Tiaras, Toe-sucking & Squidgy: How British Media Took Over the World

Illustration for article titled Tiaras, Toe-sucking  Squidgy: How British Media Took Over the World

The British Isles have brought many innovations into the world: tea time, reality TV singing competitions, imperialism. And, of course, scandal. Between inventing and refining the art of tabloid journalism, and providing homegrown material for the papers in the form of the royal family, it's clear that the British have a knack for gossip.


But while the latest generation of royals continues to make headlines, it's been awhile since there's been a truly juicy scandal from Buckingham Palace. Luckily, this problem is soon to be rectified: E!'s The Royals premieres March 9th at 10/9C, and promises glamour, gossip, and lots of tiaras. To get ready, here's a primer on the history of royals in the tabloids.

The Birth of the British Tabloid

Despite a reputation for prudishness, British Victorians didn't want to just read the news. They wanted it delivered as entertainment, and The News of the World, perhaps the world's first and most important tabloid, provided them with exactly that. From its first edition in 1843 — which ran with a headline that trumpeted "An Extraordinary Case of Drugging and Violation," and recounted the tale of a pharmacist who was doped, murdered, and dumped into the Thames — the paper made a specialty out of turning imbroglio into income.


Although The News of the World was mastering the art of the splashy headline from the beginning, the term "tabloid" wasn't coined until later, around the end of the 19th century, when the pharmaceutical outfit Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. began using it as a marketing term for pills sold in a compressed form. By 1898 the word had made its way into casual parlance to mean a compressed form of just about anything, and a few years later, in 1901, it was being used specifically in reference to journalism, as slang for short, punchy news stories that boiled subject matter down to the barest and most easily digested essentials. News of the World imitators proliferated both in the UK and around the world, and a tradition was born.

If the royal family wasn't scared yet, it may have just been a lack of foresight.


The Royal '90s

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. And with good reason: with the public's thirst to see the mighty humbled, and the royals' seeming eagerness to humble themselves in spectacular fashion, Buckingham Palace and its inhabitants have always been the juiciest source of material for the tabloids — usually to the chagrin of the Queen and her extended, misbehaving brood.


The early 1990's were perhaps the Golden Age of royal scandal. From the Daily Mirror's publication of photos the Duchess of York, Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson, relaxing topless in the South of France whilst having her toes suckled by American financial adviser, to the notorious "Squidgygate tapes," which revealed recordings of Princess Diana in conversation with a paramour who referred to her 53 times with the stomach-turning pet name of "Squidgy," the royal scandals kept coming. This trend may have reached its peak in 1993, when the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People printed transcripts of Prince Charles revealing his erotic desire to be reincarnated as his mistress's tampon, leaving the world shaking its head in disgust while simultaneously lapping up every juicy detail.

Gossip Grows Up

After the tragic 1997 death of Princess Diana, things quieted down considerably for the royals, and although tabloids continued to report eagerly on their doings, true scandals of Squidgygate caliber became few and far between.


It was only Prince Harry's messy post-adolescent hijinks that continued to provide grist for the mill. In 2005, The Sun released photos of hunky Harry costumed as a German Afrika Korps trooper — complete with a swastika on his arm — to loud disgust. Later, in 2012, the youngest prince (and his privates) made the papers again, when The Sun published photos of an undressed Harry partying in Vegas while cupping his crown jewels. The headline, naturally, read HEIR IT IS!

For the most part, though, the royals of the 21st century have kept it classy: Prince William's courtship and marriage to Kate Middleton had none of the messiness the world had come to expect from the previous generation of monarchy, and Fleet Street has been forced to spin what material it can from the entertaining but relatively tame antics of Middleton's sister Pippa.


Thankfully, there's a new, modern royal family ready to fill the void. E!'s The Royals chronicles the fictional exploits, political machinations and drama-packed personal lives of Queen Helena, Princess Eleanor, and Prince Liam, along with their network of lovers, enemies and family members. Monarchy has never looked so good — or so scandalous. Brew yourself a spot of tea, fire up the telly and get ready for royalty to reign once again when you tune in to The Royals on Sunday, March 15, at 10/9c on E!.

Misti Traya is a writer and actress living in London. Her recipes and ramblings can be found at Chagrinnamon Toast.


This post is a sponsored collaboration between E! and Studio@Gawker.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter