From the beginning, the viciousness of the British press, tabloid and otherwise, was astounding to me.
The Daily Mail, featuring Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s touching engagement picture on the front page, saw fit to run the headline from their columnist Sarah Vine (wife of the politician Michael Gove who twice ran unsuccessfully for Leader of the Conservative Party), “Yes, they’re joyfully in love. So why do I have a niggling worry about this engagement picture?” (Webster’s defines the word “niggling” thus: “bothersome or persistent especially in a petty or tiresome way.” Nevertheless, the word seemed a surprising choice and jumped from the page, as presumably it was intended to).
I’d already had a run-in with the machinery of the British royalty-covering press corps when I was dispatched to Nepal in 1993 to cover a visit of Prince Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, to a series of leprosy missions there for one of my first Vogue assignments. Patrick Jephson, the princess’s appropriately courtly private secretary, had practically begged us not to go, explaining that with the pool system (whereby one or two photographers or journalists would be picked to accompany the princess on some of her visits, and would subsequently pool their images or writing with everyone else), we would never have access to the princess. Anna was hearing none of it, so off I was sent into the lion’s den.
I arrived in the Vogue-branded cap that, to my deep mortification, Anna had insisted I wear, to discover that there were literally hundreds of royal correspondents and hardened photographers, in addition to my good self, photographer Dewy Nicks, and his assistant, the very existence of whom was considered comical by the rest of the press corps who soon dubbed us Hewey, Dewey, and Louey. In our caps we did look like a trio of ducklings. We were all marshalled in an unruly throng behind stanchions at the airport to document the arrival of the princess when she landed. Princess Diana stepped off the plane in sky blue pleats, turned her back on us and turned instead to be greeted by the kumari or girl child goddesses lined up to meet her. Unfortunately, as we soon discovered, the infamous “Squidgy Tapes”—illicit recordings of the princess’s exceedingly intimate telephone conversations with Major James Hewitt—had been released that morning by The Sun, and the Princess was not in the mood to play ball. In fact, unspoken pact with the tabloids shattered, she turned her back on the press corps for the entirety of the trip so that no one could get a single usable image. The atmosphere in the press canteens was not, let me tell you, jovial. The Princess, incidentally, only let down her guard once. On about Day Four or so she was seated outside a hut in a leprosy community in the distant hills that had taken us hours to reach, communing with some medical professionals and village elders. She looked up for a moment, saw our Vogue caps amongst the jostling throng of paparazzi, and laughed. We got our cover image. I digress.