It was a concert the BBC was supposed to have televised, but the Corporation blotted its Royal copybook the previous week, by daring to suggest in a documentary that the various factions of the House of Windsor were waging a media war on one another.
And so, the privilege of giving up an hour of lucrative airtime was unceremoniously shifted to the other channel. “Oh, good!” ITV said publicly. “Oh, blimey!” they must have thought.
Well, it’s hardly I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, is it? ITV is a commercial concern and the prospect of white-frocked choristers singing Ding Dong Merrily on High isn’t going to have advertisers queuing around the block – even if Kate herself joins in on backing vocals. If the network had wanted to stage a carol concert it would have booked Gary Barlow and Elton John, not the Archbishop of Canterbury.
But protocol had to be observed, and so the responsibility was accepted gracefully, in the hope that other, more fruitful Royal patronage might follow.
There was more than a little irony in all this. Two years ago it had been ITV who accompanied the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their 10-day tour of Africa and to whom Meghan bleated that she was “not OK” in her new life in a strange and sometimes hostile family.
Her confidante on that occasion was Tom Bradby, ITV’s main news presenter and an old friend of both Harry and William. His supposedly over-sympathetic coverage of the Sussexes led to a reported loss of trust at Kensington Palace last year, with William said by Royal “insiders” to have felt betrayed by Mr Bradby.
This particular family squabble, and the countless others that have found their way into the public domain since the sulking Sussexes packed their bags and went into exile, rather undermined the denial that they and the Cambridges had briefed the media against each other, as the BBC documentary claimed. The programme was said by both Royal households to have given credibility to “unfounded claims from unnamed sources”.
The fact that it’s to Bradby’s network that William and Kate have now gone running demonstrates two things: first, that in Royal relations obsequiousness always wins out over impertinence; and second, that the Cambridges are running out of friends in the media.
It also throws up an interesting contrast between the circles in which the two branches of the family now move. Harry and Meghan have signed deals with new-age broadcasters like Netflix and Spotify, while Kate and Wills’ contact book appears not to have been updated since 1960, when ITV and the BBC were the only shows in town.
And what of the consequences for the Corporation? Its examination of the relationship between the brothers, their wives and the Press was actually quite superficial – but by repeating damaging stories about the Princes, without shedding light on their sources, it was perpetuating the whispering culture that has defined Royal reporting for the last century.
What’s more, its central argument – that the media is a dangerous animal when roused – was compromised by its acknowledgement that the most egregious of all breaches of protocol was committed by the Corporation itself when it broadcast Martin Bashir’s interview with the Princes’ mother, back in 1995. Bashir, you will recall, was found to have deceitfully faked documents to gain access to Diana – a fact about which the BBC was in denial for years.
In raking over the same old ground now it has done itself a further disservice, for if as a result our national broadcaster cannot be trusted to televise a simple carol service, just what can it be relied upon to do? The fact that it must still pay for the outside broadcast equipment serves only to add salt to its wounds.
The event takes place on Wednesday but ITV has not yet said when it will be transmitted. Its schedule for that night is indeed highlighted by the clash of egos among the occupants of a castle – but it’s Gwrych in Wales, where I’m a Celebrity… is being filmed. The jury is out on whether the soap opera being played out there is more or less believable than the one at Windsor.
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