So, a million years ago I promised a follow-up to the Oprah/Meghan interview, but that particular week got away from me and then, well, the Sussex news never really abated. I thought about doing a bunch of mini-sections on various royal activities, but honestly, most of them ladder back up to the same issue: Harry and Meghan won’t stop talking. Since I last chimed in on them, the couple has threatened more news organizations with legal action, briefed the press in direct contradiction of the Palace, sat down for more celebrity interviews that insult the Prince of Wales, and now Harry is apparently writing a memoir. The only positive item there is to report is the birth of a daughter last month – Lilibet Diana – but even that news was blighted by a ridiculous back and forth with Buckingham Palace and the BBC over her name.
As all of this has been unfolding it’s frankly caused me to think back over how I covered the Sussexes, but particularly Meghan, in 2018 and 2019. I very much fall into the camp of, when you hear hoof beats, assume horses not zebras, so I gave her – and Harry – the benefit of the doubt a lot. I still firmly believe she could have been an incredible asset to the BRF, and I think the couple’s departure was a significant loss. That said, here’s where I’ve netted out:
- At no point in the couple’s communication with the public do they acknowledge or accept any responsibility for why they received negative press, particularly in 2019. In every scenario they are the victim of either the media or the Palace. Their attempt to make black and white a very grey scenario lessens their credibility.
- Meghan has offered her ignorance of how the BRF worked and operated as a defense, and it’s not. The attempt to portray herself as a lamb to slaughter – a clear allusion to Diana, Princess of Wales – is an insult to the public’s intelligence. Diana was 19 when she became engaged to Charles. Meghan was in her mid-30s and well-equipped to research, ask the right questions, or, you know, Google.
- Harry did a terrible job of managing Meghan’s introduction into the BRF, which I’ve always found baffling, but now I think the reality is that he was unhappy – with himself and his family – long before Meghan came along.
- The couple clearly had an ax to grind with Charles and William while they were working royals and that’s obviously still going on today. This is one point, in particular, that I was slow to pick up on the seriousness of. I initially viewed the household separation as a workable solution, when in reality it was an attempted bandage on a clearly more fatal wound.
- While I’m not inclined to agree with the assertion that Meghan entered the BRF ready to help lead Harry out of it, I do think they were ready to pack up and go much earlier than we realized at the time.
What is abundantly clear is that Harry and Meghan are angry. Their actions and what they’re choosing to say publicly don’t come from a desire for reconciliation or peaceful hindsight, but rather retaliation. They are still very much engaging in warfare against the Palace, which makes their insistence on their close relationship with the Queen and only the Queen all the more strange. They appear to separate her out from the behavior of her staff, Charles, and William (and their respective staffs), as if in appealing to her directly as a grandmother they are going to be able to trump everyone else in the matrix. And…that’s just not how it works. The Queen won’t damage the institution, she respects her staff, and Charles and William are future monarchs so their reputations and voices matter to her both personally and professionally.
Harry and Meghan seem to be operating under the illusion that it will damage Charles – and William to a certain extent – too much to either outwardly contradict them or “punish” them (i.e. strip them of their titles, etc.). That’s certainly a difficult line for Charles and his team to straddle. Indeed, he’s benefitted over the last decade from being seen as a loving father and grandfather – a dynamic that is, yes, a little bit smoke and mirrors when you get down to brass tacks. But Harry and Meghan are unpopular in the UK at this point, and while they might be more popular in the U.S., I think they’re also overestimating the extent to which most Americans really care about “royalty” beyond being an archaic and vaguely foreign concept. When you consider their actions in that context, they are doing very little to build sustainable longevity for their “brand,” and quite a bit to simply damage the BRF – aka, Harry and Harry’s children’s family.
And all of that would be slightly less maddening if Harry and Meghan weren’t so dead set on amplifying their royal ties. Because for all that they are quick to call the royal system dysfunctional and abusive, they are equally as quick to maintain their titles, underline that they still maintain a place in the succession, reference their royal experience, and have a presence at the odd high-profile occasion. Remember, in addition to Harry coming back to the UK for the unveiling of his mother’s statue a few weeks ago, he wanted a wreath laid on his behalf on Remembrance Day last November. Now, of course, the latest question mark is news that the couple want Lilibet christened at Windsor like Archie was. Considering what a mess that event was in 2019, I’ve no idea why they think that will generate any public or private goodwill.
Last but not least, to follow up on the Oprah interview, which was just nominated for an Emmy, there were obviously major inaccuracies in that conversation. Some of them we’ve covered and some of that fact checking happened in the forthcoming days. To recap:
- Archie’s lack of “Prince” title was laid out confusingly. What Meghan was attempting to say was that she and Harry had been told he wouldn’t be elevated once Charles became king. Or, they had been under the impression that an exception would be made for him akin to what was made for William’s younger children (Charlotte and Louis). That has nothing to do with the Sussexes or Meghan’s race, but rather Charles’s vision to limit royal titles.
- The question of security was raised in the interview (by Meghan) as something the Palace was withholding from her son because he wasn’t a prince. In fact, the Palace doesn’t make those decisions. Scotland Yard does. If I had to wildly speculate, I would guess that the determination was that Archie was protected as a young child in his parents’ care (who do have security), but that interest would wane over time given that he would have less of a profile and less public interest than William’s children. If that wasn’t the case, it’s possible they would re-adjust that determination, but I don’t know enough about the intricacies to say that with complete confidence. To be perfectly clear, Archie would have eventually had the same stature as Princess Beatrice. She doesn’t have publicly funded security either.
- Whatever pre-ceremony Harry and Meghan engaged in on May 16, 2018, it wasn’t a legal marriage. That in fact occurred on May 19, 2018 in full view of the public. While they may like to privately celebrate the earlier date, the Arcbishop of Canterbury has confirmed he didn’t perform a marriage ceremony.
- Based on disclosed financial records, it doesn’t appear that Charles revoked financial assistance quite as early as Harry made it seem, which is a big vindication for Team Clarence House.
Back to this memoir – you guys, we may need to start a book club 😉