A YOUNG black woman called Lola Olufemi found herself written up in the newspaper headlines last autumn. Her unhappy exposure finds echoes in the attention being lavished on a slightly older, but still young, woman of mixed racial background.
The link isn’t so much with Meghan Markle, although there are parallels, but with her previously unknown father.
To recap for a moment, Lola was one of a large group of Cambridge students who wrote an open letter criticising the lack of black and ethnic minority authors on the university’s English course.
Although this was a group effort, the Daily Telegraph chose to illustrate their story by using a large picture of Lola on its front page.
The paper also gave the misleading impression that she alone had been responsible for changing the syllabus, rather than being one of many students asking that such a change be considered (with support from many of their lecturers).
The Telegraph later apologised for misreporting the story, although not for singling out Lola on its front page. Lola later told BBC Woman’s Hour that the media had exposed her to a “very targeted form of harassment” after she was “flooded” with racist and sexist abuse.
Wearing my “somehow I ended up as a part-time journalism lecturer” hat, I used Lola’s experience for a session entitled: “What happens when you are sucked into the news.”
I have been reminded of this thanks to the unhappy fate of Thomas Markle, who is 72 and is reported to be a shy man. There has been a “will-he-won’t-he?” tussle in the headlines all this week, leading to yesterday’s announcement from Meghan Markle that her father won’t attend her wedding to Prince Harry.
Rather remarkably, the Sun has managed to splash on this previously unknown American man for four days in a row. Today’s edition has the headline: “I’m sad about Dad.” This is a reference to the personal statement from Meghan confirming that her father won’t walk her down the aisle at Windsor register office (or wherever).
Royal news tends to be fluff and rumour, or tedious protocol, dressed up in words that say nothing. You see this on the BBC news when Nicholas Witchell pops out of his burrow to witter meaninglessly about the latest royal story. He never looks happy in his work, blinking away like a ferret with nothing to get his teeth into, and who can blame him
My own reaction to the Timothy Markell story has been to wonder why they can’t leave the poor man alone. Sadly, he’s been sucked into the news and will not be pulled free from that wordy quagmire for a while yet, if ever.
In case any of my three read today’s blog, here is a heartfelt message: please don’t marry a royal. I don’t want to be ‘papped’ losing my temper on the squash court, looking sweaty on an achy-kneed run or dozing on the sofa.
Tomorrow I will be driving to work when the wedding takes place. I’d much rather not work every Saturday, but perhaps for once this is an advantage.
Charles and Diana married on a Wednesday in July 1981. Street parties were held and, as a young reporter, I had to traipse round a few in south-east London.
I wasn’t interested in royal weddings then and I am not now. Grumble duly delivered, it is fair to say that Meghan Markle is an interesting woman to be marrying into the Windsor clan. As much commented on, she is a mixed-race, divorced American actor with strong views on feminism and other mutters not much mumbled about in royal circles.
At a time then Britain is stumbling towards a departure from Europe that was, in truth, a coded and dishonest vote on immigration, here is one high-profile immigrant we should welcome.
Even this non-royal watcher must admit that Meghan Markle has a bit more about her than the usual royal bride. I hope her big day goes well, although I can’t promise to pay attention when Nicholas Witchell again comes blinking into the daylight.