Fergie’s face says it all.
Fergie’s face says it all.

Royal family’s ‘excruciating’ public mistake

PRINCE Harry and Meghan Markle's tour of Australia and the Pacific has been an unqualified PR success, the couple winning new fans at every turn during their exhaustive visit.

Social media savvy and keen to embrace every positive photo opportunity, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are still careful to keep up an air of royal aloofness. Clearly a confident public speaker, Meghan made just one public speech during their time in Australia, keeping an air of mystery despite her daily domination of the news cycle.

But connecting with the masses didn't always come so easily to the royal family.

The ABC's Four Corners last night examined the incredible PR resurrection of the British monarchy, after weathering a series of tawdry scandals throughout the 1990s. But one bizarre 1987 decision - a mere footnote in the history of the royal family - played a hefty part in shaping the public's dim view of The Firm.

 

Back in '87, several key royals participated in The Grand Knockout Tournament, a TV special that's since become known as It's A Royal Knockout.

It was a charity spin-off of the slapstick game show It's A Knockout, which saw opposing teams competing in absurd games. Think crazy costumes, embarrassing pratfalls and cheesy jokes.

Fergie and Princess Anne with their ‘joker’ shields.
Fergie and Princess Anne with their ‘joker’ shields.

"The royals went off in several really questionable directions, the first of which, the nadir, was It's A Royal Knockout," said Stephen Bates, author of Royalty Inc, on Four Corners last night.

"It was a really, really naff program, but terribly popular and the royals, or at least Prince Edward, thought the royals could cash in on this. It's A Royal Knockout was completely the wrong sort of message to give."

He's not wrong: Over 80 cringe-worthy minutes, Prince Edward, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Sarah, the Duchess of York, led four celebrity-filled teams - Meat Loaf, John Travolta, Cliff Richard and John Cleese among the participants - through a series of "somewhat humiliating" games.

 

Prince Edward: The whole thing was his idea, but suddenly he doesn’t look so sure.
Prince Edward: The whole thing was his idea, but suddenly he doesn’t look so sure.

Did it humanise those members of the royal family who took part? Perhaps - but at what cost? After all, it's hard to demand the reverential respect of the public when they're seen you participate in a game where "players dress up as giant vegetables and throw fake hams at each other," all while Mr Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson, adjudicates.

 

Atkinson in Blackadder garb. Picture: Supplied
Atkinson in Blackadder garb. Picture: Supplied

Blame for the PR disaster fell squarely with Prince Edward - the entire enterprise had been his idea. He'd been eager to develop a TV career since leaving the Royal Marines earlier in 1987 after completing just one-third of his training.

The other royals did not share his enthusiasm: The Queen, Prince Philip, Charles and Diana all refused to take part. Even those who did hardly looked thrilled to be there:

Princess Anne asking herself, ‘How did I end up here?’ Picture: Supplied
Princess Anne asking herself, ‘How did I end up here?’ Picture: Supplied

 

Fergie: ‘I’ve made a huge mistake.’
Fergie: ‘I’ve made a huge mistake.’

Ben Pimlott's 1996 biography, The Queen, reveals just how deep the disapproval ran.

"It was a terrible mistake. (The Queen) was against it. But one of her faults is that she can't say no," one of the monarch's close friends told the author.

"There was not a single courtier who did not think it was a mistake," said another inside source.

Pimlott writes that the "excruciating" program "made the public stunningly aware that a sense of decorum was not an automatic quality in the royal family, and even that some members might be more deserving of their Civil List incomes than others".

Bask in the awkwardness below:

Really makes you appreciate Harry and Meghan, huh?

Meghan and Harry. Picture: Ian Vogler, Pool/Getty Images
Meghan and Harry. Picture: Ian Vogler, Pool/Getty Images

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