One of the most significant moments in modern royal history has largely been forgotten. On January 9, 2007, Kate Middleton awoke on her 25th birthday to a throng of paparazzi outside her London apartment. They were crowding the sidewalks and blocking her route to her car, all for one reason: Rumor had it that Prince William was going to propose, and they wanted to see if there was a ring on her finger. Of course, the engagement wouldn’t actually come until nearly four years later, but the damage had already been done. Soon William would release a statement decrying the behavior of the press and within a few months the couple would call it quits.
In episode seven of DYNASTY: The Windsors, cohosts Katie Nicholl and Erin Vanderhoof return to this moment to underscore the complicated dynamics at play when it comes to the royals and their relationships with the press. The Windsors depend on press coverage to maintain their visibility in society, reflecting Queen Elizabeth’s famous supposed mantra, “I have to be seen to be believed.” But the press doesn’t always stick to preapproved charity photo ops when it comes to telling the story of the royal family, and the intrusion has the ability to alter the lives of the royals themselves. Biographer Andrew Lownie elucidates the history of the monarchy’s “mystique” and why the royals have historically tried to defend it from the press, while guest Jess Cagle, former editor in chief of People, explains how the more aggressive press culture of the 1970s and 1980s changed the global image of the royals and how that has dogged the family ever since.
On the other hand, the royals have also learned how to play the game. In this episode, Princess Diana’s former private secretary Patrick Jephson gives a behind-the-scenes look at the mudslinging between Prince Charles and Diana, which was eventually nicknamed the “War of the Waleses.” Laura Clancy, media scholar and author of Running the Family Firm, discusses the significance of the 1990s agreement between the palace and the press that gave William and Prince Harry a bit of privacy during their teen years in exchange for a few preplanned photos and interviews.
Nowadays, the royal relationship with the press is often understood through a few key moments that happened in front of the TV cameras: Princess Diana’s 1995 BBC interview with Martin Bashir, Prince Andrew’s 2019 train wreck conversation with Emily Maitlis, and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s March 2021 tête-à-tête with Oprah Winfrey. Each one of these interviews represented an attempt for a royal to claim a bit of power. Why did they turn out so differently? Should the rest of the royals follow the example of the queen and keep away from the harsh glare of the interviewer’s camera?
Listen to the episode in the player above, and don’t forget to tune in next Tuesday, June 7, when DYNASTY: The Windsors returns with an episode about the royals, the “men in gray suits” who advise them, and the family’s vast and mysterious wealth. Subscribe at listen.vanityfair.com/dynasty or wherever you get your podcasts.