Prince Harry and Meghan Markle may have rushed their announcement about stepping down as “senior” royals and failed to inform the Queen as a result of the Sun’s scoop the same day.
The paper revealed on its front page yesterday (below) that the royal couple were “looking to move to Canada for a significant portion of this year as they actively consider their future role in the royal family”.
Sun executive editor Dan Wootton, who broke the story while on holiday with his parents in New Zealand, said it went to print without an official statement from any of the royal palaces.
“Very often you’re putting your neck on the line when you break a story like this,” Wootton told TVNZ. “So what was most pleasing is the fact that [the royals] were prepared to go on the record and confirm it within just a day.”
The former showbiz editor said he had been working on the story “for a couple of weeks” but “couldn’t risk sitting on the story any longer”.
The royal couple revealed in a statement issued just hours after the Sun splash that they were looking to “carve out a progressive new role” for themselves within the monarchy.
As part of this they said they would divide their time between North America and the UK, confirming Wootton’s story and creating a rift within the royal family who was said to be “disappointed” by the move.
The royal couple published their announcement on a newly created website, sussexroyal.com, where they also attempted to redefine their relationship with the media in their new roles.
They said they will no longer take part in the royal rota system, which grants media access to official royal engagements, and will instead engage with “grassroots media organisations” and “young, up-and-coming journalists”, while inviting “specialist media” to select events.
They also took a swipe at royal correspondents, saying their position as credible sources on the royal family was a “misconception” that propels coverage around the world, “amplifying frequent misreporting”.
The Sun’s royal correspondent, Emily Andrews, told Press Gazette the comments came as no surprise to journalists in the rota, which includes news agency PA, three broadcasters and several national newspapers.
She said: “We are the eyes and ears of the general public as we dutifully turn up to royal engagements, at home and abroad, often waiting for hours in the cold, the rain and the boiling sun for them to arrive.
“We cover the royals without fear or favour – accurately reporting what we see and hear. This may not be what the royals always want us to see and hear – and the coverage may not always be positive, but that is our job.”
“Senior courtiers have told me today that many in the royal household value the relationship with the British tabloids because of the reach that we have in furthering the causes that the Royals care about. Another palace staffer told me they were ‘saddened’ by the attack on the Royal Rota.
“At the Sun we have championed Harry’s charitable causes, such as the Invictus Games, his calls for more support for the armed forces and his mental health charity Heads Together.
“As a career woman myself, I thought Meghan Markle was amazing and a breath of fresh air. The royals do not always like what we write – but that’s the point. We are not their comms team.
“We check everything we publish with the palace press offices and value the relationships we have with those press secretaries and comms officers.
“Royal correspondents have been proven right in their stories time and time again: Harry and Meghan splitting from the Cambridges and moving to Frogmore Cottage, Harry falling out with brother Wills, Harry and Meghan not going to Sandringham for Christmas, the Sussexes moving abroad – all of these stories were later confirmed by official palace statements.
“Did they want those stories out there? Not necessarily. Were they true? Absolutely.
“The ten or so royal correspondents from the national newspapers, Press Association and TV are rightly trusted to provide accurate and fair comment and the royal household (save for Harry and Meghan) agree.”
The National Union of Journalists has said Harry and Meghan’s decision to pull out of the Royal Rota system is, along with changes to Lobby briefings, another attempt to “prevent the media from functioning and compromising the ability of journalists to do their jobs, which is completely unacceptable”.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet added: “The rota system is not perfect, but it does allow UK media to cover the British Royal Family – an institution maintained by the public purse.
“We cannot have a situation where journalists writing about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex can only do so if they have the royal seal of approval.
“We reject sweeping criticism of journalists and media organisations by the Duke and Duchess, who simultaneously claim to respect the role of the media.
“Any so call reforms must enhance access and improve transparency rather than allowing access to public figures, regardless of who they are, on a grace and favour basis.”
Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville