Working for the Windsors famously does not pay well. If you are X you can expect to earn X. Being Y will mean you taking home Y. However, the lustre and kudos of restocking loo paper and ironing socks for the royal family is meant to make up for the low wage.

But pity one particular group of royal workers this year who have had it especially tough – the men and women of the royal press teams. For 12 months, they have tirelessly plugged away – and failed – to hose down and control the myriad debacles and disasters which have beset the royal family in 2019.

For years, if not decades, managing the public relations for the Queen and Co. meant putting out dry press releases about regal visits to municipal leisure centres and contending with the occasional Prince Harry hullabaloo (remember the Nazi uniform? His nude Las Vegas romp? And that time he drunkenly danced into a pool in Croatia?)

However, by and large, most of the Windsor gang got on with the family business which essentially comes down to waving, wearing hats and reproducing with relative frequency.


Oh my, how things have changed over the last 12 months.


The first inkling that this year was going to be unlike any others came in January when Prince Philip decided to take his Land Rover for a calamitous spin, crashing into another car carrying two women and a baby. Photographs swiftly emerged of the Duke's car on its side and the proud nonagenarian was forced to give up his license.

The various rumpuses kept coming when Meghan, Duchess of Sussex flew to New York in February for her celebrity-filled baby shower. With the mum-to-be enjoying outings in the Big Apple with a retinue of American pals, press in the United Kingdom started debating the wisdom of such a high-profile celebration for an HRH.

The Sussex surname stayed in the headlines when it was first mooted in May that Harry and Meghan were planning on splitting from the Royal Foundation to set up their own charity.

(The Foundation was created in 2009 by Prince William and Harry as an umbrella organisation for their philanthropic works. In 2011, when Wills married Kate, she came on board, ditto Meghan in 2018).

The decision for the Sussexes to go their own way was read as proof that the two couples were quarrelling, an impression not helped when the newlyweds decided to eschew the Kensington Palace apartment put aside for them and to decamp to Windsor.

Vale the PR goldmine that was the "Fab Four".

In March it was revealed that Harry and Meghan had installed former Hillary Clinton adviser Sara Latham as their new head of communications (later in the year it was confirmed by the palace that the couple has retained, and was privately paying for, LA-based PR mega agency Sunshine Sachs to help with the US launch of their Sussex Royal foundation, set to take place in 2020).


However, it was a rocky start with the mass confusion over the birth of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, whose arrival in the world resulted in various media outlets finding out at different times. Kensington Palace later "profusely apologised" for the email glitch which caused the chaos. What should have been a press boon instead became mired in questions about how things were being run behind-the-scenes.

Complicating all of this was the Sussexes' move to circumvent traditional media channels and to focus on social media to communicate, even hiring David Watkins who formerly worked at Burberry to manage their digital presence.

Eschewing traditional channels and working to re-make the platforms and brands they rely on to share their messages does come with inherent risks.

"At the root of all this is their plan to shake things up," a royal source told Vanity Fair earlier this year. "Harry is not afraid to take the media on. He feels like he has nothing to lose."


BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis during an interview with Prince Andrew, Duke of York, about the Prince's involvement with Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / BBC via AP
BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis during an interview with Prince Andrew, Duke of York, about the Prince's involvement with Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / BBC via AP

However, the absolute Everest this year in terms of royal media management was Prince Andrew's excruciating BBC interview in November.

This particular slow-motion car crash began in July when Andrew's former pal Jeffrey Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges in July before being found dead of an apparent suicide in August.

Prince Andrew's ties to the convicted sex offender and alleged Epstein trafficking victim Virginia Giuffre's claim she was bought to London to have sex with the royal, were immediately back in the glare of the press spotlight. Andrew has staunchly denied all claims of wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, the royal media apparatchiks seemed woefully unprepared and perpetually on the backfoot. Facing a global frenzy, they resorted to their standard catastrophe playbook and the Queen was wheeled out to go to church with Andrew.

The image of a grinning Queen and Andrew cheerfully speeding off for a quick sermon and prayer session was disastrous.

Then came the Duke's surprising decision to sit down with veteran BBC journalist Emily Maitlis for a probing 50-minute interview in an ill-conceived effort to put the Epstein scandal to rest. We all know the calamitous result – within days of it airing, the Duke was forced to unceremoniously quit public life.

Quite who or who did not give approval for Andrew's disastrous BBC interview remains is still unclear. What became apparent during the various post-mortems was that there is no clear hierarchy or reporting structure.

The shambolic image was not helped when it became known that Andrew's highly-publicised new PR guru Jason Stein had quit in protest over the decision to do the interview only weeks after he signed on.

"My guess is that he bulldozed his way in and decided he was going to do it himself without any advice," the Queen's former private secretary Dickie Arbiter told the BBC. "Any sensible-thinking person in the PR business would have thrown their hands up in horror."


For years, nay decades, the approach of royal press teams could be broadly characterised as adhering to the Victorian maxim, "never complain, never explain".

However, of all the unfortunate truths about the royal family which have come into focus in the last year, the inadequacy of the royal media apparatuses to deal with truly modern, social media-driven scandals is key.

Again and again, as various controversies erupted, the royal media teams seemed wildly unprepared for the sort of breathless, global coverage all of this would spark.

Likewise, they were seemingly taken unawares that "not explaining" wasn't good enough during a time when accountability and image management rule.

One thing has become abundantly apparent, which is that the old modus operandi – issuing terse no comments or blunt statements or at most wheeling out the Queen to signal support – no longer come close to cutting it during an age when public vitriol and cancel culture are rife.

Throughout all of this year, various royal communications teams have valiantly tried again to hose the tabloid frenzy down with their classic "nothing to see here old chap" routine however, in doing so have fought a losing battle to control the message and to minimise damage from the fallout.

Part of the issue also lies in the notion of a "palace team". Each senior member of the royal family has their own teams and run each like a private fiefdom with minimal central oversight.

Then there is the surprising fact that these teams are also relatively small given the global reach of their employers.

"I think people have an impression — and certainly my editors do — that these are 24-hour operations with rows of people fielding inquiries from Auckland to LA," the BBC's royal correspondent Jonny Dymond has told Town & Country. "It's not like that at all. These are teams of three to five people, some of who are more experienced than others."

Dymond has recounted visiting the Kensington Press office: "It was after Harry's wedding and I said, 'I presume you're going to employ more people?' They now had this vast global celebrity in Meghan on board and they said, 'no'.

"I told them they were crazy … It's a tough job already and I think sometimes people don't have quite the right frontline skills to deal with what is, I think, an admirably aggressive British media."

2020 will be a big year for the royal family: At the very least there will be Princess Beatrice's wedding, the launch of the Sussex Royal Foundation and Kate and William stepping further into their roles as the future king and queen.

Meanwhile, we can take it as a given there will also be hiccups, brouhahas and maybe a full-blown crisis. To handle all of this it's time to throw the former royal media playbook out with the sagging mistletoe and to take control before it's too late.