Did William and Harry tell aides to plant smears against each other in the media?
Fears that a new BBC documentary will seek to substantiate that claim is at the heart of the latest row between the Palace and the broadcaster.
The Queen, Prince Charles and William have reportedly joined forces to complain to the BBC – and threaten a boycott on future projects with the corporation – unless the Palace is given a right to respond to potentially damaging allegations in the BBC Two programme, The Princes And The Press.
BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan has spent more than a year piecing together the two-part documentary, talking to royal journalists about the brothers’ attitudes towards British newspapers.
Beginning with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Monday night’s episode explores the “positive media reaction to the emergence of a new generation of royals”.
The second episode is more problematic, examining the past three years, including the growing rift between the brothers and how Megxit led to competing briefings to the media, from the Palace, William’s and Harry’s offices, over who was to blame for the breakdown.
Denied advance access to the films, the Palace had issued a shot across the bows. The Queen is unhappy with the BBC airing more “tittle-tattle”, it is said. Royal aides claim they took pains not to be dragged into a war of words over Megxit.
The BBC is under no obligation to show its journalism to the Palace in advance. The Royals will be given a right to reply “where appropriate” under BBC rules.
The programmes themselves are being withheld from the media before airing as well as the Royals, betraying the BBC’s nervousness.
They are being edited right up to broadcast to take into account new developments, such as the Duchess of Sussex’s apology for misleading a court over her newspaper privacy claim, the BBC says.
Advance reports about the films are overheated, insiders say.
Contributors such as Omid Scobie, who co-wrote a sympathetic biography of Meghan, filmed their interviews a year ago, before claims that aides to William planted stories about Harry’s mental health emerged.
Irritating the monarch could have consequences for the BBC, however. Just last week, the broadcaster announced that coverage of the Queen’s 2022 Platinum Jubilee will be the centrepiece of the BBC’s centenary celebrations.
The broadcaster – which turned Prince William’s environmental Earthshot prize into a major series – will not want to lose its privileged access to senior Royals. Relations with the Duke of Cambridge are still bruised after the Martin Bashir scandal.
After devoting two hours to an examination of how royal journalism is conducted, the BBC must now stand firm and brace itself for scrutiny of its own contribution to a highly sensitive topic.
The Princes and The Press is on at 9pm on Monday on BBC Two, and then BBC iPlayer.