This wasn’t how things were meant to go.
For months now there has been a growing cacophony of reports that the arrival of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s second child, a daughter, was going to be the healing balm needed to reunite the fractured royal family.
After months of rancour and denunciations-by-media, the wonder and joy of this little girl would be the adorable catalyst who would bring the two factions back together.
And instead? Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor is barely 5-and-a-bit days old and she is already at the centre of what would be, if it came to pass, the biggest court case in a century.
Today relations between the California-based Sussexes and the royal family have hit a staggering new low, with Harry and Meghan having accused the BBC of libel after they reported that, per a senior palace source, the Queen had not given them permission to use her lifelong nickname Lilibet.
The Telegraph is reporting that the Queen was “told” about the name after the baby was born last Friday, rather than her permission being sought in advance.
Here’s how things went down.
Early on Wednesday morning, UK-time, the BBC began reporting that the 95-year-old sovereign had not okayed the Sussexes’ use of the affectionate moniker for their daughter’s given name.
The Beeb’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond reported that the Queen was “never asked” her opinion on the subject.
The bombshell report was the starting gun for an international briefing war.
Just after 8am London time, by which point it was 1am in California, lawyers for the litigious couple issued letters to British media outlets saying that the story was “false and defamatory” and, The Telegraph reports, “warning them not to repeat the allegation”.
The couple’s global press secretary (a grand title if ever there was one) also told the same outlet: “The Duke spoke with his family in advance of the announcement, in fact his grandmother was the first family member he called.
“During that conversation, he shared their hope of naming their daughter Lilibet in her honour. Had she not been supportive, they would not have used the name.”
However, here’s where things really get sticky.
The palace has not denied the BBC’s initial reporting or issued any sort of statement distancing themselves from the initial claims. (The BBC appears to be standing by their report too.)
This in and of itself is extraordinary and if the palace does continue to stand its ground then this would represent the house of Windsor’s biggest pushback against the rabble-rousing couple since their sensational departure from the palace in January last year.
After months of having been the target of the Sussexes’ fusillade of painfully public criticism, are the Queen and her army of courtiers finally starting to far more aggressively – and obviously – fight back?
Is this a case of no more Mrs Nice Queen?
Cast your mind back to March and the absolute nuclear detonation that was Harry and Meghan’s TV prime time interview with Oprah Winfrey which saw them launch the most devastating raid on Buckingham Palace since German bombs landed in the back garden. (True story.)
In the aftermath of the interview the world waited … and waited … and waited some more to see how the royal family would respond to the Sussexes’ devastating accusations of racism and a callous disregard for the Duchess’ mental health struggles.
It took until 40 hours after the broadcast that the palace finally put out a tight-lipped, terse 61-word response which included the now iconic, “recollections may vary,” obstinately refusing to engage with specific issues raised by the couple or to respond with a similar level of animus.
The palace did not come out and engage directly with, say, Meghan’s claims that the palace had taken her passport away or that the couple were secretly married three days before their grand Windsor wedding in 2018, instead trying – and failing – to come out on top by adopting a posture of dignified silence.
Now, the events of the last 24-hours could signal a significant change in the palace’s approach when it comes to dealing with the voluble, perpetually-aggrieved duo.
Don’t lose sight of the fact here that the palace chose the BBC – the national broadcaster – for the initial briefing about the name situation. That would seem to potentially suggest that the royal house is now willing to pursue a far more robust stance when it comes to the Sussexes.
Both sides are now playing an increasingly dangerous game.
For Harry and Meghan, who have been waging a legal war against some elements of the press since 2019, another lawsuit would just make them seem even thin-skinned and unnecessarily pugilistic, the boy who cried lawsuit if you will.
(An accidental casualty of this imbroglio was that Harry’s announcement of the 2023 Invictus Games being held in Dusseldorf has nearly entirely been lost in the wake of this latest altercation with the royal family.)
And for the palace? While their pushback might have been a long time coming, that they chose the naming of Her Majesty’s 11th great-grandchild as the moment to launch a counter-attack is hardly edifying stuff.
For both factions here, we are now on the precipice of what would be a world war. For the royal family, this is their Bay of Pigs moment.
This latest commotion comes as the Queen prepares to mark what would have been Prince Philip’s 100th birthday on Thursday, a day that was to have seen the extended Windsor clan gather to celebrate the milestone.
Lili now shares with her big brother Archie the dubious distinction of her birth having set off a storm of controversy. (In Archie’s case it was the bizarre situation where the press were told that Meghan had gone into labour eight hours after the wee bub had already been born.)
The happy day that Harry, Meghan and Archie introduce Lili to her British family? Don’t hold your breath. How horribly, tragically ironic that the future princess’ birth has not brought with it reconciliation but might be the very thing that irreparably tears the house of Windsor apart.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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