Adding to the 56 million articles already published about Prince Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview may seem a fool’s errand: another scribbler has already noted that of 31 stories on the website of the British tabloid, The Mirror, at some point in the last 48 hours, 30 were about the Sussexes and the 31st was about something similar. But this is a developing story.
For a moment it seemed like just another Royals frenzy, but an accusation of racism at the Palace has turned the Sussexes’ Royal woes into something much more serious. In the uproar, Meghan’s other problems with the Royal household have been eclipsed.
Royalty has always presented itself as glamorous and powerful, but on the inside life is tough and individuals relatively powerless. Think of the first five wives of Henry VIII. Though execution for failing to live up to expectations has fallen out of fashion, being a British Royal is still very demanding. Not everyone is cut out for a life of relentless ribbon-cutting and speeches, or tours to culturally diverse parts of the Commonwealth.
It’s easier if you are born to it.
Coming into the British Royal family from the free, it’s all-about-me world is very, very hard. So Meghan Markle has discovered by marrying into the Mountbatten-Windsor clan, apparently without doing any homework whatsoever. In the famous tell-all interview she revealed that, five minutes before she met the Queen for the first time, she did not know how and when to curtsey. She could not even sing the British national anthem (which is “God Save the Queen”).
Much less was she prepared for the loss of freedom and privacy that joining an institution like the British monarchy entails, in particular its delicately-balanced relationship with the nation’s tabloid press.
Though her friends warned her, the savagery of that institution seems to have hit her like a ton of bricks. As an exotic newcomer with a past, Meghan was bound to attract a lot of attention, but the press and social media seemed to really have it in for her.
The last straw was the Daily Mail’s publication in February 2019 of a plaintive letter to her estranged father Thomas Markle that she had written after her wedding the previous May — which he had sold to the paper. Last month the Sussexes won a lawsuit against the Mail’s owners for breach of privacy and copyright. (The paper’s campaign against them continues: “Back to Basics at their $14.5 Million Mansion!” runs a recent headline.)
What they have not won, according to the Oprah interview, is any protection by the Royal household from ongoing media harassment, or rebuttals of fake news about her and Harry. Meghan was pregnant with their son Archie when the Thomas Markle letter was published and says she became suicidal when she failed to get any support from the institution other than from Harry, who was equally “trapped”. When she asked for inpatient care for her mental health, she was told that would not be good for the institution.
Harry insists in the interview that Meghan is great for the institution, “one of the greatest assets to the Commonwealth that the family could have ever wished for.” He points to the success of their tour of the South Pacific in October 2018, during which she revealed her pregnancy, but hints that her popularity in the former colonies raised the ghost of Diana in a similar setting and evoked jealousy back in the Palace.
A year later, on their visit to South Africa, Meghan would admit to a television reporter that life at home had been “um, hard.” Indeed, “unfair”. That did not go down well with The Firm.
Her most sensational claim, however, is about racism. Before little Archie came into the world looking nice and white, someone in the Royal household, she says, told Harry of “concerns” about the colour he might be. This is, of course, very damning, especially in the current climate of hysteria about racism. Harry refuses to say who made this blunder, though we are assured it was not the Queen, whom the couple insist they are on good terms with. In addition, Meghan learned that as a minor Royal, Archie would not have a title or security details.
On this showing – and we only have their story to go on – the Sussexes decision to “step back” from Royal duties and seek their fortune in Canada, then the United States, seems reasonable. If the Palace is as unfeeling and racist as they say, then good riddance.
Yet they seem to want reconciliation; after all, it is Harry’s family.
So why on earth rake over resentments in front of a global audience? Can it make the Palace repent? Not likely. Can it get the US media, at least, on their side. Perhaps. But, judging by commentaries on the interview so far, for every person who is sympathetic, there is at least one other who thinks it wrong to complain about your family in public. It did not help poor Diana.
In fact, the British Royal Family with its divorces and its major and minor scandals, like others, has been disintegrating before our eyes for decades, and the institution itself seems less and less relevant in a democratic age. Possibly the only reason the whole edifice hasn’t already collapsed is Queen Elizabeth herself, who embodies a moral sense and spirit of service that is simply disappearing from public life.
Anti-racism is the new morality, however, and one serves humanity by denouncing it wherever it is even suspected. Reactions over the past two days to the allegation that it is alive and well among the British Royals suggests that it may be a fatal blow to their institution. In polls, young Brits have given it the thumbs down and the Commonwealth is showing its colours.
A monarchy riddled with divorce and adultery is just like the rest of us, but one harbouring racists is beyond the pale. It’s looking more and more like Harry and Meghan have set fire to the house they deserted.