Hacked off: this is why the princes hated the media
Phone-hacking scandal made 'news junkie' William and grieving Harry lose trust in the press, says former adviser
Having their phones hacked in their 20s caused Princes William and Harry to lose their trust in the media, according to their former press secretary.
Miguel Head, who worked for the royal brothers for a decade, revealed the impact of the scandal on an already complicated relationship with the press that had been “shaped by what happened to them in their childhood”.
In his first interview since stepping down last May, Head, who was the Duke of Cambridge’s private secretary for six years, said falling victim to Clive Goodman, the royal editor of the defunct News of the World, “was a real blow”. The ensuing phone hacking inquiry heard that the journalist, who was jailed for four months in 2007, hacked him 35 times, his brother Harry nine times and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, 155 times.
Among the revelations were that William referred to Kate Middleton as “Babykins” in a voicemail message, and had called Harry in a high-pitched voice, pretending to be Chelsy Davy, his brother’s then girlfriend.
The experience may in part explain the royal family’s preferred method of communication: WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging service. Mike Tindall, husband of Zara, the queen’s granddaughter, has disclosed that the Duke of Sussex announced the birth of his son Archie to his cousins in this way.
In an interview, Tindall said the duke had messaged Zara to tell her the news of the safe arrival before Buckingham Palace announced it publicly. “He’ll be a good dad,” said the former England rugby player.
Speaking to the Harvard Gazette, a newspaper for the US university, Head said: “The phone-hacking scandal was a real blow to their trust in the mainstream media. The princes were very hurt by that because they had rather hoped that the excesses of intrusion into privacy that had ultimately led Diana, Princess of Wales, to be chased down a tunnel, which led to her death, would have calmed over the years and that they would be treated with a little bit more respect.”
He said William was more of a news junkie than his brother, who, Head said, found his personal relationship with the press harder. “Their relationship with the media has been shaped by what happened to them in their childhood,” he said. “Prince William is a great consumer of news and current affairs and therefore has a respect for news and the importance of good journalism.
“He felt that the competitive nature of the British press leads them to be excellent on a world stage, to produce some of the best journalism and journalists in the world, but it leads them to conduct some great excesses as well – the way in which his parents, particularly his mother, were treated. The way in which, of course, she died.”
Head added: “Prince Harry was younger when his mother died and, by his own admission, that has taken him longer to process in a different way. He has a similar view of the media to Prince William in that he believes that freedom of the press is very important. But he has always found the personal relationship harder.”
Insisting that Harry “gets on very well with lots of journalists”, Head said the prince “felt very early on that he must lay down a red line” about how his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, was treated by the press. In November 2016, Harry accused the media of “crossing a line” in coverage of his then girlfriend, Meghan Markle.
Head said the princes “had a very healthy attitude to a lot of what was written about them, which is that they largely just completely ignored it”.“So, our rule of thumb was we only commented reactively on stories if the stories were judged, in our view, to have a detrimental reputational impact. And the bar for that was quite high.”Head gave the interview last month in his capacity as a spring fellow at the Shorenstein Centre at Harvard University.– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)