Britain’s Wedding-Mad Tabloids Feel a Cold Royal Shoulder

The wedding of Prince Harry to the American actress Meghan Markle will be the highlight of the year for much of the British news media, but reporters are being largely excluded from the ceremony.

LONDON — Arthur Edwards, a photographer for The Sun, has spent four decades tagging along after members of Britain’s royal family. He sprinkles his conversations with recollections of kindnesses bestowed on him over the years: a jocular telegram from Prince Charles in 1981, a thoughtful phone call to his granddaughter from Princess Eugenie in 2013.

But raise the subject of Prince Harry, whose May 19 wedding to the American actress Meghan Markle will be the highlight of the year for much of the British media, and Mr. Edwards’s face clouds over. “He’s become — it’s no secret — he’s become very withdrawn. He doesn’t say ‘good morning’ to us anymore,” Mr. Edwards said. “He’s upset with us generally.”

If Mr. Edwards had hopes that Prince Harry would be in a forgiving mood as the wedding approached, they were banished when Kensington Palace announced details of the media’s access to the ceremony: Specifically, there will be almost none.

One reporter will be allowed into St. George’s Chapel for the wedding, a palace spokesman said on Tuesday, noting that the space is small and it is not a formal state occasion. Four photojournalists will get coveted spots outside the chapel. Scores more will be stationed along the carriage route and on the castle grounds.

Mr. Edwards, 77, a veteran of seven royal weddings, said he assumed the decision was Prince Harry’s. “I can’t imagine the press officer advising that to the prince,” Mr. Edwards said. “He and Meghan have seen what’s been written and said, ‘We don’t want anyone near the wedding.’ That’s a clear message, yeah.”

Ms. Markle — a divorced, biracial American television actress — is a strikingly untraditional wife by royal standards. The British tabloids have not treated her with kid gloves, featuring a drumbeat of unflattering interviews with relatives she has not invited to the wedding. But the relationship between the royal family and the tabloids, two pillars of conservative England, was fraught with tension long before she arrived on the scene.

For decades, when not effervescing over royal weddings and births, the tabloids have castigated the royals as lazy, frumpy, dissipated or self-indulgent. The royals have used all the means at their disposal to curtail access to their personal lives.

Each side is also aware of its dependence on the other — the newspapers for access, and the royal family for publicity. Stig Abell, who served as director of Britain’s Press Complaints Commission, a regulatory body, described the relationship as “a hug that was always threatening to become an assault.”

Prince Harry’s wedding seems to mark a turning point, as a younger generation with a bone-deep mistrust of the news media takes center stage.

For Prince Harry and his brother, Prince William, there is nothing amusing about the news media interest. They were 12 and 15 when their mother, Princess Diana, was killed in a car crash, as her driver careened through a Paris tunnel trying to escape paparazzi on motorcycles. Prince Harry, in particular, has made no secret of his loathing for those photographers, who, he said in an interview last year, “instead of helping, were taking photographs of her dying on the back seat.”

Try to interview editors and palace veterans about the tug of war over access, and the tension quickly becomes evident. For one thing, virtually no one is willing to go on the record.

“They actually hate the British press. That’s probably a fair summary,” a senior journalist said of the princes. The journalist, who would discuss the matter only on condition of anonymity, denied that reduced access had led to negative coverage, but acknowledged “there is a lack of deference they might not be used to, because they are thin-skinned in a way that other members of the royal family are not.”

A former palace aide, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, was equally astringent. Tabloid editors, he said, sometimes pursued negative story lines as revenge for reduced access, and sometimes as a way to keep the coverage interesting.

“It’s like a graph of a share price: up and down, and up and down. What the media doesn’t like is a plateau,” he said. He added, “The Meghan share price is clearly on an upward trend. But it will peak. And there will be a sell-off.”

Already, acid-tongued criticism of Ms. Markle can be found in The Daily Mail. The tabloid’s vast readership skews female and older, with nearly half of its readers over the age of 65 — meaning it reaches the heart of the monarchy’s most fervent, and most conservative, support.

A single edition of the newspaper, on a recent Saturday, featured a pullout magazine section headlined “Why DID Meghan’s Marriage Implode?” which scrutinized, in skin-crawling personal detail, Ms. Markle’s breakup with her first husband; a mocking report on her father’s efforts to lose weight ahead of the wedding; a column interviewing her estranged half brother and half sister, who complained they were not invited to the wedding; and a sneering two-page synopsis of her acting career.

The Mail on Sunday, published the next day, featured a front-page interview with Ms. Markle’s uncle, who was also disgruntled about not being invited.

This sort of treatment is an old tradition. When Kate Middleton was dating Prince William, tabloids quoted unnamed aristocrats mocking the bride’s mother, Carole, a former flight attendant, as a grasping member of the middle class, and said some of Prince William’s friends had whispered “doors to manual” when Mrs. Middleton entered the room. A “royal insider,” quoted in The Mirror, described Mrs. Middleton as “incredibly middle-class. She uses words such as ‘pleased to meet you,’ ‘toilet’ and ‘pardon.’”

Prince Harry, clearly anxious about how this would affect Ms. Markle, made an unusual gesture late in 2016. Their relationship had just become public, inspiring headlines like “Harry’s Girl Is (Almost) Straight Outta Compton” (online in The Daily Mail) and “Harry’s Girl on Porn Hub” (The Sun, which later published an apology).

Departing from palace tradition, the prince released an angry letter detailing “a wave of abuse and harassment” by members of the press, as well as the “racial undertones of comment pieces” and “outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.” Mr. Abell, who served briefly as managing editor of The Sun, said the palace had identified, correctly, that the leverage of the print press was waning.

“All the power now resides in the royals, in the way it does in a lot of celebrities,” said Mr. Abell, the author of a new book, “How Britain Really Works: Understanding the Ideas and Institutions of a Nation.” But the connection with tabloid readers is also of value to the royal family, he added.

“You don’t get much more traditional than the British mid-market tabloids,” Mr. Abell said. “They are being slowly edged out by digital communications, and it becomes a metaphor for a certain type of thinking about the royals: If you take tradition away from the royal family, they are not a thing at all.”

For Mr. Edwards, The Sun’s photographer, it is a slightly bitter cap to a career devoted to a single family. He feels particular tenderness toward Prince Harry, whom he recalls most vividly as a 12-year-old at Princess Diana’s funeral.

“As the funeral cortege passed me at Westminster, all you could hear was the clip-clop of hooves and sobbing of people,” he said. “One woman called out, ‘Harry, God bless you,’ and he just kept walking with his head down. He’s the most popular member of the royal family.” Later, when the princes went out to see flowers at Kensington Palace, Mr. Edwards said, “I saw his face break apart. I couldn’t take the picture because he was so hurt.”

“I can tell you, I just want his happiness,” Mr. Edwards said.

But as for the wedding, Mr. Edwards said, he doesn’t expect much more access than the general public, and he declared himself “really fed up.”

“There’s a little bit of friction now, about us and them,” he said. “My view is that they are taking control. The boys are taking control.”

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