Do Harry and Meghan do nothing without arguing? How incredibly sad that even something as uplifting as the birth of their new baby is accompanied by a thunderous controversy.
The brusque public statements and angry threats of legal action that followed BBC claims that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did not ask the Queen for the name of their daughter Lilibet – her childhood nickname – now sounds depressingly familiar.
But even taking into account the pair’s bloated sense of displeasure that every action is deliberately misinterpreted, there was something deeply disturbing about this latest incendiary development — not least the fact of the timing.
For it is on the eve of what would have been Prince Philip’s 100th birthday, a moment of deep personal reflection for the Queen who, just nine weeks after his death, still mourns the husband who was her “strength and support.” .
Instead, she finds herself in the crossfire of a bitter war of words between the BBC, Buckingham Palace and American-based Sussex.
Ever since Harry and Meghan unexpectedly stepped out on Lilibet last Friday for the baby born in faraway California, their choice of name has been the subject of intense speculation — and unanswered questions.
When did the duke consult his grandmother or ask for her permission? How much message did she get? And was the request made in person—perhaps when Harry returned to Britain for his grandfather’s funeral—or over a long-distance phone call?
Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex watch a flypast to mark the Royal Air Force’s centenary from the balcony of Buckingham Palace on 10 July 2018
Yesterday, the BBC – citing an unnamed Palace source and attempting to get to the bottom of competing claims about what, if any, insider information the Queen had – bluntly reported that the monarch ‘had not been asked’ by the pair by choice of name.
The story was front page news on Radio 4’s agenda-setting Today program. Taking into account the time difference between London and the west coast of the US, Harry and Meghan’s response was quick.
Within 90 minutes of the report airing, Omid Scobie, the couple’s journalist, informed the Queen that the Queen was the first person to call Harry after the birth of his daughter.
Scobie, co-author of Finding Freedom, a biography of the couple, also claimed that the Sussexes would not have used the name Lilibet unless the Queen had supported the move.
Not long after came the intervention of Schillings, Harry’s attack dog lawyers, who threatened the BBC with legal action, accusing its report of being ‘false and defamatory’.
This was undoubtedly an unprecedented move with a member of the Queen’s family raising the possibility of legal proceedings contrary to directives given to Britain’s national broadcaster on behalf of the monarchy.
Meanwhile, the notification of the legal threat was followed by a carefully worded statement on behalf of the couple, which seemed to raise more questions than answers and raised suspicions about how and when the Queen was aware of their plans or even whether they informed her if an accomplished fact.
The spat will do nothing to improve transatlantic relations between the Duke and Duchess and the rest of the royal family. And the naming of baby Lilibet, whose arrival was initially heralded as an olive branch after months of uproar, was seen as yet another stumbling block.
It’s certainly ironic that something that observers believed would draw the couple closer to the royal family would eventually push them further away.
There is no doubt that the matter has caused unrest in the palace. And the spat also comes at a sensitive time for the BBC in the wake of the devastating investigation into how Martin Bashir secured his Panorama interview with Princess Diana.
As a BBC insider told me yesterday, ‘Any story involving the royal family is treated with extreme sensitivity and triple-checked.’
It may therefore be significant that the BBC’s coverage of her naming story has remained on its website and the reporter’s tweet citing a Buckingham Palace source has also remained ‘live’, despite the angry accusations.
The palace itself declined to be informed and declined to comment on whether the BBC’s version of the events was true.
In the Camp Sussex statement, an aide said the Duke had “talked to his family prior to the announcement” and that “in fact, his grandmother was the first relative he called.”
The assistant added: “During that conversation, he shared their hopes of naming their daughter Lilibet in her honor. If she hadn’t been helpful, they wouldn’t have used the name.’
Do Harry and Meghan do nothing without arguing?
However, there was no explanation when this call was made and how far ahead of the announcement, which came Sunday night London time. The statement has done little to dispel the views of some within the palace that if the Queen first learned of Harry’s intentions to name his daughter Lilibet after her birth, it left her little wiggle room.
The language is also enigmatic. It says Harry’s “hope” is to name his daughter Lilibet. This is not the same as asking permission from his grandmother – and make no mistake, the Queen is very particular about the names given to her great-grandchildren. The closer they are to the throne, the closer she is interested.
When Prince George was born in 2013, Prince William had to get his grandmother’s express consent. And this did not happen in a last minute phone call, but rather was the subject of a personal conversation. She gladly approved, of course, for George was her beloved father’s name.
Harry’s children are so much further in the line of succession – Archie and Lilibet are seventh and eighth respectively – and it’s unlikely they’ll come close to the Crown other than catastrophe.
Another aspect that baffled courtiers was why, after choosing the name Lilibet in honor of the Queen, the couple planned to name their daughter Lili – something Harry’s grandmother was never known for.
“It could even indicate that they don’t actually like the name Lilibet that much,” says a long-standing Palace figure.
Lilibet has a special resonance for the Queen: it was invented by her grandfather King George V, adopted by her mother and father, and lovingly used by her sister Margaret and later by her husband.
And while it’s also used by cousins like Princess Alexandra and the Duke of Kent, only two younger members of the family are allowed to call her Lilibet.
They are her cousin Lady Sarah Chatto and cousin David, the Earl of Snowdon. And both precede it with the word “aunt.”
Meanwhile, there’s the matter of how the Queen received the news from Harry in California. If it was over the phone, would this have been a problem?
Most people over 95 don’t have perfect hearing anymore, and on a long-distance line, there’s plenty of room for one or two misunderstandings. After all, “Elizabeth” and “Lilibet” – unless announced carefully – don’t sound all that different, especially when said quickly.
Only two people, or more likely three, know the full truth of the situation: the Queen, her grandson and his wife.
Does all this matter? I’m afraid so, if only because it adds to the endless pycho drama that seems to have enveloped Harry and Meghan, adding to the chasm that separates them from the rest of his family.
As one observer put it, “Briefings and counter-briefings on a royal baby’s name don’t look good for the House of Windsor.”
Friends of Harry say the palace’s intervention with the BBC goes to the heart of his longstanding claims that the officials – those who work for the monarchy – cannot be trusted.
In their interview with Oprah Winfrey in March, the couple complained about the attitude of the royal “firm” that had let them down, particularly about Meghan’s mental health issues.
Once again, his utter discomfort is revealed with an institution that exists to serve the monarchy.
The naming debate is likely to continue, just as the mystery continues over the birth of the couple’s son in 2019. Then it was the refusal to identify the hospital or the time of birth, and later came the decision to name the godparents. not to mention.
It might be rude to dwell on the negative aspects of what constitutes a happy event, but it’s Harry’s reaction that set the storm.