Royal insiders fight back as Palace braces for BBC documentary on William and Harry
Aides to Prince William did not brief against his brother Harry during the Megxit saga, sources insisted yesterday following a row over a new BBC documentary.
Royal insiders denied William and Harry had been embroiled in a briefing war, ahead of a programme examining the brothers’ troubled relationship with the media.
The Queen, Prince Charles and William have reportedly joined forces to complain to the BBC and threaten a boycott on future projects with the broadcaster unless the Palace is given a right to respond to potentially damaging allegations.
Royal insiders denied William and Harry had been embroiled in a briefing war, ahead of a programme examining the brothers’ troubled relationship with the media
The BBC2 programme, The Princes And The Press, which airs tonight at 9pm, examines coverage of the brothers in British newspapers, including Harry’s relationship with wife Meghan and the couple’s decision to stand down from royal duties and move to the US.
Courtiers have not been shown the two-part documentary, and sources told the Mail on Sunday that they believed it would include claims that William and Harry – or their advisers – briefed against each other.
A senior royal source called the documentary ‘tittle-tattle’ and told the paper that the row over the programme had left the Queen ‘upset’.
Insiders at Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Clarence House were said to have been particularly angered that they were not given the chance to view the show or respond to any such claims.
Sources quickly shut down any suggestion that royal aides working for William and Harry were at the centre of a briefing war during the Megxit saga.
Aides to Prince William did not brief against his brother Harry during the Megxit saga, sources insisted yesterday following a row over a new BBC documentary
The Queen and Prince Charles walking to the Balmoral Estate Cricket Pavilion earlier last month
Members of the Royal family, with Prince Charles in foreground, followed by Prince William with Kate Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry with Meghan Duchess of Sussex, as they leave the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London in 2020
In fact the very opposite was true, sources said, and senior royal aides repeatedly refused to be dragged into a public war of words, despite the Duke and Duchess of Sussex giving an explosive interview to television host Oprah Winfrey.
One source told the Daily Mail: ‘It was always very clear from the top that no one wanted to be dragged down that particular rabbit hole, however egregiously people were being provoked by the Sussexes.
The palace mantra was that a period of silence would be beneficial to take the toxicity out of the situation, with the Queen going so far as to issue a personal statement making clear that there were matters they needed to deal with privately as a family.’
Royal insiders made clear last night that there was no desire to censor either the broadcaster or the programme makers. But the three royal households all agreed they should have been given a right of reply.
BBC guidelines require all news and current affairs documentaries to offer the right of reply where appropriate.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘The programme is about how royal journalism is done and features a range of journalists from broadcast and the newspaper industry.’
The Queen overcame recent health problems to attend a double christening for two of her great-grandsons yesterday
Mum’s the word: Princess Eugenie, left, and Zara Tindall arrive at yesterday’s christening
QUEEN SHAKES OFF HEALTH WOES TO ATTEND DOUBLE CHRISTENING
By Vanessa Allen
The Queen overcame recent health problems to attend a double christening for two of her great-grandsons yesterday.
The 95-year-old monarch was pictured as she left the joint ceremony for the baby sons of Princess Eugenie and Zara Tindall.
She had told courtiers she was determined to be at the baptism, despite having been forced to miss recent engagements – including last week’s Remembrance Sunday service – while she recovered from a back sprain.
She is understood to have attended after taking advice from her personal doctor.
The Queen wore a bright lime-green outfit and matching hat for the private family service at All Saints Chapel at Royal Lodge, in Windsor Great Park.
The double christening – believed to be the first time two royal babies have been baptised together – was held for Zara and Mike Tindall’s eight-month-old son Lucas, and Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank’s nine-month-old son August. The boys are two of the Queen’s 12 great-grandchildren.
Both couples chose to give their sons the middle name Philip, in tribute to the boys’ great-grandfather Prince Philip, who died in April, just a few weeks after they were born.
Journalists interviewed for the programme are thought to include BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond, the Daily Telegraph’s associate editor Camilla Tominey and US journalist Omid Scobie, who co-authored a biography of Harry and Meghan, Finding Freedom.
The film is presented by Amol Rajan, a presenter on Radio 4’s Today programme and a self-declared republican.
The first hour-long episode covers the years following the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and the ‘positive media reaction to the emergence of a new generation of royals’.
The second episode examines the past three years, including the growing rift between the brothers. In 2019, Harry admitted he and William were ‘on different paths’.
Earlier this year William attacked the BBC after its failings were exposed surrounding the Martin Bashir Panorama interview with his mother Diana.
He and Harry also united to stop another show from including a claim that they instructed courtiers to plant smears against each other.
Claims by Mr Scobie that William and his staff leaked a story about Harry’s mental health were cut from ITV film Harry and William: What Went Wrong? hours before it was broadcast in July after the claim was rebutted by Kensington Palace.
The timing isn’t just awful, it’s incendiary
By Richard Kay, Editor at Large
Even by the crass standards of the BBC, there is something supremely ironic for it to broadcast a major two-part documentary about briefing wars between members of the Royal Family while the embers of the Martin Bashir affair are still glowing.
And how counter-productive and foolish of the Corporation to refuse to let the Palace see tonight’s opening instalment, titled the Princes And The Press, before it is screened.
Is it any wonder that courtiers are thinking ‘very carefully’ about future projects with the BBC where cooperation is essential, with next year’s Platinum Jubilee tributes to the Queen at the very top of the list?
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey
It is highly unusual for all three royal households, representing the Queen, the Prince of Wales and Prince William, to unite in a threat of a potential boycott of our national broadcaster but it demonstrates what is at stake.
And it underlines a shared sense of collective anger at the programme.
A veil of secrecy has been drawn around the content of the programme, which has been written and is presented by the ambitious Amol Rajan, a self-declared republican who once labelled the monarchy as ‘absurd’ and the media as a ‘propaganda outlet’ for the Royal Family. So far, so predictable.
But while nobody objects to the personal opinions of its star presenter, the BBC may have triggered an unexpected Palace backlash by refusing it a right of reply.
The Palace quite properly argues that without seeing the programme or knowing in detail what it is claiming, it is very difficult to offer a comment.
Officials are particularly concerned by reports, revealed in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, that the film suggests William and his brother – or advisers working for them – ‘briefed against each other’ to the media in the damaging fall-out surrounding Harry and Meghan’s acrimonious exit from royal life.
On this point alone aides are insistent that this is the opposite of the truth. They argue that, in fact, there was a refusal to be dragged into a public war of words between the brothers, despite the provocation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s partial Oprah Winfrey interview and the regular ‘unhelpful’ interventions of the couple’s friends.
When all this is set against the issues of trust exposed by Lord Dyson’s investigation into how Martin Bashir tricked Princess Diana into giving her notorious 1995 Panorama interview, the timing of this latest programme looks not just awful but grotesque.
It seems extraordinary with all the baggage of that episode still raw that the BBC showed so little sensitivity.
Over the years the relationship between the monarchy and the Corporation has often been strained, but the simmering tensions over Bashir have seen it plumb to a new and toxic depth.
The Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Prince Harry during the Diamond Jubilee Buckingham Palace Concert in 2012
Prince William was outspoken in his attack on both the deceitful behaviour of the Panorama reporter and the BBC’s shameful cover-up of his activities.
He said his mother ‘was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions’.
The repercussions from the Bashir case are far from over.
The broadcaster has paid around £750,000 to former graphic designer Matt Wiessler – made a scapegoat in the scandal after he raised concerns with his bosses at the BBC that fake bank statements Bashir had asked him to mock up had been used to secure the Diana interview – and other claims for compensation are in the pipeline.
Against all that background, how on earth could the BBC fail to grasp that such a potentially incendiary programme would not trigger a forceful reaction from Buckingham Palace and the other royal households?
As the Mail on Sunday reported, royal sources have condemned the documentary as ‘tittle-tattle’.
And last night there was growing nervousness at the BBC despite its claim that the film will provide ‘context’ for William and Harry’s relationship with the media.
‘There has been anxiety within the hierarchy about the film for some time and it is the reason why, when it comes to what it contains, they have been playing things so very close to their chest,’ says a Corporation figure.
A veil of secrecy has been drawn around the content of the programme, which has been written and is presented by the ambitious Amol Rajan (pictured)
‘At the same time you do wonder if they have thought things through as to how it is likely to be received.’
One area is the so-called briefing war. I understand any suggestions that the brothers sanctioned aides to plant smears against each other will be vigorously denied.
Previous claims that suggested William and his staff had leaked a story about Harry’s mental welfare, for example, were cut from a prime time ITV documentary hours before it was due to be broadcast in July.
Mr Rajan began working on his programme before the Covid-19 pandemic and had carried out interviews with journalists who regularly report on the Royal Family.
Questions they were asked included whether they become ‘too close’ to the royals, whether the relationship between the Press and the royals is ‘sycophantic’ and how stories about the Royal Family are presented or ‘spun’.
Whatever tonight’s programme and next week’s second part contain, one thing is certain: the Palace’s intervention has guaranteed that it will have a much larger audience than its BBC2 slot might originally have generated.