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There is navel-gazing, and then there is the sight in The Princes and the Press (BBC Two) of BBC presenter Amol Rajan reporting on media editor Amol Rajan reporting on the Royal family criticising the BBC. Absurd doesn’t cover it.
After the second and final episode of a series that has caused so much controversy, what have we learned? That there was rivalry between the Royal households. That Harry hates the press, and Meghan got terrible headlines. That Palace sources, whose job it is to secure favourable press coverage for their royals, may have briefed certain journalists in the hope of doing exactly that. Any and all of this information has been available to read in the newspapers for several years. Recycling it for television has achieved nothing, except to sour relations between the BBC and the Royal family.
As with last week’s episode, Rajan interviewed royal reporters and commentators. Ian Hislop gave the pithiest summary. The royals “are safe as long as they’re dull - as long as we feel they’re having quite a boring life involving dogs and horses and Scotland and other things we’re not terribly jealous about”, he explained. “The basic job is to sit in the rain and wave.” Say what you like about Meghan, but boring she ain’t.
In a programme about off-the-record briefings from the royal households, it was peculiar that Meghan’s biographer, Omid Scobie, wasn’t asked a thing about where he found the material for his book. Rajan’s focus was on negative coverage of Meghan. He did ask The Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey to reveal the sources of her scoops. She told him not to be so ridiculous.
The documentary rattled through the post-wedding milestones, from the tour of South Africa (culminating in that explosive interview with Tom Bradby) to the lavish New York baby shower, the birth of Archie and the decision to quit the Firm. Some of the “negative” press seemed pretty legitimate - £2.4 million is a lot of taxpayers’ cash to spend on renovating a cottage - and some seemed quite bonkers. Do we really need to know the exact moment that a royal wife gives birth? Should we really be aggrieved that the couple waited three days before presenting their baby for a photocall?
The Duchess’s lawyer was back again, defending her client against bullying allegations and delivering lines of fluent LA-speak: “She wouldn’t want to negate anyone’s personal experiences.” Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Clarence House offered only a written statement. It was a more dignified response, although I wonder how the fact of their unhappiness with the BBC first found its way into a newspaper? One of life’s mysteries.
I can see what Rajan was trying to do here. He wanted to make a smart programme turning the spotlight on the media. But when the subject of the media coverage is the Royals, the programme itself becomes part of the gossip cycle. “You might be sitting at home thinking: why does it matter who is briefing who?” he asked towards the end. You might indeed.