Public support for the royal family holds firm—but will Prince Harry’s reputation ever recover?

by | Jan 24, 2023 | Public Relations

Prince Harry’s autobiography has become the UK’s fastest-selling nonfiction book ever, recording figures of 400,000 on its first day of sale.

The tell-all book, released last week, provides a range of accusations, including an allegation of being “sacrificed” on the “PR altar” by Camilla, the Queen Consort, and a conversation with Prince William and King Charles III after Prince Philip’s funeral.

Prince Harry’s memoir takes particular aim at Prince William, who is described as more privileged, constantly in competition with his brother, and even violent in one particularly tense conflict. Prince Harry also provides accusations against the Cambridges of planting media stories and briefing against the couple to make the rest of the Royal Family look better.

Despite some shocking allegations against senior members of the royal family, data shows UK public support for the royals is holding firm

According to a recent study by One Poll, the public reception to King Charles, William, and Kate has actually improved in recent weeks, with over half (54 percent) of the 1700 members of the British public surveyed claiming have to a favourable view of the monarchy as an institution. Even the efforts to rehabilitate Camilla (once the most hated woman in Britain) to Queen do not appear to have been jeopardised by Harry’s ire, with Camilla suffering only a minimal drop in public support.

The one glaring exception to the rule is probably the one person Harry least expected

According to the same survey, the Duke of Sussex’s own popularity has fallen to its lowest point in more than a decade. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the public now have a negative view of the prince, a decline evident even among younger Britons who have historically been more sympathetic to the Duke. Meghan Markle’s reputation has likewise suffered a 39 percent decline in recent weeks, and a staggering 44 percent of the public wish for the Sussexes to stay away from the King’s Coronation on May 6th.

With Harry’s petty grievances laid bare—including outlandish complaints about his lifestyle and privileges—the reputational impact for the prince has been nothing other than a disaster. If the intention was simply to sell millions of books, then Harry’s memoir and subsequent broadcast campaign can be seen as a success. But if—as is clearly the case—Harry was attempting to win back the hearts and minds of the British public, then it has failed on all accounts.

Allegations of hypocrisy have prevailed in recent weeks, with the prince, who claims to be very protective of his own privacy, willing to provide personal details on the Prince and Princess of Wales as well as their children. Harry has also received intense criticism for his unwillingness to set the record straight on previous accusations of racism against his family for nearly two years. As a very sophisticated media communicator, the prince was surely well aware of how his comments, delivered to millions during an Oprah interview, would be interpreted by the press. Few close to the royal family are therefore likely to believe that Harry was not attempting to launch racist accusations at the monarchy.

Going forward, it would be wise for the Duke of Sussex to refocus his communication efforts on the positive work that he and his wife have undertaken

That would particularly be in relation to mental health and equality. Harry will also need to work with the world’s top experts to design a coordinated and effective reputation strategy and take proactive steps to restore his personal image.

As for the monarchy, it has miraculously managed to escape serious damage from the controversy, providing an indication of just how deep public affection for the royal family runs. Yet one must question whether the crisis should spark a modernisation of the institution, to ensure it remains relevant particularly to younger people. This could include stepping up campaigning on issues such as combatting climate change—something close to King Charles’ heart. The situation can be compared to Diana’s death in 1997—that was, of course, a watershed moment and the point at which the monarchy realised it needed to adapt or die. This is another adapt-or-die moment.

Thumbnail photo source: New Zealand Herald

Laura Salvage
Laura Salvage is Senior Director, Strategy, at Penta.