Why Prince Harry is giving the British press the cold shoulder

In many ways, Prince Harry's raucous relationship with the media has been leading up to this. His upcoming wedding to Meghan Markle — and his decision to keep the press out — signals the culmination of a lifelong tug of war over access to the Royal Family.

Prince Harry's wedding to Meghan Markle marks a new chapter in his long, troubled relationship with the media

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are shown in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 23, 2018. (Darren Staples/Reuters)

In many ways, Prince Harry's raucous relationship with the media has been leading up to this.

His upcoming wedding to Meghan Markle signals the culmination of a lifelong tug of war over access to him and his family. And by allowing nearly no journalists into St. George's Chapel on May 19, Harry may be indicating he finally has the upper hand.

"The Prince Harry that I know doesn't like the press," said Duncan Larcombe, a former tabloid reporter who wrote the book Prince Harry: The Inside Story.

While 28 reporters and 17 still photographers were allowed into Prince William and Kate's wedding in 2011, only one reporter and two photographers will be welcome this time — a reflection, perhaps, of Harry's antagonism. 

"William allowed the press in," Larcombe said. "Harry is basically shutting the door."

Arthur Edwards has photographed the royals for The Sun tabloid since 1971. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

Larcombe concedes the chapel in Windsor can only hold a fraction of the 1,900 guests invited to Westminster Abbey for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's nuptials.

But, he said, "hiding behind the excuse that this is a private wedding is pretty nonsensical."

Longtime royal photographer Arthur Edwards describes Harry as genuine and warm in private. But he acknowledges the prince's relationship with the press has "been a little bit difficult recently."

His mother's battle

Longtime royal watchers trace a line directly from his mother's final years to Harry's attitude toward the press today. The way Diana died — in a car crash as her driver fled the paparazzi in Paris — reflected how photographers treated the former Princess of Wales in those final years.

A picture taken by then-paparazzo Max Cisotti encapsulated Diana's struggle for privacy. Wearing large dark sunglasses as she jumped into her navy blue BMW on a private outing, three photographers are seen snapping pictures of her from all angles. Two more stood outside the frame.

This moment, caught in a photo by Max Cisotti in the mid-1990s, encapsulated the paparazzi's constant hounding of Diana. (Max Cisotti)

"There was a photographer there, I was there, there was another one there," recalled Cisotti, pointing to the same street corner in London's Chelsea neighbourhood, where he took the photo in 1995 or 1996. (He can't recall the exact date.)

Cisotti, who still works as a photographer but no longer chases Royals, remembers the early to mid-1990s fondly. He recalls driving around posh districts, looking for Diana's licence plate or after getting tipped off to her whereabouts.

"Nowadays," Cisotti said, "it's not uncommon to receive a letter from solicitors when you photograph the young members of the Royals in a public place.

"It's disappointing because there's no press freedom."

He paused. "Or a lot less than there was."

A new era

Diana's death — and later the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press — poured cold water on what many viewed as an out-of-control industry.

"We've signed up to this editor's code of conduct now," said Edwards, who has photographed the Royals for The Sun tabloid since 1971.

"You can't knock on a door twice now, you can't photograph anyone in their garden with a long lens," said Edwards, adding he wouldn't have done that in the first place.

Max Cisotti was among the paparazzi constantly looking to photograph Diana in the 1990s. 'That was half the fun,' he said. 'There was always that possibility that in this area of London, you would bump into her.' (Jared Thomas/CBC)

Bent on protecting Harry's new love interest, Kensington Palace in November 2016 issued an unprecedented statement on his behalf.

"[Harry] is … aware that there is significant curiosity about his private life. He has never been comfortable with this, but he has tried to develop a thick skin about the level of media interest that comes with it," the memo read.

"But the past week has seen a line crossed. His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment," it continued, saying the prince was worried about Markle's safety.

The message to the press was clear: Back off.

"That was him just putting his foot down because neither of those princes have ever wanted a repeat of what happened to Diana," said Camilla Tominey, royal editor of the Sunday Express.

Days earlier, she had been the first to report Harry was dating Meghan. "It was going to come out eventually," Tominey said, hinting she had just "stumbled upon" the story at the time.

"I think they weren't quite prepared for the media onslaught that followed."

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pose for photographers on the grounds of Kensington Palace in London on Nov. 27, 2017 after announcing their engagement. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

The palace statement decried racism and sexism in opinion pieces and online comments about Markle, whose mother is black.

The Daily Mail had tweeted: "From slaves to royalty, Meghan Markle's upwardly mobile family." The same tabloid wrote a piece entitled "Harry's girl is (almost) straight outta Compton," referencing the infamous California city where Markle has never lived. (She was born in Los Angeles.)

Even an age-old institution like the Royal Family has turned to social media to control the flow of information.

Kensington Palace officials used Twitter to break the news of Harry and Meghan's engagement, and, more recently, the arrival of Prince Louis.

Releasing exclusive candid photos of William and Kate's children also drives down the price of unauthorized photos.

The palace's press officers are "paid to make sure that people like me don't get negative stories about the Royals," said Tominey. "But we've all got a job to do."

(CBC )


Thomas Daigle

Senior Reporter

Thomas is a CBC News reporter based in Toronto. In recent years, he has covered some of the biggest stories in the world, from the 2015 Paris attacks to the Tokyo Olympics and the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. He reported from the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa and the Pope's visit to Canada aimed at reconciliation with Indigenous people.