You would have had to have spent the last week in a different galaxy far away not to have heard about the statement released by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex last week concerning their future roles within or without the Royal Family. Everyone has an opinion. Is Meghan calling the shots? Is Harry so badly traumatised with PTSD from the death of his mother that he can not allow the same situation to develop with his wife? Are they both just arrogant and spoilt? The newspapers have been full of so-called Palace inside gossip; telling us that the Queen is hurt, Prince Philip is spitting feathers, Prince Charles is angry, and Prince William is distraught at losing his close relationship with his brother. But are any of these morsels of gossip really true? I never believe anything that comes from an unnamed source. At the end of the day, many of these tabloid newspapers are more concerned with making money than adhering to the truth. None of us know what really goes on behind closed doors and neither do any of us know the relationship dynamic between Meghan and Harry and the rest of the Royal Family. We can only base any judgement on the facts.
Prince Harry lost his mother at the age of twelve. Everyone reacts to grief in different ways. Children often react belatedly to the death of someone close. However, no one can doubt that the death of their mother would have had a monumental impact on both William and Harry. Her death and her absence will be with them throughout their lives; not just at the moments of intense happiness, but at times of abject fear and sadness. On a recent tour of Africa, Harry stated that he found it difficult to deal with the paparazzi, since he feels that they are in part guilty of contributing to his mother’s premature death. “I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum.” He told an ITV reporter. No one can doubt that his recent actions in suing newspapers and in stating that he is withdrawing from public life, have much to do with what happened to his mother and his need to protect his new family.
In the past two years, Harry’s wife, Meghan, has had to cope with an endless stream of lifestyle changes from moving and adapting to a new country, a wedding watched by millions worldwide, marriage, being apart from her mother, a new job, pregnancy, and childbirth and then a baby. We should not forget that Meghan and Harry have only recently become parents. When a couple become parents, their relationship dynamic changes along with their view on life. Suddenly things that used to matter lose importance and vice versa. Parenthood is challenging, however joyous you may find it. I can remember my own struggles after giving birth. No one should ever judge a new parent because we do not know what he or she is dealing with; whether it be sleepless nights, inability to adapt to a new family dynamic or even post-natal depression or birth trauma. On top of all of this, as a Public figure she has had to deal with the scrutiny of the press.
The Press seem to have changed their attitude towards Meghan. In the beginning there was much delight at Harry finally settling down. He and Meghan appeared to be very much in love. They were very tactile in public, which, although not the norm in the Royal Family, was refreshing for the Public to see. Here was a Prince, who had chosen his bride for all the right reasons. Here was a woman, who seemed strong and in control of her life. She was intelligent and appeared to be aware of what marriage to a Senior member of the Royal Family involved. Harry and Meghan’s wedding in May 2018 was a spectacular event which couldn’t fail to move even the coldest heart. It was dignified and simple. Yet already there had been troubling stories suggesting that the media was intruding a little too much. Meghan’s father attempted to sell staged photographs of himself in an internet café looking at images of his daughter prior to the wedding. Meghan’s half-sister, Samantha, was suddenly appearing on many mainstream news shows declaring how Meghan had cut off or ‘ghosted’ her family. At the time, it appeared that Meghan had managed to weather the storm. Neither her father nor any other members of her family were present at the wedding apart from her mother, who seemed incredibly gracious throughout.
Since the wedding, stories have started to appear in the media attempting to present Meghan in the worst possible light. There were criticisms over how she held her baby son at a polo match, descriptions of their son having ‘crossed-eyes’, accusations of making the Duchess of Cambridge cry at a bridesmaid dress fitting for Princess Charlotte, accusations of Meghan being a social climber, racist posts about her mother’s background, criticism of Meghan touching her pregnancy bump, her fashion choices being ‘vulgar’ and so on. Not to mention reports of staff being sacked because of Meghan’s supposed difficult behaviour and her misuse of tax payer’s money by furnishing Frogmore Cottage with a copper bath costing over five thousand pounds. These stories are not news. They are blatant examples of the media attempting to manipulate people’s perceptions of the Duchess by portraying her as a demanding and controlling diva. The court documentation regarding the Duchess of Sussex suing the Daily Mail makes for uncomfortable reading. The answer for Meghan and Harry may be quite simply to avoid reading these newspapers and ignore what is being said. However, if you are facing a bombardment of abuse and unsolicited intrusion of photographers into your life on a daily basis, is it really possible to escape it so easily?
Of course, there are two sides to this story. The life of a member of the Royal family is undoubtedly one of luxury and unparalleled privilege. They have access to the best in life and who wouldn’t want to be offered the most expensive clothes to wear or the home of a billionaire to stay in or a private jet to fly in? In return the Royal family support the Queen by undertaking engagements. Whilst none of these engagements are particularly taxing, they do require considerable skills of patience, an ability to communicate and show interest in even the most boring and drawn-out events. Meghan has been interested in humanitarian work for many years and thus isn’t this the perfect opportunity for her to use her interest in helping women and girls and the charities that interest her most?
In some ways, Meghan may feel that she is in the minority and the media are choosing to pick on her because she is American. However, just about every member of the Royal family has been subject to intense interest over the years. In February 1923, when Princess Mary was about to give birth to her first child, the media would disguise themselves as delivery men to try and get into her London home, Chesterfield House and discover as much as they could about the impending birth. Her son, George, was christened at Goldsborough Church in March 1923. The then King and Queen, King George V and Queen Mary attended. People were standing on rooftops to catch a glimpse of the Royal Family. Originally the intention had been to leave the church through the back exit. However, George V realised that the Public had come from throughout Yorkshire to witness the occasion, and so he decided at the last minute to walk through the village. Admittedly during this time, the Media had a much more deferential attitude towards the Royal family but in many ways, public scrutiny was far more intense. It was imperative for the Royal Family to be seen and to act well.
Whilst researching and writing my book on Princess Mary, it was apparent that people had made false comments about Mary. Over the years, these had snowballed and had grown into huge untruths. Much of these originated in gossip or tittle-tattle and concerned her private life. Yet Mary came from that background which took as their maxim, “never complain, never explain.” In short, it was best not to enter into any debate with anyone. Mary just carried on with her royal duties without complaint. Perhaps the belief then was that if you fed the machine of the media then it would develop into an insurmountable beast?
In the same way, most members of the Royal Family have at some point been subjected to ridiculous gossip. Seemingly, no one is immune. There have been stories concerning rumours of Prince Philip’s friendships with other women. The now, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge was also subject to intense media scrutiny when she became a girlfriend of Prince William. For many years she was nicknamed “Waity Katie” with the implication that she was forever waiting for a marriage proposal from Prince William. Her mother had once been an airhostess and was given the moniker, “Doors to Manual” not to mention the black sheep of her family, Uncle Gary Goldsmith, who was allegedly caught by the News of the World taking cocaine in his Ibiza home named La Maison de Bang Bang. Is this though, any justification for such press treatment to continue? Our family’s behaviour is not something we can control, nor is it something that we should necessarily be blamed for.
Harry and Meghan might be subject to intense press speculation now, but as the children of Prince William grow then this focus will shift to younger members of the family. Harry is after all now only sixth in line to the throne. The time will come, as it has with the children of the Queen, when his role will diminish. There were reports that Harry and Meghan were upset by the release of a photograph showing the Monarch and the next three heirs to the throne. It seems highly unlikely that such a photo would upset Harry, since he has always been aware of his role within the family. Likewise, Prince Charles has never failed to express his belief that the royal family needs to adapt and change for the modern world by becoming much smaller. This is something that is also happening in other European monarchies. There are several less well-known members of the Royal Family who continue to carry out some duties such as Princess Alexandra and the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester. However, these minor members of the family are now in their seventies and eighties and when they die, it is unlikely that they will be replaced.
At the moment it is not quite clear how Harry and Meghan plan to move forward. We can only wait and see. There are examples of when a life away from the Royal Family and Public Life has worked out well. The children of Princess Anne have never been given titles. Both Peter and Zara have gone on to live relatively normal lives, albeit with considerable privilege. Both appear to be well respected by the Public and by the media for forging their own lives and earning their own money. They also both take part in Royal Public occasions from time to time. Both have been subject to unnecessary media attention at times and have managed to ride the storm. Zara and Peter have always lived like this and know no other life. Perhaps that is why they have been able to build a way of life away from the Royal Family so successfully? Furthermore, could it be Zara and Peter’s model that has inspired Harry and Meghan in their decision?
On the other hand, a life in exile from the Royal Family does not always turn out favourably. Edward VIII, much like Harry, had immense charisma and popularity with his people. When he abdicated in 1936, to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson, he always assumed that his period in exile would be temporary. However, this was not the case. There was something so inherently tragic and sorrowful about his years spent in exile, even though it was within considerable luxury. Days had little purpose, apart from endless entertaining and partying. When the couple were later interviewed on television and asked if they regretted anything about their lives, they may have claimed this was not the case, but the look on their faces belied their true sentiments.
The fact remains that no matter where Harry and Meghan go, they would be naïve to think that they will evade press interest if they leave the country. There really will be very little chance of them leading a truly private life unless they go into hiding. At the moment they are unable to make money from their charitable work and it might be considered commendable that they have expressed a desire to be financially independent. Presumably they would need to strike commercial deals under the Royal Sussex brand. How can they do this without it leading to conflicts of interest and accusations of cashing-in on their royal name? In the 1950s, the Duke of Windsor received a great deal of money from publishing his autobiography entitled “A King’s Story”. His wife, the Duchess of Windsor also published her memoirs. Even though the books were heavily ghost-written and quite sanitised, they were both accused of cashing in and widely criticised. Prince Andrew’s former wife, Sarah the Duchess of York, has also been condemned for selling her memoirs and for appearing on a shopping channel selling diet products and hair appliances. The Queen’s daughter-in-law, Sophie Wessex attempted for a while to continue her PR firm after her marriage. She was caught out as part of a tabloid sting making disparaging remarks about other Royal Family members. There are so many pitfalls that can arise from commercial ventures.
What is then the answer to all of this? Ideally there needs to be some way of controlling the relentless pursuit of some members of the Royal Family and the never-ending tittle tattle and gossip published about them in the Media. Yet any form of control would undoubtedly invoke concerns over press freedom and right to free speech. The media world is expanding so rapidly with social media that it would be virtually impossible to put into place any system for regulation.
The Queen, with her exemplary record of duty and service, will no doubt be the best person to come up with a workable solution to the problem. We need to put our trust in her as we have done for the past 68 years. She may be our sovereign, but she is also a mother and a grandmother. The way in which the news was released as a fait accompli on Instagram did appear to show a lack of respect for the Queen as both a monarch and a Grandmother. However, ultimately, Harry and Meghan want to protect their family and ensure that the mistakes from the past are not repeated. Thus, their statement came from a sense of wanting to do what is best to protect their marriage and child. We should applaud them for showing willingness to persevere rather than simply give up. If this had happened within your own family, you would want private time away for reflection over the best way forward. Whatever transpires in the next few days, we need to give the couple and the Royal Family time to resolve this issue. If there was ever a more appropriate time for the press to back off, then it is now. Sadly, I do not think there is even a remote possibility that they will.