Over the past fortnight, Australia has had royal fever. But for a long time, Britain’s ruling family has plagued with ugly scandals and shame.
Over the past fortnight, Australia has had royal fever. But for a long time, Britain’s ruling family has plagued with ugly scandals and shame.

Royals’ worst scandals exposed

IT'S NO secret Australia has royal fever.

Over the past two weeks, thousands of people around the country have camped out in Sydney, Dubbo, Hervey Bay and Melbourne hoping to catch a glimpse of the glamorous Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

Since October 15, over 11,000 photos were filed from news photographers shooting the royal tour, with their every smile, hug and wave captured bit-by-bit.

But the triumph of Meghan and Harry's visit - made only more successful by the announcement of a royal baby - is not solely due to their royal status.

Tonight's Four Corners shed some light on the royals' less-savoury recent past.

SCANDAL AFTER SCANDAL

Just a few decades ago, the royal family was embroiled in scandal after scandal.

The future of the monarchy was threatened by a series of crises and PR disasters ruining the reputation they sought so intensely to protect.

In 1992, a flirtatious conversation between Prince Charles and Camilla, his then-mistress, was caught on tape and published.

The tape included the infamous moment Charles said he wanted to be Camilla's tampon.

"I just live inside your trousers or something, be much easier," he said in the recording.

"What are you going to do, turn into a pair of knickers? I think you are going to come back as a pair of knickers," responded Camilla.

"Or God forbid, a Tampax. Just my luck!" said Charles.

The pair had an affair that spanned several years while Charles was married to Princess Diana, Harry's mother. It was a love triangle that the media focused heavily on throughout the 1990s.

In 1995, Diana famously told the BBC of the relationship: "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."

 

Prince Charles and Camilla had a longstanding affair that shone a negative light on the royal family for decades.
Prince Charles and Camilla had a longstanding affair that shone a negative light on the royal family for decades.

 

Prince Charles was married to Diana, Princess of Wales — Harry’s mother — until 1995.
Prince Charles was married to Diana, Princess of Wales — Harry’s mother — until 1995.

Patrick Jephson, who was private secretary to Princess Diana, described a costly smokescreen that was employed to protect them.

"A lot of our energy and resources was spent on maintaining an untrue picture of the reality," he told Four Corners. "And once you do that for a long enough time, once you invest enough money and effort and credibility in it, it has a corrosive effect on the whole organisation.

"We weren't dealing in the truth. We were dealing in whatever today's truth was and the media knew that, they could smell it and on a certain level we deserved all the crazy stories that were written because, uncomfortably, lots of them were true."

In 1992, cameras caught Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, with her toes in the mouth of Texas businessman John Bryan. The embarrassing image brought the royals further into disrepute.

 

Front page of The Sun newspaper with Sarah Ferguson allegedly having her toes sucked by John Bryan in 1992.
Front page of The Sun newspaper with Sarah Ferguson allegedly having her toes sucked by John Bryan in 1992.

 

HOW MEGHAN AND HARRY REIGNITED ROYAL FEVER

Meghan and Harry, in stark contrast, have already proved a triumph for the royal brand.

They're glamorous, relaxed and have great people skills. They know how to get the most out of photo-ops, and keep a positive spotlight on themselves without getting political or saying anything controversial.

Meghan's has become well-known for her influential fashion choices, with items she chooses to wear - usually by local designers - immediately skyrocketing in interest.

 

Meghan and Harry have already proved a triumph for the royal brand.
Meghan and Harry have already proved a triumph for the royal brand.

 

On several occasions in Australia, after she was first photographed in a local designer's garment, the designer's website would crash from all the immediate traffic.

"It's the most amazing thing, particularly during the build-up to the wedding, I mean whatever Meghan wore, it was picked up, it was followed," global branding expert Rita Clifton told Four Corners.

T he Sun's royal correspondent Emily Andrews attributed a part of Meghan's royal triumph to her mixed heritage. "Meghan's bi-racial, mixed race, she's the first non-white member of the Royal Family. It's fantastic," she told Four Corners. "Literally dragging this old, white, pale, stale family, dragging them kicking and screaming into the 21st century."

 

Meghan’s has become well-known for her influential fashion choices, with items she chooses to wear — usually by local designers — immediately skyrocketing in interest.
Meghan’s has become well-known for her influential fashion choices, with items she chooses to wear — usually by local designers — immediately skyrocketing in interest.

 

 

Dresses she wore would immediately sell out.
Dresses she wore would immediately sell out.

 

But while she's added a flair of diversity into the mix, Mr Jephson doubts Meghan will have much of an impact overall.

"There was an assumption that Meghan Markle was going to somehow be a breath of fresh air and drag the fuddy duddy old monarchy into the 21st century," he told Four Corners. "And that may yet happen, but I think it's very unlikely. She is, after all, constitutionally, pretty much insignificant. Given that Harry is now way down the pecking order to the throne. And also, the monarchy, you know, it's a very old institution. It has seen Meghan Markles come and go for hundreds of years."

Attractive, relatable and social media-savvy as they are though, the new generation needed a rebranding too, with Prince Harry needing to transform his image from "party boy" to "royal prince".

Some of his most memorable moments included falling into a pool fully-clothed while drunk in Croatia, and hosting a game of strip billiards in his VIP hotel suite during a visit to Las Vegas in 2012. In the case of the latter, someone had a camera and shot a picture of him completely nude.

 

Prince Harry has had his own fair share of controversy.
Prince Harry has had his own fair share of controversy.

But now, we see a charismatic modern prince.

"I think what's fascinating about the way that Harry and his advisers have developed his brand, his profile, is that he's used some of the difficult background, some of the challenges that he's had in his life, and made that feel like a proper, feeling, human being," said Ms Clifton. "It's much more difficult to have a problem with a human being than an impersonal institution."

But while the royals inevitably bring with them hordes of well-wishing fans, not everyone wants the monarchy's reign to continue.

'IT'S AN ARCHAIC INSTITUTION'

To describe the royal family is wealthy is an understatement.

The Crown Estate owns huge tracts of land across the British Isles, and according to the ABC, 25 per cent of its profits are paid to the Queen to fund the running of the palace and official royal travel.

The royals' personal income figure remains a secret, and there is no publicly-available figure on the total cost of the Royal Family to the taxpayer.

Dani Beckett, the Vice-Chair of Republic, Britain's peak body for people who want the monarchy ousted, described the royal family as representative of an "archaic institution that is terrified of the general public knowing just how much power and wealth they actually have".

"In the past five to ten years in UK, we've seen cuts to education funding, to domestic violence centres, we've seen cuts to libraries and the arts and the police and the National Health Service," Beckett told Four Corners. "At the same time the Royal Family's Sovereign Grant, which is the official money that they get from the government, which actually only amounts to about a quarter of the money that they get in total every year, keeps increasing and increasing."

 

Dani Beckett believes the royals are terrified of people finding out just how wealthy they are.
Dani Beckett believes the royals are terrified of people finding out just how wealthy they are.

We do know the royals spend a tonne of money on travels.

"Year after year, you will see that Prince Charles is the highest-spending royal, he will often charter planes, and then, on his tours, the does two or three big tours a year, he'll charter a plane in the UK and take it all the way around wherever he is going and then back," said Ms Andrews. "And this costs hundreds of thousands of pounds."

But in Meghan and Harry's case, at least, it seems the people don't mind how much they're worth. The amount of people who showed up in droves, hoping to merely catch a glimpse of them, is a testament to their popularity.

But if the scandals of the past have taught us anything, it's that this public adoration is fleeting. "The popularity of the young royals is pretty high, but that could all change," said the Institute of Commonwealth Studies' Professor Philip Murphy.

"They're always only a scandal away from a dip in popularity."


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