Relationships

The British Press Is Losing Its Mind Over Harry and Meghan

Exiled wax figures and asparagus prognostication have stormed the tabloids.

Covers in a collage of Daily Mail and The Sun.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Daily Mail and The Sun.

For the United Kingdom’s tabloid press, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s decision to “step back” from their duties as royals is an all-hands-on-deck situation. There have been no shortage of royal events that brought with them wall-to-wall press coverage over the past decade as this generation’s royals have come of age—engagements, weddings, babies—but never has there been a story quite like a princess quitting the entire institution and taking her prince with her. Apparently lost on the press is the irony that part of what prompted the move is its own racist coverage.

Harry and Meghan have had an understandably tense relationship with the tabs—they’re literally suing one of them. While they maintain a veneer of just-in-it-for-the-drama neutrality, it’s also clear that some of the papers’ sympathies lie with Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of the Windsors, evidenced especially by the Daily Mirror’s front page: “They Didn’t Even Tell the Queen.” Elsewhere, journalists criticized the move as “selfish” and “an atrocious lapse of judgment.” The Daily Telegraph went with the headline “Harry and Meghan quit the firm,” invoking some vintage slang for the royal family. In addition to “Megxit,” further punnage was attempted, to middling success: The Sun offered “Meg It Work” and “Meg Your Mind Up,” while the Daily Star is trying to make “pass the duchy” happen.

However, a disappointed queen and a couple of flabbergasted princes are not enough to fill the public’s insatiable thirst for this story, and a true reckoning with its own role in this schism seems outside the realm of the tabs’ imagination. And so the British press has striven mightily to cover the story from every other angle. And I do mean every other angle. As the BBC notes, the Daily Mail “brought out what it calls a ‘royal bombshell special issue’, with coverage stretching to page 17” in print, and online I counted a full 22 Meghan-and-Harry-related stories on the Sun’s homepage midday Thursday. When the coverage isn’t stridently outraged at Meghan and Harry’s gall, most of it tends toward the outright ridiculous.

One subject of tabloid intrigue, for example, has been the timing of the announcement: It happened the day before Kate Middleton’s 38th birthday, thus furthering the narrative that the Sussexes are family thunder-stealers of the highest order, between this and announcing their pregnancy at Princess Eugenie’s wedding in 2018. Therefore, when Kate was photographed driving a car on Thursday—a very normal thing to do, even on one’s birthday—the Mirror turned that into, “Birthday girl Kate Middleton snapped looking deep in thought after Megxit bombshell.” She looked “less than impressed,” the story noted, failing to mention that Kate merely continuing to exist and make facial expressions doesn’t actually give us all that much insight into how she’s feeling about her brother-in-law and his wife’s future plans. Nevertheless, the Sun went with a very similar narrative (headline: “Crappy Birthday”), writing that “Kate Middleton looked in no mood to party today as her 38th birthday was wrecked by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s bombshell decision to step down as senior royals.” The evidence, again, being just the one picture of Kate driving. Woman driving, or “stony-faced” woman “showing the strain” after some shocking family news? A matter of interpretation.

Elsewhere in the Sun, the paper was also able to graft a Megxit angle onto the news that the queen, via the official royal Twitter account, kindly wished Kate a happy birthday (yup, a birthday message on social media, imagine that!): This happened “just hours after Meghan Markle quits,” a headline blared. Most impressive might have been the Express’ approach: That paper managed to wring a whole story—“Kate snubbed by Meghan Markle and Harry as Sussexes send VERY subtle birthday message”—out of the minor detail that instead of creating a separate new Instagram post to wish Kate a happy birthday, the Sussexes, using their SussexRoyal account, chose to wish Kate a happy birthday as a comment under one of her posts on the KensingtonRoyal account. And then Meghan and Harry left her special HRH (“Her Royal Highness”) styling out of said comment to boot. Truly a snub for the ages.

In this time of tumult, news outlets also took pleasure in focusing attention on what might otherwise strike you as a publicity stunt: Just about every tabloid covered the breaking news that London’s Madame Tussauds wasted no time in removing its Meghan and Harry wax figurines from its royal family display. (The Express, in fact, considered it a “major snub.” Snubs right and left!) “There is now an awkward empty gap next to the Queen, Prince Phillip and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,” the Sun reported drily. Those still hoping to catch a glimpse of the wax figurines needn’t despair: A Madame Tussauds official told the paper, “As two of our most popular and well-loved figures they will of course remain an important feature at Madame Tussauds London as we watch to see what the next chapter holds for the them.” Thank goodness for that.

Still, the people demanded more, more absurd Harry and Meghan news. So in came Hello, promising “one amazing detail you missed about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s new website.” Amazing is certainly one way to put it: It turns out that the Sussexes’ new website was designed by, drumroll please, the very same website development company that Meghan previously employed to create The Tig, her erstwhile lifestyle blog. Sounds like quite a snub of every other website development establishment in the land, especially the many fine British companies offering similar services.

But the winner of the day might be the Daily Mirror, the only one of the tabloids smart enough to seek out Jemima Packington of Bath. Packington bills herself as “the world’s only asparamancer,” claiming “she can peer into the future by tossing the veg into the air”—and wouldn’t you know it, she predicted this whole royal mess in her asparagus spears when she was looking at the year ahead. Wait till the queen hears about that.