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 Duke of Cambridge, the Queen and Prince Charles are reportedly threatening to boycott the broadcaster over the two-part series believed to contain ‘incendiary’ claims about the brothers smearing each other in the press and a row over whether the BBC failed to give the royals a proper right of reply.
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 after it begins at 9pm.
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, on tonight.
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’.
The BBC2 show, called The Princes and the Press, is being edited right up until broadcast and may repeat ‘disputed’ allegations that the siblings briefed smears against each other to the press via their aides.
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
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
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
EXCLUSIVE – Revealed: Princess Eugenie’s father-in-law George Brooksbank died just days before she christened her son August
It was confirmed that George Brooksbank, pictured with wife Nicola at Jack and Eugenie’s wedding, died last week. He had battled covid on a ventilator last year but survived and was able to meet his grandson August after his birth in February, It is not known if Jack’s mother attended
Princess Eugenie‘s father-in-law George Brooksbank – dad of her husband Jack – died days before their baby son’s Christening on Sunday, MailOnline can reveal today.
George Brooksbank, 72, passed away in the week of August’s Baptism at the All Saints Chapel in Windsor Great Park, which was attended by the Queen.
A royal insider told MailOnline: ‘George had been in hospital with Covid last year and was not the same after that. He had been unwell for some time. It’s been a difficult time for Jack losing his father before the Christening’. Another source said it had been a ‘miracle’ George survived after five weeks on a ventilator and that it had been ‘wonderful’ that he had been alive to see August born.
Eugenie and Jack both put on a brave face yesterday and decided the Christening should go ahead despite suffering the secret heartbreak of Mr Brooksbank’s passing. Along with the Queen, who has been resting for nearly a month on the advice of a doctor, Eugenie’s parents Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York, are understood to have attended with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and other senior royals. It is not known if Jack’s mother Nicola felt able to go.
Mr Brooksbank’s death hit the Royal Family just before the double Christening of the Queen’s two great grandsons, August and his second cousin Lucas Tindall, the son of Zara and Mike Tindall. August, born in February, is Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank’s first child and a first grandchild for both their parents. He is also the ninth great-grandchild for the Queen. The baby is 13th in line to the throne.
George Brooksbank suffered from poor health after being forced into intensive care with coronavirus last April. Before the pandemic the retired chartered accountant and company director split his time with his wife of 36 years Nicola at their homes in Wandsworth, south London, and Bordeaux, France.
The old Etonian, whose son Jack married the Queen’s granddaughter in 2018, was in a ‘serious but stable’ condition in hospital during the first national lockdown. His wife Nicola, 68, also caught Covid but was able to recuperate at home.
Eugenie and Jack were then warned to ‘prepare for the worst’ when Jack’s father was put on a ventilator for five weeks. But he recovered from the life-threatening battle with the virus and left hospital last June.
Sources told The Times that Mr Rajan, 38, is ‘experienced enough to put his views to one side’.
Part one this evening is 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?
‘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.
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.’
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
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
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
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’.
RICHARD KAY: The timing of this new royal documentary isn’t just awful, it’s incendiary… Is it any wonder that courtiers are thinking ‘very carefully’ about future projects with the BBC?
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 Princess 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?
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.
It is highly unusual for all three royal households to unite in a threat of a potential boycott of our national broadcaster writes Richard Kay
The BBC refused to let the Palace see tonight’s opening instalment, titled the Princess And The Press writes Richard Kay
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.
Claims that William and his staff had leaked a story about Harry’s mental welfare were cut from a prime time ITV documentary hours before it was due to be broadcast writes Richard Kay
Over the years the relationship between the monarchy and the Corporation has often been strained writes Richard Kay (Pictured Princess Eugenie and husband Jack Brooksbank)
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.
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.
Pictured – Zara Tindall, granddaughter of the Queen
BBC reporter Martin Bashir interviewing Princess Diana in 1995
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. ‘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.