There’s a reason, perhaps, that the Royals wryly refer to themselves as “The Firm.” It’s not just a joke about them being a hierarchical institution, like any other corporation. It’s also an accurate self-description: they are the ones, after all, who shall remain implacable in public, like set concrete, no matter what the scandal, disaster or controversy.
Back in 1969, the Royal Family commissioned a TV documentary film be made to show the ordinary lives of the monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, Anne, Charles and all the rest sitting down for lunch, watching the telly and such. It was meant to show the Royals as normal, everyday folks, during a time of intense economic struggle and political strife. It was meant to soften their image.
The Royal Family special aired on the BBC exactly one time. And was then shelved forever. While the public loved it, and it lifted public approval of the royals, the family itself hated it. Apparently, being too “normal” was considered as bad as being too “different” and out of touch.
And so last week we had the feverish buildup to Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, with anticipation as frenzied as any Super Bowl teaser. Online chatter was fierce, for and against, and preemptive stories leaked in the UK press about Meghan “bullying” Buckingham Palace staff.
Across the pond, James Corden — the kinder, gentler face of Britain’s celeb gossip machinery — had worked days before to humanize Harry by picking him up in a Hollywood tour bus, asking him about the difficulties of “stepping back” from the Royal Family and living under the British press (Harry calls The Crown “fictional,” while what he and Meghan are going through is “fact.”)
Then came the much-anticipated two-hour broadcast with Oprah, who apparently lives nearby the Sussexes’ $14 million estate in Southern California. (She clarified no money was paid for the interview.)
It was jaw-dropping. Truth grenades were hurled. But as you’d imagine, the revelations only intensified a swirling brew of controversy.
Here are four highlights:
Archie was denied a title, and Harry and Meghan were denied security.
We learn that Meghan and Harry were told their first child, Archie, would have no title (due to his place in the line of succession), and therefore no royal security protection. This was a non-starter for the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and one of the reasons, they admit, for stepping back from Palace duties — which itself meant they would no longer any receive any personal security.
Oh, and Harry revealed he’d been “cut off” by the Palace from any financial support (fortunately, his mom Diana had left both sons a tidy inheritance).
On a positive note, Meghan is now expecting their second child (it’s a girl!), and Oprah gently suggested their situation now — ensconced in Southern California with hired 24/7 security protection and several Spotify and Netflix deals in the pipeline — is a kind of “happy ending.”
Er, not really. Maybe it’s more like a fresh start. And it’s a bit ironic bringing up fairy tales, given Princess Diana’s celebrated TV interview decades ago in which she summed up her royal marriage with “the fairytale had come to an end.” But this is California, so… onward and upward!
Meghan felt suicidal during her first pregnancy.
Besieged by nasty press, and newly pregnant, we learn that the Duchess of Sussex felt there was nowhere to turn for emotional help. She notes that as soon as you join “the institution” (as it’s also called), “they take away your passport, your car keys, your driver’s license.” Sounds like a Scientology retreat, or a Tom Cruise thriller based on a John Grisham book.
When Meghan grew “lonelier” inside the Palace and needed to talk with someone, she was reportedly told not to go out due to ”oversaturation” in the media. (She likens it to being under “lockdown.”)
We hear she visited Buckingham Palace Human Resources (yes, such a thing exists), fearing her condition was growing “un-survivable,” and was told they couldn’t help her because she wasn’t a “paid employee of the institution.”
In short, she felt any support she’d been “promised” before marrying was quickly replaced by a tight-lipped suggestion from middle-management types that she just “accept” things and get on with it. (This definitely scans. The scene as described by Meghan can’t help reminding viewers of Diana’s plight in the last season of The Crown — which, of course, Harry will remind us is “fiction.”)
Someone’s a racist.
Meghan’s already complicated position in The Firm was amplified by her race. Of course, there was already scuttlebutt before their wedding, with Brexit voices and the media going full-throated, but Meghan spills the tea that Harry was told by someone inside of “concerns” about the color of their first child’s skin. (Oprah later clarified the comments didn’t come from the Queen or Prince Philip.)
Context might be important — was the unnamed family member making an off-color joke? Or just flat-out racist? — but given Harry’s expression while retelling the incident, it seems they both took it pretty seriously.
One would think an actress would know how to research for one of the most important roles of her life (and yes, they both regard royal responsibilities as ‘a role’ – one involving smiling and waving.
The weird “contract” with the British press.
In the UK, the Fourth Estate is aptly named. They hold such power over the ongoing monarchy experiment (and its built-in insecurity issues) that Harry refers to an “invisible contract” with the tabloid press. If you wine and dine the media, give them access and junkets, you get better press. Otherwise, it’s a bloodbath.
He describes it as “a level of control by fear that’s existed for generations,” but possibly jacked up to absurd, ugly levels when you add in race. Rather than a “symbiotic” relationship, it just seems like the royals are ruled by a fear of bad press.
This view gains ground when we learn that Harry and Meghan, after leaving England to do Commonwealth work in Canada, were not only denied security protection, but their address and location was leaked to the Daily Mail, adding to the death threats.
Despite all these truth bombs, there are some peculiar aspects to the Meghan-Harry story. Before marrying into one of the most eyeball-grabbing families in human history, Meghan claims she was blissfully unaware of what royal marriage actually entailed; she didn’t know how to curtsy (had to Google it), never thought to ask what her duties or responsibilities would be, or question Harry about life during his mother’s ordeal, and whether this might make living in Buckingham Palace a bit, um, challenging.
The expression “Caveat emptor” (“Let the buyer beware”) comes to mind. One would think an actress would know how to research for one of the most important roles of her life (and yes, they both regard royal responsibilities as “a role,” one involving smiling and waving).
Harry, for his part, seems to literally become “woke” to the reality of being “trapped” inside his Palace role late in the game, perhaps seeing it all through Meghan’s eyes. Love will do that. (Harry: “I was trapped but I didn’t know I was trapped within the system, like the rest of my family are. My father and my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave and I have huge compassion for that.”)
One touching revelation is that Harry and Meghan actually got married privately days before the big live St. George’s Chapel wedding broadcast — a way of exerting a measure of control over their lives before it was snatched away forever, we suppose.
But an even more telling moment, akin to Diana’s “fairytale” comment decades before, comes during Meghan’s Palace misery, when she recalls watching a video of The Little Mermaid and fighting back tears as she realizes — too late! — that falling in love with the prince leads Ariel to lose her voice. Turns out those Disney Princess stories had more than a kernel of truth in them after all.
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POSTSCRIPT: Since the Oprah interview aired, the Queen has signed off on a short statement that may be as far as the Palace ever goes in sounding a conciliatory tone. Here it is in full:
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
Meanwhile, after 41,000 complaints rolled into ITN News following Good Morning Britain co-host Piers Morgan declaring he “didn’t believe a word” of Meghan’s interview, he has parted ways with the show. Guess we know which team he’s on.
For their part, Palace insiders claim Prince William and Charles are “livid” about the interview, which will no doubt entail quite a bit of public relations cleanup on Aisle 9.
Meanwhile, Good Morning Britain co-host Piers Morgan quit the show and ITN network after 41,000 complaints rolled into the station following his on-air comment that he “wouldn’t believe (Meghan) if she read me the weather report.” Turns out, according to Slate.com’s timeline, Morgan may have been miffed about not being invited to the Harry-Meghan royal wedding. Or maybe he’s just an a-hole.
Banner and thumbnail caption : A royal headache: The Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan was a huge ratings grabber, and will no doubt lead to months of media- and monarchy-churning. (Photo from CBS)