuing lengthy whines about their ongoing petty feud with the tabloids.

Anyone with the slightest understanding of how that would play out to an anxious general public could have told them that the best strategy from the couple right now would have been a prolonged period of silence.

This inability of Harry and Meghan to "read the room" illustrates how distanced they've become from their former responsibilities. The mood in the world is more sombre right now. There's little patience for celebrities complaining about how tough they're having it. People are dying.

It also shows how right the Queen was to insist that the couple couldn't use the 'Sussex Royal' brand, which has now been relaunched as 'Archewell', after their son Archie.

The royal family has its own name to protect and being associated with celebrities who are using the coronavirus crisis to make everything about them would have been disastrous.

One only has to look at who's emerging from this crisis with their reputations and integrity enhanced and who isn't.

The Queen, who turns 94 today, has never been more popular. It's celebrities such as Madonna, who posed naked in her bath surrounded by candles to announce that Covid-19 was the "great equaliser" - even though it's the poorest who, as always, who are suffering most - who are being exposed as shallow attention-seekers.

Fans of the Sussexes insist they just want some peace and privacy, but the truth is it's actually easier to live a relatively private, dignified life as a royal than as a celebrity.

Less senior royals can keep the media at a distance if they play it right. In order to keep their status within the celebrity world the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will, in the end, have to give away far more of themselves than the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ever will.

Celebrities need to sell themselves to make money. Take Demi Moore, who pocketed a $2m publishers' advance for her "tell-all" memoir about her life with ex-husband Bruce Willis, which came out last September. The Sussexes will have to do the same thing, too, if they want to stay on top.

In a blatant effort to paint the couple in a good light, even that couple of hours they spent delivering food parcels, while supposedly secret, inevitably made its way into the very newspapers that the couple now denounce.

Celebrities and the tabloid Press are locked in an unhealthy but mutually dependent relationship in which they need and resent one another in equal measure.

Harry said poignantly last year that he feared Meghan "falling victim to the same powerful forces" that took his mother away; but, of course, Princess Diana courted the Press. Perhaps the real lesson he should have learned is that it's a dangerous game to play.

The idea that they're escaping incessant media attention in LA is absurd. Mindy Weiss, a self-styled "party consultant to the stars", pointed out when they first arrived on the West Coast that the paparazzi are extremely "aggressive" in LA.

What else would you expect? It's the home of Hollywood, where, as another entertainment correspondent pointed out at the time: "There's a lot of people competing for attention and (Harry and Meghan) will have to compete with them as well." One way to do that, he suggested, was Harry "opening up about his life". Sounds horrendous. That's the irony. If they just wanted a quiet life away from the cameras Harry and Meghan would be deserving of every sympathy. But they don't.

They've gone to a place with the greatest concentration of cameras on the planet and will need to satisfy those cameras every day of their lives from now on in order to make a living.

They're trapped in a nightmare of their own making - and it's only going to get worse.

Belfast Telegraph