HAPPILY, the news was good. After a night in a London hospital for what Buckingham Palace described as ‘preliminary investigations’, the Queen was allowed to recuperate at home at Windsor Castle.
As is customary in royal medical bulletins, the palace statement was scant on detail, with no information at all about the nature of the complaint that necessitated her admission to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in the first place.
Officials have always sought to balance the right to privacy of the monarch on matters of her own health with the right of the public to know about the wellbeing of our 95-year-old constitutional head of state.
But by claiming that the Queen was resting at Windsor – a detail instantly relayed to TV viewers, radio listeners and newspaper and news website readers – when in fact she was in hospital, suggests that the thinking of royal officials was not just muddled but dishonest.
HAPPILY, the news was good. After a night in a London hospital for what Buckingham Palace described as ‘preliminary investigations’, the Queen was allowed to recuperate at home at Windsor Castle
As is customary in royal medical bulletins, the palace statement was scant on detail, with no information at all about the nature of the complaint that necessitated her admission to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in the first place
No wonder it provoked a howl of protest at how the palace was managing the particulars of the Queen’s current condition.
Commentators yesterday were queuing up to take to the airwaves and social media to question the palace over its approach.
Even Nicholas Witchell, veteran royal correspondent of the BBC and one of the Corporation’s most respected voices, was moved to observe: ‘We weren’t given the complete picture.’
Witchell added: ‘The problem, it seems to me, is that rumour and misinformation always thrives in the absence of proper, accurate and trustworthy information.’
The Queen at a reception for the Global Investment Summit in Windsor Castle, October 19, 2021
It is understood the trip to the private King Edward VII's Hospital in London (pictured) on Wednesday afternoon was expected to be for a short stay for some 'preliminary investigations'
It is clear the palace wanted to protect the Queen’s right to patient confidentiality.
At the same time, it did not want to trigger a frenzy of TV cameras and photographers pitching camp outside the hospital with all the inconvenience and intrusions to the comings and goings of both staff and other patients.
There might have been security concerns too.
But not telling the whole story is a dangerous strategy. It recalls the similarly misleading communications put out by royal officials at the time of the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan’s son Archie two years ago, when a statement that the Duchess of Sussex had gone into labour was circulated eight hours after she had actually given birth.
Doubtless, many will say that the palace was right to shield the Queen from the inevitable scrum of publicity and that the ensuing argument is both petty and inconsequential.
But I would contend that the issue here is a matter of trust. And anything less than truthful eats away at that trust.
The Queen (right with Boris Johnson) at a reception for the Global Investment Summit in Windsor Castle, October 19, 2021
If the media – and therefore the public – cannot rely on the Royal Household to be straightforward, there will be increased concern about the Queen’s health going forward.
When Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 last year, the media was rightly briefed about the Prime Minister’s condition.
What the palace failed to take into account with their game plan was that potentially dozens of staff at the hospital and at Windsor Castle would have known that the reports broadcast by the BBC and elsewhere were wrong.
One of the reasons that Prince Philip stepped back from royal duties at the age of 96 was because he didn’t want the palace putting out regular bulletins about the state of his health if he didn’t feel up to doing an engagement on a particular day.
He found the whole brouhaha that went with updates about his wellbeing a ‘bloody intrusion’. The Queen as monarch and head of state does not have that option.
She has enjoyed the most extraordinary good health over near seven decades on the throne, but inevitably, as she ages, the Queen is not immune to bouts of illness. Only last week she was photographed using a walking stick for the first time in public.
Unlike the Queen Mother who refused to be seen even wearing glasses, her daughter has always accepted the ageing process gracefully. For example, at 64 she stopped dyeing her hair, allowing it first to go grey and now white.
The Queen arriving to attend the ceremonial opening of the sixth Senedd, in Cardiff, Wales on October 14, 2021
But while there will always be widespread alarm when the Queen is admitted to hospital, I would contend that concern would be greater if the public were not informed when the true picture inevitably emerged.
Last year questions were asked when it was claimed that Prince William had contracted Covid-19 at the same time as the Prince of Wales. Royal officials denied it only for William, some months later, to confirm that he had indeed had the illness.
While the privacy argument can be deployed for other members of the Royal Family, it has to be weighed very carefully in order to maintain public confidence when it comes to the monarch.
Twenty-two years ago, Prince Andrew – in an unguarded moment – suggested that Buckingham Palace had been lying to the media for years.
At a reception for journalists he said: ‘You [the Press] cannot believe you are being told the truth, because for the last 20 years you probably haven’t.’ Comparing the palace machine to the Soviet-era regime, Andrew said: ‘It was like Russia.’
Anyone who reported on the Charles and Diana marriage saga, as I did for this newspaper, will have memories of the countless denials from smooth-talking royal apparatchiks of stories that turned out to be true.
No one is suggesting that the modern palace has returned to those ancient practices, and anyway tittle-tattle about the Prince and Princess of Wales is hardly of the same importance as the health of the monarch.
But there is a sacred trust between our anointed Queen and her people.
However well-intentioned, it must not be compromised by half-truths and evasions.