Kate is a royal on a mission. For 24-hours this week, the Duchess of Cambridge crisscrossed southern England to launch her biggest charity project to date: a landmark survey about early childhood, with the lofty goal of creating “lasting change for generations to come”.
This mammoth event had all the ingredients for a perfect royal engagement: Adorable beaming children! A unifyingly palatable cause! A bona fide Princess wearing Zara! (Quids on the $60 leopard print skirt she wore has already sold out.)
Heck, there were even small animals co-opted for the cause (Okay, they were guinea pigs.)
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This event was a sparkling, technicolor example of the power of the Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, to create the sort of glowing press coverage the Queen must dream about.
And yet, the photos of the 38-year-old radiating motherly warmth and charm are sadly proof that the royal family is currently losing the PR battle.
Despite the UK press dutifully reporting on the project, Kate’s kinder crusade was not the biggest royal story of the day. That title was decisively won by a woman who will soon no longer be a working member of The Firm and was on the other side of the Atlantic.
Like it or not, the world cannot rip itself away from the Harry and Meghan Show, a riveting, emotional and dramatic melodrama that has a global audience in its thrall.
Let’s look at what has happened in the past 48-hours alone.
As Kate rolled out her truly ambitious and laudable initiative, the ongoing saga that is the Markle family erupted again.
This time, patriarch Thomas decided to take part in a tell-all interview with the UK’s Channel Five, the latest salvo in the years-long, intra-family stoush that may lead to a face-off between father and daughter in a London courtroom. (Meghan is currently suing the Mail on Sunday’s parent company for publishing parts of a letter she sent her father in 2018. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Thomas may appear as the defence’s star witness in the case.)
Among other things, the former Hollywood lighting director said: “When I heard Harry say she’s getting the family she never had, that was an insult and that was bullsh —t. She’s been supported by everybody. As a matter of fact I would think that family she’s never had that she’s getting now, is a lot stiffer than the one she’s left.”
He also told the cameras that he thought the next time he would be reunited with his daughter would be his funeral and offered up this catty quip: “Goodbye Harry, that doesn’t work for me.”
That was not the only Sussex contretemps making news.
Paparazzi photos of Meghan hiking on Vancouver Island with her baby son Archie and dogs, Oz and Guy, reignited the royal couple’s feud with sections of the media.
After the shots were published, the duo called in their lawyers Schillings who issued a legal warning alleging they were experiencing “considerable distress” after being “stalked” by snappers on the island.
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Meanwhile, news of a petition signed by 80,000 Canadians saying they don’t believe taxpayers in the Commonwealth country should have to pick up the tab for the Sussexes’ security has gone global.
But wait, there’s more! Harry and Meghan also released images on Instagram of her visiting the Mayhew animal charity, of which she is the patron, in London earlier this month, again, immediately spawning a new round of fresh, feverish coverage.
All of which is to say, Harry and Meghan are everywhere. Having quit royal working life to set up shop in North America and with plans to get themselves paying work posthaste, the intensity and volume of press about them shows no signs of abating.
If anything, it looks set to only ratchet up as they embark on their new life.
And that is very, very bad news if your are one of the remaining working HRHs or one of their press secretaries toiling away to ensure your principal’s (as they are known) good deeds garner sufficient coverage.
These events are the strongest indication yet that the royal family look to be on the losing side in the incipient trans-Atlantic fight for the public’s interest and attention.
Looking at the photos of Kate from her launch, the looming question is: how can she compete? How can she or any other conscientious member of the royal family win the public’s fickle attention when they are going up against the genuinely riveting soapie that is Sussex Life?
Brunches with Oprah and heli-skiing with the Clooneys will permanently trump assiduous, plodding royal hard work when it comes to public interest.
On Monday this week, Prince William hosted his first solo Buckingham Palace reception, a significant moment in his royal career as he steps up and takes over more of his Gan Gan’s duties. Again, pictures of a radiant Kate and chuckling William got some media play but that was largely overshadowed by news – and paparazzi pictures – of Harry landing in Canada.
Ditto Prince Charles’ meeting with Greta Thunberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday.
Charles, William and Kate have all diligently applied themselves to the business of the royal family with aplomb this week and yet, their hard work has largely been overshadowed by the Sussexes – who haven’t even opened their mouths or done anything legitimately of note.
Things are highly unlikely to shift in the Windsors’ favour in the near future.
According to reports, Harry has a series of engagements in his diary in February in the US, in support of Sentebale (the HIV/AIDS charity he co-founded more than a decade ago). There is every chance Meghan will be ready to trade her trusty hiking boots for a spot of couture and will be by his side for these engagements.
Consider also the tantalising fact that Harry and Meghan have now been unshackled from the bounds of royal propriety and protocol. They can go anywhere, meet anyone and do anything. February 10th is the Oscars – it is not outside the bounds of possibility that we might even see the freshly emancipated Duke and Duchess take to the stage or popping up at one of the A-list parties afterwards.
Attention and press coverage are the lifeblood of the royal family, the currency they need so badly to ensure the institution’s 21st century survival. Whether unwittingly or not, the Sussexes are now cannibalising that precious resource.
This week may well have just been a preview of what is to come on both sides of the Atlantic.
And when the Sussexes’ debut their next blockbuster project? None of us will be able to look away.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.