Buckingham Palace’s well-oiled communications machine
The glowing feedback the Queen has received was not always the case; the palace had previously leapt from scandal to scandal in a desperate attempt to maintain some sort of public support. In 1992, when the Queen spoke on the 40th anniversary of her accession, things could not have been more different. The very public break-up of three royal marriages and a horrific fire that ripped through Windsor Castle led the Queen to label the year an “annus horribilis,” saying: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.” It is said republican sentiment was at an all-time high after the palace’s steely reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1997; Prime Minister Tony Blair had to wade into the crisis and paint the departed as “the people’s princess” in order to create some sense of national unity. As the Queen’s popularity is now greater than ever, how the palace has come to communicate more effectively is fascinating to understand.
Tradition had held the monarchy back in terms of engaging with the media. There were great misgivings as to King George V’s first radio broadcast and indeed the televising of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. However, with time, the palace has learnt to couple traditional and modern forms of communication, allowing them to better explain themselves to a wider audience. Last Christmas’ annual televised message from the Queen was the most-watched program of the day — the fact that a population with a median age of 40 took the time to tune in to their 91-year-old head of state’s pre-recorded address was remarkable. The speech has come to personify the monarch; well-prepared and politically very relevant, it has become part of the Christmas tradition. As the Queen addressed recent terror attacks and embraced multiculturalism, she showed herself to be very much in touch with the vox populi.
Palace communications were once the responsibility of the sovereign’s press secretary, but in modern times this has grown into the royal media center, which supports the dissemination of news and key messages, “for members of the media to cover royal visits, events and news stories so that they can provide accurate, timely and informative coverage to their audiences.” In doing so, the Palace has chosen to be proactive in its handling of the news, where it was once reactive. During the reign of Queen Victoria, the monarch had grown so aloof that satirists drew images of vacant thrones. It is hard to escape news about the royal family in this day and age, as the media center actively seeks to inform and indeed shape the editorial line around their activities.
The Queen’s carefully worded speeches and the royal family’s role in supporting vulnerable communities and universal human principles is commendable in an era of fake news and impulsive online missives from the president of the United States.
Zaid M. Belbagi
With millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter, the palace’s embrace of social media has been an integral part of ensuring their communication is in step with the likes of the White House and 10 Downing Street. Images that were hitherto only available in official releases and glossy magazines are now accessible to the public, increasing the palace’s international recognition and allowing for greater interaction with audiences. The use of these accounts to announce the recent engagement of Prince Harry stirred the traditional media into a frenzy. The traditional communique from Clarence House, the residence of the Prince of Wales, was posted on Twitter, allowing a time-honored practice of written announcement to be liked and shared by millions.
The palace’s insistence on protecting the privacy of royal family members is also admirable. In a fast-paced media environment, the palace has gone some way to ensuring that communications surrounding the royal family are carefully managed. The Queen’s minders have insisted on strict prohibitions of “selfies” with the monarch and Kensington Palace has instituted strict media embargoes on the photographing of the infant Prince George and Princess Charlotte. The Queen’s carefully worded speeches and the royal family’s role in supporting vulnerable communities and universal human principles is commendable in an era of fake news and impulsive online missives from the president of the United States.
As the longest-serving British monarch, the Queen’s reign has seen the palace effectively progress from use of radio, television and now the online space. It is perhaps for that reason that she remains the only head of state in the world to be known internationally by her title alone.
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).