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The royals' old creed of 'never complain, never explain' is a relic of a bygone era

The royals' old creed of 'never complain, never explain' is a relic of a bygone era
  • The British royal family's PR strategy seems to be in need of an update.

  • "Never complain, never explain" is an outdated motto associated with the late Queen Elizabeth II.

  • The palace's continued silence has brought the "Katespiracy" to new heights.

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sat down with Oprah, excoriating "the firm" and leveling accusations of racism at the royal institution, Buckingham Palace's response was muted and in line with their ironclad public-relations strategy.

"The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning," the palace said in a statement. "Whilst some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately."

The stoicism of the royal family's unofficial motto, "never complain, never explain," was a hallmark of Queen Elizabeth II's reign.

Kate Middleton, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle all wearing black.
Kate Middleton, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle.Chris Jackson/Getty Images

King Charles abandoned it to some extent when he waded into the fray and did press interviews about his marriage to Princess Diana and its ugly dissolution.

But, by and large, the palace has refrained from commenting on or refuting allegations against family members or complaining about how they are and aren't treated.

That veil of silence has mostly persisted regarding the family's health. King Charles' announcement of his cancer diagnosis in February provided scant details. When Kate underwent "planned abdominal surgery" in January, no details about her condition were given, even as conspiracy theories on her whereabouts reached frenzied heights.

The temptation to default to dignified silence, a tried and tested strategy, may be the most comfortable and safe option for the royal family.

After all, a lot of money rides on their stability and continued existence. In 2023, the British royals spent $136 million, which exceeded the $109.1 million allowance the monarchy received from the Sovereign Grant, an annual lump sum the UK government gives to maintain the monarchy.

The family's continued role as royalty is also tied to extensive investments. The king earns millions in profits from the Duchy of Lancaster, a private estate the BBC reported was worth about $838 million. Prince William — who holds the title of Duke of Cornwall — benefits from the Duchy of Cornwall, a $1.2 billion estate that generated about $30 million in profits in the 2022 to 2023 financial year.

Not explaining has only made things worse

"The family motto is 'never complain, never explain.' But it's just a motto," Prince Harry told Anderson Cooper during a January 2023 episode of "60 Minutes."

He went on to allege that the palace was fond of spoon-feeding inside information to royal correspondents.

The intense mystery surrounding the "Katespiracy" has shown how little control the palace has over the narrative — particularly when they appear to prefer speaking off the record.

For its part, Kensington Palace made a concerted attempt to stay removed from the noise, dispensing only the barest of hints about where Kate may be.

Kate and William, with Kate waving.
Prince William, Prince of Wales and Catherine, Princess of Wales in February 28, 2023.Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

"As we have been clear since our initial statement in January, we shall not be providing a running commentary or providing daily updates," a palace spokesperson said on February 29.

At the same time, unnamed sources spoke to the press about the princess' progress. A source who was reported to be a friend of Kate and William's told The Daily Beast in February that the public speculation would make them more determined to maintain their privacy.

"If William has read any of this stuff, it will only make him more determined to stick to his guns and keep his wife out of the limelight while she recovers. The stuff people are writing is toxic," the source said.

Kate made a rare personal statement last week defending her edited Mother's Day photo. She didn't address the root of the problem, which was the mounting speculation over her absence. The statement was issued on social media rather than through an official press office, creating a barrier between the palace and the public.

Evan Nierman, the founder and CEO of the crisis-communications firm Red Banyan, says that if Kate wants to recover her image, she must adopt the same authenticity that many of her online supporters (and critics) embody.

"In today's digital age, authenticity is not just valued, it's expected," Nierman told Business Insider.

Nierman said Kate must "double down on transparency and authenticity" by sharing her real experiences and challenges with the public.

'Never explaining' hasn't been relevant for a long time

The "never complain, never explain" motto has long been associated with Elizabeth II, but it's thought that the 19th-century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli came up with the concept, as Marie Claire reported.

Kristen Meinzer, a royal commentator, told BI the mantra worked well for the late queen partly because she ascended the throne during an era "when the press and general public still maintained a certain level of reverence for authority figures."

The queen wearing the St Edward's Crown, holding the orb and sceptres.
Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day.Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images

"In other words, it wasn't just Elizabeth who was following the mantra; the press and public were as well," Meinzer said.

Queen Elizabeth took the throne in 1952 and reigned for 70 years until she died in 2022.

Meinzer said several factors, including cultural shifts and a "growing skepticism of governing figures," meant that complaining and explaining became commonplace for the press, especially during Charles and Diana's divorce in the '90s.

'A culture of secrecy '

It's about more than just a motto — it's about the royal family's relevancy, which is especially important as calls for abolishing the monarchy have reached new heights in recent years.

The UK anti-monarchy group Republic has launched a campaign to end royal secrecy, homing in on the fact the royals are exempt from freedom-of-information laws in the UK.

graham smith
Graham Smith, CEO of Republic, protests on Edinburgh's Royal Mile on July 5.Danny Lawson - Pool/Getty Images

In recent years, there have been calls for the royals to be more transparent about the contents of their wills and private assets.

"It does damage their standing, and the obvious question is: What are they hiding?" Graham Smith, CEO of Republic, told BI.

Smith said Kate's situation "throws a spotlight on the culture of secrecy" within the royal institution.

"It highlighted what a lot of people have known. This is not an institution that is known for its openness and honesty," he said.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment.

Read the original article on Business Insider