You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Leave the Markles alone. The need for gossip shouldn’t lead to snobby trashing

The Guardian logo The Guardian 5/15/2018 Gaby Hinsliff
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pose for photographers during a photocall in the grounds of Kensington Palace in London, marking the couple's engagement to marry: ‘Meghan Markle’s family have been hounded ever since the engagement was announced.’ © AP ‘Meghan Markle’s family have been hounded ever since the engagement was announced.’

It’s not easy turning a wedding, the heartwarming tale of two lovers wanting to live happily ever after, into something that makes everyone involved feel absolutely terrible.

But we seem to have managed it, with days to spare. Meghan Markle’s elderly father is now said to be considering pulling out of the royal wedding, following embarrassment over the publication of some hammy staged photos of him supposedly being measured for his suit. Thomas Markle, who is 73 and recovering from a heart attack, may not now be walking her down the aisle and no, this isn’t the time for arguing that it’s sexist for men to “give” their daughters away anyway; it’s her wedding, not yours, and she should have been able to involve her family in whatever way she chooses.

But more importantly, it absolutely isn’t the time for journalists to observe self-righteously that Thomas Markle invaded his own privacy, and that he only has himself to blame for reportedly colluding with paparazzi to stage those photos – whether for money or, as Meghan’s half-sister says, in some clumsy attempt to present a more positive image to the world.

Related: Meghan Markle's father will not attend the royal wedding – report

What happened to all those solemn tabloid vows, after the Princess of Wales died, not to buy pap pictures of the royal family because to do so only incentivised appalling behaviour by photographers? Ditched as soon as readers were deemed to have forgotten, of course. So now we have another distressed royal bride forcibly taught a lesson about what a weird, screwed-up institution she’s marrying into while poor Prince Harry, whose struggles with anxiety and depression after losing his mother have been well documented, is reminded all over again of the pressures heaped on anyone he loves. No matter what your view of the royal family itself, it’s hard to feel comfortable about that.

It’s true that some celebrities do cynically collude with photographers, engineering oodles of free publicity for their flagging careers in the process. But Meghan’s dad doesn’t fit comfortably in that category. The family have been hounded ever since the engagement was announced, every aspect of their lives held up for sneering at; look at her dad, snapped coming out of McDonald’s with a bulging bag of junk food even though he’s got a heart problem! Here’s the angry half-sibling who didn’t get an invite! Oh, and did you know Meghan once went on a date with a former porn star? There’s a nasty snobbish undertone to it all, a ghoulish willingness to pounce on anything that makes Prince Harry’s future wife look faintly trashy.

But hers is a family no more dysfunctional than many others, caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck, and unlike the PR-savvy Middletons they simply didn’t know how to handle the madness. It isn’t Thomas Markle who should be shamed out of attending his own daughter’s wedding, but the rest of us who should be mortified that he was ever put in such a situation; for if all involved had behaved with a modicum of decency, none of this need ever have happened.

Related: The red tops' obsession with Meghan Markle’s father is a warning of the abuse to come | Zoe Williams

The grim irony of all this emerging just as the House of Lords overturned the government’s decision to dump the second stage of the Leveson inquiry into press misconduct will not be lost on many readers, even if it’s hard to see how any new privacy law would have stopped papers publishing photos (or stories about how those photos came to be taken) when those pictures were taken with the subject’s consent. Even if it had, what leverage would the British courts realistically have over images of an American citizen taken in America, finding their way via US websites to British readers?

But a media this incapable of controlling its own worst instincts is riding for a fall at the hands of readers, if not regulators. No matter how hungry they are for gossip, there are times when the casual trashing of ordinary people’s lives in pursuit of it leaves readers feeling slightly grubby by association, and this is one of them. Just leave them alone, for heaven’s sake. Give the poor Markle family, not to mention all those people who in the nicest possible way don’t really care about royal weddings, the break they so thoroughly deserve.

• Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

More from The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon