MICHAEL USHER: Photoshop fails are for the common folk. Not for a future queen

Michael Usher
The Nightly
5 Min Read
The gilded wheels of the royal carriage have fallen off
The gilded wheels of the royal carriage have fallen off Credit: William Pearce

The gilded wheels of the royal carriage have fallen off. And I’d argue it’s the ailing King who’s thrown a sceptre in the spokes, long before he and Princess Catherine faced quite serious health issues.

In Charles’ determined plan to make the family less feudal and more frugal, he’s exposed them all to stupid mistakes. The Queen’s machine was well oiled and didn’t break down. Not often anyway. If it did, there was seamless continuation. On the balcony, so to speak, the show went on even though behind the red velvet curtain, there may have been problems in the Palace.

But the King’s machine hasn’t yet worked out whether it’s a sturdy Bentley V8, hybrid or fully electric. His frugality is fraught as Princess Catherine suffered this week. No multi-billion company — which the royal household is — lets a social media post slips past without an eagle-eyed social media and communications team scrutinising every pixel.

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Master investor Warren Buffet messages his company rarely but when he does it’s one simple message. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, it takes five minutes to ruin it.” In the royal family’s case, they’re burdened with centuries of reputation, but in this supersonic social media age it can take seconds for a single frame of a photo to be digitally sand-blasted. Amateur blemishes are exposed, reputations tarnished.

FILE - Britain's King Charles III attends a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. King Charles III was in hospital to receive treatment for an enlarged prostate. Britain's prime minister says King Charles III’s cancer was caught early and the whole country is hoping for a speedy recovery. The remarks came as the monarch’s son Prince Harry reportedly flew from the U.S. to visit his father. Buckingham Palace announced Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 evening that the king has begun outpatient treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer.  ((Yoan Valat, Pool via AP, File)
King Charleshas stripped and centralised the finances and approved members of the royal family. Credit: Yoan Valat/AP

Charles has stripped and centralised the finances and approved members of the royal family. It is now a relatively small and tight circle of working royals. It makes sense in these times and was a long overdue move. To the British taxpayers who fund their public duties, it also made sense. But it’s come at a price. There is growing commentary in the United Kingdom that a home-spun, normalised royal family is not what they want. Stay on the pedestal, be something we’re not, dress up, show up, wear the jewels, be shiny, be British — would seem to be the theme. Don’t do dumb stuff in regular everyday ways that we can all do way too easily.

Kate’s love of photography over the years has been an admirable passion. Wonderful family portraits taken in relaxed, happy places. No Vogue photographer, no intrusion for her children. Perfect, except for this week. She is clearly not well enough to face the public according to the brief statements from Kensington Palace. But with Mother’s Day in the UK, there was a pinch point. An image had to be released. To not do so would have created fever pitch conspiracy theories about the Princess’ health.

But where in the royal machine was the social media savvy gen Z type who either knew how to Photoshop properly, or know that any ham-fisted attempt would be picked up immediately? More the point, where was the wise head within the King’s office who pointed to a clear, needed policy that “we” don’t trick up photos? If there wasn’t that policy already, you can bet there is one now.

I like the heritage of the monarchy, but an Australian republic will be an important and overdue step for us all.

The very thing the royal family was trying to avoid, it created. An own goal of bad headlines and even wilder conspiracies. And poor Kate is thrown under the bus with a personal public apology. And now we read that it’s all left her in a fragile state of mind. She is, in my opinion, the superstar of the royal family. She already was but became so impressively regal and dignified during the mourning of the Queen. And here she is personally apologising without a line of support from her Prince. And for that, William just doesn’t look complete on his recent solo outings.

Prince William just doesn’t look complete on his recent solo outings. 
Prince William just doesn’t look complete on his recent solo outings.  Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Standing alongside his stepmother Camilla in Westminster Abbey for Commonwealth Day ceremonies, something was not right. No King, no Kate. Now, their absence for health is sad and understandable. It is a terrible time for them. But my point is there wouldn’t be any further unnecessary analysis of the royals if a Photoshop fail hadn’t so quickly pulled the thread on the royal standard. Homespun spin on a family photo, has tarnished decades of professional polish.

The family’s current challenges aren’t just tabloid kibble, they nourish a bigger a debate here in Australia. And it’s a serious debate that will in a very short amount of time I would think, bring us all to the crossroads again of gripping the wheel and steering straight ahead on the current republic right of way or turning onto a new monarchy motorway.

Poor Kate has been thrown under the bus with a personal public apology.
Poor Kate has been thrown under the bus with a personal public apology. Credit: Aaron Chown/AP

I’ll declare a position. If it is a position, although I think I sit with the passable majority of Australians on this. A fan of the late Queen, not a fan of the extended family — or some of them anyway. I like the pageantry, don’t like their irrelevance to modern Australia. I love history so by virtue of that, have and will always enjoy what the royal family means to the rich cultural, political and religious history of English and Commonwealth history. And that’s a spectrum of very good and very bad deeds. Although I doubt my convict stock would be so kind to acknowledge any goodness in the three kings and one queen who reigned during the eight decades of penal banishment to Australia.

In short — I like the heritage of the monarchy, but an Australian republic will be an important and overdue step for us all. On so many levels.

Is a Photoshop fail going to speed that up? Well, it does. Of itself, no big crime. I’ve tricked up photos to make me look better. Nicer light, bit of a tan, a few less shadows. But I wouldn’t try to mess with the composition of a photo. That still seems a strange to do if I’m honest.

But for the point of this piece, Photoshop fails are for the common folk, for the fakes and the influencers. Not for a future queen. Be royal, be lofty, be above all this down here. We’re mucking it up quite well, we don’t need you being normal because we’re doing that quite well.

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