Unless you have been living in a cave devoid of all contact with the outside world this week, then you cannot fail to have noticed the huge furore over the interview which the Duke and (mainly the) Duchess of Sussex have given to Oprah Winfrey concerning their stepping down from being senior working members of the Royal Family. The programme is due to be aired in the US on Sunday evening and in the UK on ITV on Monday. Throughout this week some brief clips have been shown giving the impression that this will be an honest as well as probing and controversial interview. Meghan appears to sit rather regally with heavy eye make-up as she prepares to relate her tale of life with ‘The Firm.’
It would seem that just about everyone here in England and in the US has their own opinions and beliefs regarding what is fast becoming the television event of the year, if not the decade. The media have been churning out commentaries and articles at an alarming rate. It is as if they have almost negated to remember that we are still in the full grip of a world-wide pandemic. There have been sensationalist headlines stating that the Crown is facing a greater crisis than the Abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. Others have suggested that the revelations mean that the Duke and Duchess should lose their titles and position in the line of succession. With former employees of the Sussexes speaking to the Times about supposed bullying of staff by Meghan, there appears to be a war of words being waged. Accusations of bullying, racism, false narratives are being bandied about. Perhaps the only authentic truth is that this is an unholy mess; an airing of too much dirty linen, which in all honesty should have remained private.
So, what do I think about this situation? When Harry and Meghan announced their engagement, their happiness was infectious. Meghan appeared to be an intelligent woman with a social conscience, and she wanted to make a difference. Here was someone who seemed to be injecting some new blood into the Royal Family. I cannot say that I would fancy life in a goldfish bowl, but Meghan was fully cognisant of what she was buying into. With her background in the entertainment industry, she knew what the press were like and how intrusive they can be. Yet this was a true love match with a woman the complete antithesis of Harry’s mother on her wedding day, the naïve and virginal Diana. That union may have been beset with difficulties from the outset, but the initial signs were immensely positive for Harry and Meghan.
I can remember watching the wedding of Harry and Meghan in May 2018 and feeling as though the couple were spreading their happiness throughout the entire nation. To say it was uplifting is a vast understatement. Even anti-royalists could not help but agree that this was truly a day for immense celebration. I am not quite sure when it happened exactly, but after the initial honeymoon period, unpleasant rumours began to emerge in the press concerning Meghan and her supposed demanding nature. Some claimed that Meghan was being singled out because of her mixed race heritage. Whilst it is true that there was the odd racist story such as one depicting Meghan’s mother Dora as coming “straight outta Compton” an area known for its gang culture, this was not the case with many which were more based upon certain allegations of prima donna traits demonstrated by Meghan. It is a fact that pretty much everyone who has either married into the Royal Family or is a young adult member of the family, has been subject to such intense focus. Princess Mary, the Queen’s aunt, faced an immense barrage of press scrutiny when she first married. In fact, some of the press would dress up as delivery boys to try and enter her home at the time when she gave birth to her first son. Between 2004 and 2005, the current Duchess of Cambridge and her family were subject to phone hacking. The Duchess of Cambridge’s maternal uncle, Gary Goldsmith, was part of a News of the World investigation. I am not saying that this sort of intrusion by the Press is acceptable. It is not. However, Meghan is not alone in how she has been treated. The secret to dealing with this sort of pressure from the Press is not to respond. It must be ignored and eventually it will stop when the next new member of the family comes along. The maxim employed in the past of never complain and never explain really is the best way to deal with this.
The Press like to portray people in public life in binary terms; as good or bad. This is seldom true in real life because no one is either wholly good or bad. The Press have portrayed Meghan as a pantomime villain who happens to behave like a diva; and they have nicknamed her, Duchess Difficult. There are some sections of the media who are currently whipping this story up into a frenzy of nastiness. The way in which Piers Morgan seems to be taking it upon himself as the ultimate judge of Meghan because she happened to have ghosted him, is nothing short of disgusting.
Dealing with press intrusion is far from easy. We must not forget that Harry lost his mother at a young age and he must believe that press intrusion from paparazzi played a role in his mother’s premature death. He is to be admired for wanting to protect his wife and family. In a way I can understand his decision in January 2020 to step down as a senior royal and move away from England into a place where he can be afforded greater privacy. Some parts of the Press took this to mean that he and his wife wished to live a life of privacy. This was not the case, since they wished merely to choose which aspects of their life to put into the public arena. Yet I do not think that the way in which he did this is to be applauded. The Queen had welcomed Meghan into the Royal Family. In a break with tradition, Meghan was permitted to stay at Sandringham whilst engaged to Harry, something not afforded to the Duchess of Cambridge prior to her marriage to Prince William. Meghan’s mother was also invited to stay at Sandringham for Christmas 2018. The couple were given what they wanted in terms of a wedding and their marital home. They were permitted to keep certain aspects of their life private such as details concerning their son’s birth, their son’s godparents and they were permitted not to give their child a royal title.
The role of the Royal Family is to support the Queen in her work. The Queen has always been particularly proud of the Commonwealth; an organisation of 54 independent and equal countries. As a gesture of her belief in the good work the couple could achieve, the Queen generously created Meghan Vice President of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust to highlight the Trust’s partnerships with young people, especially women and girls. Prince Harry was given the role of Commonwealth Youth Ambassador, That is why I believe that the manner in which Harry and Meghan announced their stepping away from the Royal Family was so deeply disrespectful to the Queen, who had tried to provide a worthwhile role for both the Duke and Duchess. Today the Queen in her Commonwealth message spoke of a selfless dedication to duty. It has been her selfless dedication to duty which has characterised her reign of nearly 70 years. Her husband, Prince Phillip has been her strength and stay for over 70 years. The Queen and Prince Philip are also Harry’s grandparents. They deserved more than to be informed of the Duke and Duchess’s decision by means of Instagram and the couple’s website.
Similarly, I do feel that the timing of this interview with Oprah is more than a little unfortunate. Prince Philip has been unwell and recently underwent a heart operation. He is now 99 years of age. Inevitably the Queen and other members of the family are concerned about his health. The Queen does not need to have additional worry at this time and neither does Prince Philip. We are also still going through a pandemic. Many people have lost loved ones or faced financial difficulties from losing work. We have just gone through a harsh winter. Seeing Harry and Meghan in the opulent surroundings of their Californian mansion with sunny and warm skies declaring how unsurvivable their life was, is wholly inappropriate and could be considered rather untimely not to mention insensitive. It is not as though their life was as difficult as some of the NHS doctors and nurses who have been desperately fighting covid-19. The interview Harry did with James Corden was far more appropriate to give. It was light-hearted and although Harry did mention his decision to step down, there was no soul searching or any of this woe is me victim mentality. It was the complete antithesis to the Oprah interview.
The trouble with airing any dirty linen in public is that it does tend to lead to even more conflict. This week the Times published an article reporting that certain members of staff who worked for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they were working members of the Royal Family, feel that this interview is giving one side only of the story. According to the journalist who wrote the article, they believe that their voice is not being heard and they wish to rectify the situation by putting forward their narrative of how they feel they were unfairly treated by the Duchess. This is starting to become a bit tit for tat and reminiscent of children arguing in the playground. I think a line needs to be drawn immediately to prevent such behaviour from spiralling out of control.
There have been many headlines suggesting that the Crown is in Crisis, but this is far from the truth. We only have to look at the work that many of the Royal Family are currently doing to support the Queen to realise there is no real crisis. The Queen is still working as she has always done throughout her incredible nearly 70 year reign. She is supported well by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall as well as by other working members of the Royal Family. Many wish to draw parallels with the Abdication but I fail to see any similarities at all. The Duchess of Windsor always behaved with dignity throughout her exiled life with the Duke. There is, however, one feature of the Abdication that Harry and Meghan may do well to employ going forward. There is great dignity in silence. If they wish to live a life of service to their charities, then they would be better advised to lie low for a while until the current sensationalism dies down. People might then be able to respect them more for the charitable work that they do.