Harry & Meghan go touring

Andrew Donaldson writes on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's southern African experience


WORD reaches us that Buckingham Palace was unable to source a sufficient number of secure vehicles for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s ten-day tour of southern Africa and, accordingly, a fleet of cars had to be shipped out from the UK. 

Members of the royal family almost always make use of locally provided cars on foreign trips, the Times of London reported, and these would typically be the vehicles used by the relevant British ambassador or high commissioner. Other cars in royal entourages would usually be local police vehicles.

An unnamed royal source told the newspaper: “On this visit it was not possible to obtain enough cars, or cars with extra security features, locally, although this was attempted. Jaguar Land Rover kindly offered to bring cars from the UK to support the visit, at no cost to the taxpayer.”

This should come as some relief to said taxpayer, who already supports the Windsor-Mountbattens to the tune of some £82-million a year, making them the recipients of Britain’s largest benefits package. 

That’s R1.6-billion, give or take a fluctuation or two. Little wonder then that our own royalty, the land baron and feudal lord Goodwill Zwelithini in particular, are so aggrieved at their pitiful grants.

The British royal family do however pay a terrible price for being on welfare, which we shall shortly discuss.

The Times’ source, meanwhile, added that Jaguar Land Rover had a long relationship with the palace and for decades had loaned cars for royal visits all over the world. In this case, it had stumped up five Land Rover Discoverys as police back-up vehicles and also brought out the Sussexes’ own personal Range Rover. [1]

It is, frankly, embarrassing that no posh SUVs could be found for these people. Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) there was some suggestion our government departments had snapped up all the land yachts in South Africa for their own blue light purposes, and no spare cars were available. 

It could also be that, even if government members were persuaded to part with their vehicles for a few days, they would not pass muster. Rightly or wrongly, our ministers are perversely drawn to top-end German models and it would not do for the sixth in line to the British throne to be seen puttering about in anything other than something put together in the UK. Especially in these crucial weeks before Brexit.

Whatever the case, it is unlikely to have bothered our diminutive transport minister, Fikile Mbalula, who at present is apparently trying to fix the railways. But more of that another time. [2]

Duly motored-up to the manner born, the Sussexes’ tour of their nan’s former territories did initially seem a roaring success, and the papers have informed their readers that the couple “tore up the rule book” regarding royal tours, doing away with the formal stuffiness of these otherwise humdrum rolling circuses.

It started in Nyanga, outside Cape Town. This, their subjects here have been told, is currently the murder capital of South Africa. Despite this, there was much singing and dancing, and a speech in which the duchess spoke out against gender-based violence “as a woman of colour and as your sister”. [3]

After Cape Town, the Sussexes parted company for five days. While Meghan stayed in South Africa with their infant son Archie, her husband was off to Botswana, Angola and Malawi, before reuniting in Johannesburg for a final township tour. [4]

It was here, in Tembisa, that Prince Harry spoke of his love for Africa, which, perhaps momentarily, he apparently regarded, as so many foreigners do, as a single amorphous nation state:  “Ever since I came to this country as a young boy and tried to cope with something I could never possibly describe, Africa has held me in an embrace that I will never forget.” 

That aside, there was the customary guff about using their privilege for the greater good: “We will firmly stand up for what we believe. We are fortunate enough to have a position that gives us amazing opportunities. We will do everything that we can to play our part in building a better world. We will always seek to challenge injustice, and to speak out for those who may feel unheard.”

Much of this goodwill was unfortunately overshadowed by the rancour and ill-will surrounding Harry’s furious attack on the British tabloids the day before and the decision to sue the Mail on Sunday for publishing a letter his wife had sent to her father, Thomas Markle, last year.

Bullying by the tabloids, Harry said, had left him a “silent witness” to Meghan’s suffering. He said he had seen the consequences of loved ones being “commoditised” by certain sections of the media. “I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been,” he said. “My deepest fear is history repeating itself … I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.” [5]

This was clearly an “off-script” moment. Harry reportedly wrote the statement himself, recklessly unadvised by advisors and unaided by aides. The communications sheriffs controlling the tour publicity were somewhat dismayed, to put it mildly, at this spanner in the works of an otherwise well-oiled, tightly-scripted and slickly co-ordinated campaign.

Journalists on the tour had been closely briefed on the topics they were to question the couple on, and there lay purple rebuke for those who tried to steer interviews elsewhere. What’s more, as one reporter discovered, it sometimes didn’t even matter what was asked of Meghan. Writing in the Times, Valentine Low said:

“She was asked about violence against women, with a second question about the impact she has had in South Africa as a woman of colour. Like a politician, Meghan simply ignored the question that had been asked and said what she had come to say anyway.

“Not that it mattered; the encounter was captured on camera and the soundbites travelled around the world — just as the palace wanted. It would, after all, be a mistake to think that the intended audience was just in South Africa and the UK. In palace eyes, Harry and Meghan are a global brand, and the US audience is just as important as that in the UK, if not more so.”

Predictably, the British press have closed ranks to voice their opposition to Harry’s attack, and have warned that it may be counter-productive. For a start, it dominated the last two days of a tour that was funded by the Foreign Office as part of an initiative to spotlight and publicise issues and concerns at the heart of government thinking. 

There is some irony here. Whitehall, for example, has paid vigorous lip service to issues of press freedom in foreign territories, particularly in the aftermath of the Jamal Khashoggi murder, and now finds its jamboree mired in what is essentially a domestic censorship row.

The Sussexes have retained the services of Schillings, a company renowned for their aggressive pursuit of libel cases. Advocacy group Index on Censorship has labelled them “the scourge of many a Fleet Street editor” for obtaining anonymised gagging orders to protect their clients’ privacy. 

The timing of Harry’s announcement may however have been due to specific legal advice from Schillings, who have filed a high court claim against the Mail on Sunday and its owners, Associated Newspapers, over the alleged misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and a breach of the UK’s stringent data protection regulations.

There is a feeling in some quarters that the tabloids are due a comeuppance. At the time her engagement to Harry was announced, the palace warned Fleet Street to stay away from Meghan’s somewhat troubled father. The tabloids responded by literally moving in next door to Markle, and began to groom and cultivate him as a regular source of stories. 

The Mail on Sunday’s shabby behaviour is hardly unique. Commentators have long since noted the obsession with which the British press attack the women who have had the misfortune to marry into this most dysfunctional of families. 

This, of course, is all part and parcel of the three-way compact between the royals, the press and the reading public. It is a tradition in which each alters its behaviour in accordance with one of the others. The press pursues the princes and princesses as they sell papers. The public lap it up, for here’s all that alluring “fairy-tale” bilge, the glamour of celebrity wedded to hereditary privilege. As for the palace, well, well they pursue the press for they offer free and uncritical marketing for the monarchy.

The arrangement would collapse if, let’s say, we stopped reading about Harry and Meghan and their relatives. There is little chance of that, however. But if the Sussexes are concerned that it’s getting a bit uncomfortable in the limelight, then perhaps they should get out of it. Just shut up for maybe a decade or two.



[1] These vehicles are considered excellent for passenger safety, and several other members of the royal family use them. They are sturdy and perform well in the presence of commoners and other adverse conditions — as Prince Harry’s grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, discovered when leaving the Queen’s Sandringham estate in January this year. The place is enormous — roughly 20 000 acres — and it is quite possible that the duke, now 98, may have nodded off at the wheel on the long drive from Sandringham House to the nearby A149, the road which runs along the north Norfolk coast and then to the Norfolk Broads. In any event, he emerged from the driveway and his vehicle overturned in a collision with a Kia. The two women in the Kia needed hospital treatment. But Prince Philip, though shaken, was unhurt. He has since surrendered his driving licence, much to the relief of local cyclists, badgers and other endangered road users.

[2] Addressing journalists at the release of the Railway Safety Regulator’s annual safety report on Tuesday, Mbalula declared this his most important task: “It is top priority, the issue of fixing passenger rail for me. If I fail on that, I don’t need to wait for the call by the President at night, I will just back my bag and go. I have failed, I will go.” This is an admirable position as it frees Cyril Ramaphosa from a burdensome and perhaps unpopular duty he has yet to perform with regard to any number of errant ministers.

[3] Last year, when the former UK prime minister Theresa May visited a school in neighbouring Gugulethu, it was apparently that township’s turn to be the murder capital of South Africa.

[4] Note the glaring omission of Zimbabwe, once one of the shinier jewels in the post-colonial crown. In his state of the nation address on Tuesday, President Emmerson Mnangangwa described his country’s economy as quite “dead”. It would take more than a royal tour to gee up spirits north of the Limpopo, apparently.

[5] Harry may blame the press for hounding his mother, but she sometimes did invite the attention. In his autobiography, The Glossy Years: Magazines, Museums and Selective Memoirs (Fig Tree), Condé Nast Britain chairman Nicholas Coleridge recalled a lunch that Princess Diana was due to attend on the day that the Daily Mirror had controversially published a topless photograph of her. Coleridge called Diana’s office to see if she would still be attending and was told that she would, but that her presence at the lunch was to be kept secret. Coleridge rang the other guests and swore them to secrecy.

Alas, the paparazzi were waiting for Diana after the lunch. Coleridge was furious and later called a friend at one of the newspapers to find out who had tipped them off. He was told, “I just spoke to our picture desk. Diana rang herself from her car, on the way to lunch. She often tips them off about where she’ll be.” Coleridge, who sat next to Diana during the lunch, did however reveal that the princess was troubled by the publication of the topless photograph, which was taken while sunbathing on a balcony in Spain, and asked if he had seen it. He had.

“William rang me from from Eton,” she continued. “Poor boy, he’s only fourteen. He was upset. He said some of the other boys were teasing him, saying my tits are too small. Nicholas, please be frank, I want to know your real view. Are my breasts too small, do you think?”