Column: Meghan’s interview made one thing clear. The royals never learn from their mistakes
The Oprah special was sold as a joint interview with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
It should have been sold as Meghan’s Revenge.
Or, perhaps, the Ghost of Diana.
“I wasn’t planning on saying anything shocking,” Meghan told Oprah as they sat on the bucolic patio of a Santa Barbara-area estate. “I’m just telling you what happened.”
Famous last words.
By now, anyone captivated or even glancingly interested in the saga of how Prince Harry and his American-born actress wife came to be living in Southern California will be familiar with the many bombshells that were dropped over the course of the two-hour interview, broadcast Sunday evening.
Oprah Winfrey’s sit-down with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex lays bare Britain’s divides over race, class and culture.
Most were aimed directly at Buckingham Palace — “the firm,” or “the institution,” as Meghan and Harry repeatedly called the royal family and its apparatus. It was a one-sided version of events, but a few things are undeniable: The House of Windsor does not learn from its mistakes, has taken learned helplessness to soaring heights, and profits handsomely from what Harry called “the invisible contract” between the U.K. media and the royals.
When Meghan arrived on the scene, she was a refreshing change of pace for a stodgy dynasty, a successful, independent, biracial woman with a fabulous career. Just by her shimmering presence, it seemed she might drag the royals into the 21st century.
But soon after her 2018 wedding, Meghan, the daughter of a Black mother and white father, became the object of vicious, racially tinged tabloid attacks. She was “Hurricane Meghan.” She couldn’t even eat avocado toast without the Daily Mail asking whether “Meghan’s favourite avocado snack” was fueling “drought and murder.”
When untrue stories aimed at painting her as a monster were published — Meghan made Kate Middleton cry! — the palace refused to step in to correct them, she claimed. In fact, Meghan said, taking pains to characterize her sister-in-law as a good person, it was a snit that Kate had over flower-girl dresses for the wedding that brought Meghan to tears, not the other way around. Kate apologized and sent flowers, Meghan said. But the unfair way the kerfuffle was reported, she said, “was a turning point.”
She accused the palace of, later, failing to help her at a moment when she was feeling suicidal. “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,” she said.
Meghan even went to Buckingham Palace’s human resources office, she said, but was told that because she was not a paid employee, no help would be forthcoming. Also, she said, she felt trapped, as she didn’t have her passport, driver’s license or car keys. “All that gets turned over,” she said.
When the couple informed the queen that they would be stepping back from royal duties and moving — and you get the sense that they wanted to be anywhere but England — they were told that they would no longer be eligible for security services.
“I went to all the places I thought could help,” said Harry, 36, whose mother died in a crash as her car was being followed by paparazzi when he was 12. “My biggest concern was history repeating itself.”
Anyone familiar with the saga of Princess Diana would hear echoes of her pain and feelings of isolation. In 1995, 21 months before she died, Diana gave a blistering interview to the BBC in which she scorched her ex-husband for cheating on her and the palace for making her life hell.
But more than two decades after a tragic end for Diana, nothing had really changed. A spirited outsider, first hailed for breathing life into the sclerotic family, upstaging the in-laws, would not be tolerated.
Perhaps the couple’s most explosive allegation was that someone in the royal family — unclear who, but Oprah clarified Monday that it was neither the queen nor her husband — implied that their unborn child’s skin color might be a problem.
Although at the time of Archie’s birth, it was reported the couple did not want him to have a royal title so that he might live a normal life (as if!), they now claim it was the palace’s decision. A lack of title, they say, has endangered his physical safety; no title, no police protection. Harry said he had been cut off financially, surviving in what appears to be spectacular style only because his mother left him money.
Of course, I did wonder about a few things. Call me crazy, but if you can afford a $14.5-million, seven-acre Montecito estate, and you’ve got yourself a fat deal with Netflix, maybe you can afford to pay for your own personal protection even though your feelings are hurt? And I have trouble believing that a 30-something professional woman used to being in the public eye would not be able to get psychological help on her own, but as I say, learned helplessness seems to be part of the royal DNA.
But “the firm’s” reaction seemed like overkill. Before the Oprah interview aired, the Times in London reported that Meghan was being investigated by the palace’s HR department for “bullying” two employees in 2018.
“The Royal Household has had a Dignity at Work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace,” the palace said in a statement. What a transparent, almost comical ploy.
It’s odd that the palace doesn’t seem to be nearly as upset about allegations that Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, partied with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and allegedly had sex with at least one underage girl, who has been outspoken about her claims.
Far easier, I suppose, to trash someone like Meghan, who said she related to the Little Mermaid. But unlike Ariel, she said, she refuses to sacrifice her voice to keep her prince.
“This is greater than any fairy tale you’ve ever read,” Meghan told Oprah. I hope so. But there’s no happily ever after just yet.
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