My advice to Harry and Meghan: keep cool, keep cute, keep quiet
PUBLISHED: 15:48 15 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:48 15 January 2018
How Harry and Meghan should conduct themselves until their Big Day in May... advice from Michael Cole, the former BBC royal correspondent whose PR agency now advises famous people and leading corporations on their public image
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are the world’s sweethearts. Their current appeal could hardly be greater or more positive.
It’s a modern fairy tale in which a once-wayward Prince is redeemed by his own daring deeds in the service of his country and the love of a beautiful woman who talent and devotion to good deeds sets her apart from the usual run of Hollywood hedonists.
The casting is perfect. The optics are perfect. They are perfect.
And what’s more, they are in love. There is no need for Prince Harry to ask, “Whatever love is?” Prince Harry knows. He’s besotted with his bride-to-be, a feeling clearly reciprocated with each squeeze of his arm as Meghan clings to the Star Prize that she has won against all the odds.
The reality that they have both known serious difficulties in their lives only adds to the appeal: the Prince at the age of 12 walking behind his mother’s coffin; Meghan enduring the break-up of her parents’ marriage while trying to scrape a toe-hold on the slippery slope of show business.
What Hollywood would call their “back story” only increases their appeal to ordinary people who have troubles of their own that they also have had to confront to have a chance of happiness and fulfilment.
That’s why people, across the world and at every level of society, feel affection towards two people they do not know but feel they would like to. Why? Because although they are far from ordinary - a Prince of the royal blood and a star of a television series that is intelligent as well as glamorous - they have all the characteristics of well-rounded human beings, people you might be lucky enough to meet on a holiday or a social night at the rugby club.
So, the stage is set for a wedding in May in which the whole world can rejoice in. For the PR people hovering in the background at Buckingham Place and Clarence House, it might seem as if there is nothing to do.
Nothing could go wrong - could it? - to spoil a romantic idyll that could do wonders for the House of Windsor, for UK plc, for Commonwealth ties and for strengthening the special relationship with America - very useful as Britain cuts the bonds binding us to Brussels?
I hope the path to St George’s Chapel Windsor is strewn with nothing but rose petals. But brickbats can never be ruled out.
Forewarned is forearmed, so here’s just a few of the things I would be worrying about in the unlikely event that Harry and Meghan asked for my advice on what they might expect.
They must avoid any more headlines like those that followed their New Year celebrations on the French Riviera. The bonus points they scored by flying to Nice in economy, at the back of the plane next to the lavatories, were promptly squandered by stories of them free-loading with plutocrats and princes in Monaco.
Discretion is everything, particularly for the next five months. The Prince and his then-girlfriend played a brilliant hand prior to the announcement of their engagement, keeping the lowest of profiles and only showing themselves to the cameras at the Invictus Games in Toronto, an event that rightly won the Prince high praise for inspirational organisation and his emergence as a natural orator.
Next to discretion, modesty is vital. People don’t want to read about lavish preparations with vast sums of money being spent self-indulgently while millions of commuters are calculating the increased cost of getting to work to pay the taxes that pay for the Royal Family.
In their engagement interview, the Prince revealed their conscious decision to stay away from fashionable restaurants to avoid being photographed together. The days when he was pictured coming out of night clubs in the early hours are over but adverse comment can still be guaranteed if they spend too many evenings tucking into risotto sprinkled with white truffle shavings at £100 per plate.
Hard as it may be to stay cooped up within the comfortable but confined quarters of Nottingham Cottage, their best protection is the walls of Kensington Palace. A strong PR man would advise them to stay there as much as possible. As soon as they are married, their whole life will be lived in public. They should use this special time to be with each other as much as possible, out of the public eye on all but the most carefully-selected occasions.
There is no need for them to say anything publicly. They should keep quiet. Let the pictures speak for themselves. With a bit of luck, there will be no damaging stories to rebut. But preparation is all.
Around the world, there are legions of journalists right now trying to find something to their discredit that will make a big story prior to the wedding. Harry and Meghan have to be prepared for this and, if it happens, have the rebuttal ready in the same news cycle.
Meghan’s first husband has been the soul of discretion so far but it is certain that he has been approached to give his side of the story of their short-lived marriage. The best hope for Harry and Meghan is that he is rich enough and strong enough to resist the large sums of money that would be on offer for a kiss-and-tell from the first wedding and bridal chamber.
Of less concern is any story that revolves around Meghan’s mixed race heritage. The British people as a whole have always been open-minded about inter-race relationships. But there is an underbelly of racists in every society and their capacity for malevolence cannot be overlooked.
As things are, any attack on the bride because of her antecedents would only be calculated to win her more British fans. How could it be otherwise?
Harry should be careful with his comments, even if they are not meant for publication, such as his reported remarks following Christmas at Sandringham, that the Royals were the family Meghan never knew. The offence was unintended and that is all the more reason for Harry to say nothing without good reason for doing so.
Meghan should not go overboard with the wedding dress. She’s worn one before. Anything on the scale of Princess Diana’s by the Emmanuels would send all the wrong signals. If she wants to appeal to ordinary women - and her commitment to this cause has been real and long-standing - then a dress that is different, inexpensive and maybe carries the message that love transcends the frivolity of fashion might fit the bill perfectly.
She can think of something. She is clever. She succeeded in a world where many fail. I happened to see her in a bit part as a delivery girl in one of her early films. In a baseball cap and shapeless tunic, she had one line but she lit up the screen. Star quality.
She is smart enough to know that she cannot again publicly criticise President Trump. And she should guard her private comments. Although she may not like him, many of her countrymen do.
Mrs Trump, the First Lady, should be invited to the wedding, even if she does not come. Nancy Reagan attended Prince Andrew’s wedding to Sarah Ferguson without her husband, President Ronald Reagan. If not Mrs Trump, then certainly President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband should be on the list.
It’s not about personal preference; it’s diplomacy.
Fortunately, Harry and Meghan both know how the media game is played. The image is all. If it looks right, it is right. If not, then there’s trouble ahead.
When Harry was a toddler, and the family stayed with the Spanish Royal family in Majorca, King Juan Carlos agreed to a photo call on the steps of his mansion. Harry picked up two handfuls of shingle and walked towards the photographers. As he threw each handful, he said: “Go away, mens! Go away, mens!”
Prince Harry has reluctantly accepted that journalists have a job to do and, if he is smart, he will co-operate with the media to further the life of public service that he appears to be mapping out for himself and his bride.
His priority will continue to be the shielding of his fiancée from Press intrusion, something that I believe will always come first throughout their marriage. But to tame the beast, you first have to know it. Only then can you confront it and, with skill, draw its fangs.
Everyone loves a love story, as Meghan has said herself. Their love is the finest protection. I have no doubt that Harry intends to do things his way. Fortunately, after a few stumbles along the way, he now seems more sure about the way head than ever seemed likely.
For that, he can thank Diana’s kind and wise upbringing and Meghan’s deep and devoted love.