Why did the BBC give airtime to Meghan’s mouthpieces in its highly explosive documentary about the rift between William and Harry but not the rest of the royals, asks RICHARD KAY
There was a blink-and-you-miss-it moment at the end of the BBC’s much hyped documentary about the royals which any impartial viewer might consider a trifle more important than its position, shoehorned into the programme just before the credits rolled.
It was the response from three royal households – Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace – to the hour-long show which included incendiary claims that their aides had briefed against the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
In view of what had gone before, the highly unusual joint statement was a damning indictment of the corporation which was accused of broadcasting ‘overblown and unfounded claims’ about the Royal Family.
Insiders said the rift between William and Harry (pictured here with Meghan and Kate in 2020) will be examined in even greater detail in next week’s instalment. Royal advisers believe the Queen, Charles and William have not been offered a proper right to reply
It also said it was ‘disappointing’ that the BBC had chosen to air allegations surrounding Harry and Meghan’s controversial exit from Britain.
All this would have been highly significant at the best of times but was made all the more so by one other extraordinary contribution – the appearance on camera of Meghan’s personal lawyer and preferred mouthpiece, Jenny Afia, speaking with the duchess’s approval.
Ms Afia, a partner at Schillings, the adversarial legal firm, was handed a privilege that seems not to have been extended to the three royal households.
The appearance on camera of Meghan’s personal lawyer and preferred mouthpiece, Jenny Afia, was approved by the Duchess of Sussex
The lawyer, who specialises in reputation management, was given enough time and notice to record her unchallenged contribution to Sunday’s programme. Just in case viewers failed to grasp the significance, presenter Amol Rajan said pointedly that ‘the duchess’s lawyer spoke to me with Meghan’s permission’.
And what a contribution it was. Ms Afia smoothly denied what was one of the programme’s central themes, that Meghan was a ‘difficult or demanding’ boss. It was, she said, ‘just not true’. These stories, she emphasised, were ‘false’.
Ms Afia is regularly name-checked by a grateful Meghan, and after her intervention on Monday night’s programme broadcast on BBC2 she should stand by for yet more gushing royal praise.
Last night’s programme included an interview with private detective Gavin Burrows, who admitted he had targeted Harry’s ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy
A trailer for the next instalment of the two-part series shows her being asked about reports of bullying, which are currently the subject of a palace internal inquiry, and whether Meghan is guilty of them.
‘Absolutely not,’ Ms Afia replies.
In the documentary, called The Princes And The Press, self-declared republican Mr Rajan picks through highly selective media stories about William and Harry.
In response, the palace, in a rare display of unity, has threatened a boycott of future dealings with the national broadcaster that could have widespread implications.
Such an embargo could affect programmes related to next year’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
The palaces were also angered at the way many of the assertions made in the film – interventions they characterised as ‘tittle tattle’ – were permitted to go unquestioned. There was said to be intense frustration that the national broadcaster was disseminating unsubstantiated rumours about the royals and their staff on prime time TV under the guise of a documentary on the media.
As ONE courtier close to the Prince of Wales puts it: ‘Mr Rajan allowed these statements to be made as though they were tablets of stone when in some cases they were plain wrong.’
The programme detailed media coverage of the brothers from 2012 to 2018, the year Harry and Meghan were married.
Journalist Omid Scobie (pictured), co-author of the controversial biography of the Sussexes, Finding Freedom, meanwhile said negative stories had been leaked about Meghan, although he did not name those involved. ‘There were some people who felt she [Meghan] needed to be put in her place’
Ex-BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said he believed aides would have briefed against other royals ‘with the knowledge of whoever they were working for’.
The claim is strenuously denied by the palace.
Naturally, given this partisan approach, those early years when Meghan’s arrival in royal life was celebrated as a breath of fresh air were skated over. The negative stories of rancour, rifts and the evaporation of brotherly love between William and Harry were the meat and drink of the documentary.
Among those given plenty of airtime was Omid Scobie, the author of the Meghan-friendly biography Finding Freedom. He alleged that negative stories about the duchess had been deliberately leaked, but he did not name those responsible. However, he did point the finger of blame at royal officials.
The episode featured Dan Wootton who spoke about his story, which became known as ‘Tiaragate’. It also featured Jenny Afia a lawyer from Schillings who works with the Duchess of Sussex
He claimed that there were people who ‘felt [Meghan] needed to be put in her place. I think by leaking a negative story, that’s punishment’. Then he added: ‘There’s been rumours for quite some time that a lot of the most damaging and negative stories… have come from other royal households or from other royal aides. From my own research and reporting that’s exactly true.’ Alas he did not say what those stories were or, crucially, from whom they came.
In one passage, Mr Scobie comments on the departure of a palace PA, allegedly forced out by the duchess’s unreasonable behaviour.
The writer suggests the palace’s decision to not comment, while an unnamed aide said the person concerned was ‘much loved’ and would be ‘sorely missed’, was evidence of bias against Harry’s wife.
Again, why was this not properly challenged? More pertinently, Mr Scobie was not asked about his own relationship with the duchess. This month, Meghan apologised to the Appeal Court for making a misleading statement in her privacy case against the Mail On Sunday.
The court heard that she had asked an aide to pass on information to Mr Scobie and his co-author Carolyn Durand, despite earlier having said she did not contribute.
She said she had forgotten she had done so and had not intended to mislead. All the same, the absence of such critical information in a BBC documentary seems not just bizarre but wilful. Then there was Mr Scobie’s highly partial revelation about race. The writer, who is half Persian, appeared to suggest that racism was a feature in the reporting of Harry and Meghan because there were no mixed race reporters covering the royal beat.
Incredibly this too was not disputed. All the more odd when you consider that there are at least two full-time royal reporters with full or part ethnic-minority backgrounds and one of them was one of Amol Rajan’s witnesses.
But surely the biggest fault-line running through the programme was the BBC’s own complicity in controversial royal coverage and the absence of any mention of the Martin Bashir saga.
In the strongly-worded joint statement given to the BBC ahead of last night’s programme, representatives for the Queen (pictured), Prince Charles and Prince William said: ‘A free, responsible and open Press is of vital importance to a healthy democracy
Many of the interviews were conducted before the Mail revealed the full extent of how Bashir had used faked documents to trick Princess Diana into giving her 1995 Panorama interview.
In many ways it is understandable that the Palace did not want to be drawn into a war of words with a programme whose chief purpose seemed to be to raise the profile of a presenter whom the BBC considers one of its star performers.
But alongside a complete lack of perspective there was an intellectual failure to recognise that briefing and counter briefing, and inter-palace rivalries, have always been a part of royal life.
In the 1990s, aides and supporters of the Prince and Princess of Wales traded insults and information about their royal principals.
Later there was a similar operation to rehabilitate the former Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles. It was a ruthless period when no quarter was shown and a perceived snub at Camilla could mean retaliation that undermined another member of the Royal Family.
Amol Rajan’s premise seemed to suggest that he was the first person to report on such troubling developments.
In the short term, the BBC may be delighted with all the publicity but there is growing nervousness inside the corporation at the implications of an even more damaging fallout when part two of the documentary airs next week.
Queen’s former press secretary says the BBC’s decision to let republican Amol Rajan direct royal documentary that infuriated Palace means it may not be an ‘honest appraisal’ of feuding princes
The Queen’s former press secretary today let rip at the BBC’s decision to release a two-part documentary hosted by anti-monarchist Amol Rajan about William and Harry’s ‘tumultuous’ relationship after Megxit as the royals and their lawyers threatened to go to war with the corporation over ‘disputed’ claims in the show.
The monarch and her heirs are together expected to collectively complain to regulator Ofcom for the first time in history, with lawyers braced to launch action following the programme’s airing.
Buckingham Palace is also said to be concerned that avowed republican Amol Rajan, who once called the monarchy ‘absurd’, was chosen to present the show.
The Queen’s former press secretary Dickie Arbiter said the choice of Mr Rajan ‘calls into question the whole business about the BBC and bias. Will it be an honest appraisal? There’s a big question mark over that’.
Earlier this year William attacked the BBC after its failings were exposed surrounding the Martin Bashir Panorama interview with his mother Diana, which the Duke of Cambridge branded ‘deceitful’.
Claims by Omid 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.
Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams told MailOnline: ‘The decision of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William to make their reported concerns about the two part BBC programme tonight so public, makes it clear that they believe the programmes may contain incendiary material.
‘The reported protests from the Palace obviously run the risk of increasing the viewing figures, but clearly the content may be such that the Palace feels that the public should be warned that, if they watch, they are seeing a point of view which may be strongly disputed’.
Aides to Prince William insist he did not brief against his brother Harry during the Megxit saga, as a row over a new BBC documentary set to broadcast tonight
Sources told The Times that Mr Rajan, 38, is ‘experienced enough to put his views to one side’.
Part one tonight was about ‘the princes’ relationship with the media’ and ‘charts the years leading up to and including the engagement and marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’ from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, according to the BBC website.
Part two ‘examines the period from 2018 to 2021, a tumultuous time for the royals that includes the birth of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor and the royal tours of the Sussexes and the Cambridges’.
Richard Fitzwilliams said: ‘BBC guidelines require all news and current affairs documentaries to offer ‘an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond’ according to the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. Surely, after the debacle of Panorama, a shameful debacle almost beyond belief, it is appropriate here?
The Queen and Prince Charles walking to the Balmoral Estate Cricket Pavilion earlier last month. They and the Duke of Cambridge are reportedly threatening to boycott the broadcaster and complain to Ofcom
‘Although the contents of the programmes have not been revealed, it is an incontrovertible fact that the royal family have not been given a chance to view them or to respond to any claims made in them. So the BBC faces further controversy which was surely in its interests to avoid and which surely contravenes its own guidelines?’
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.
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.
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.
A veil of secrecy has been drawn around the content of the programme, which has been written and is presented by Amol Rajan (pictured), who called the monarchy ‘absurd
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.’