Unlike Meghan, Harry rarely pauses for emphasis. While Meghan often repeats the revelations of royal life in the two-hour tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey [broadcast in the UK this evening] — in lingering disbelief, Prince Harry is stoically matter-of-fact. Unflinching.
“There’s an ‘invisible contract’ [with press],” he says, adding conscious weight to each word. “The palace hosts holiday parties for the tabloids.”
There’s a savagery to the UK press that is almost unrelatable to me as a US-based journalist. That’s not to say interest in ‘insider access’ to the world’s most exclusive institution doesn’t exist here, or in any other Western nation. I was raised in the Commonwealth (New Zealand), where my grandmother had a portrait of Queen Elizabeth and my mother was among the throngs of supporters in London cheering Charles and Diana as they married. But, even so, my family would mostly express sympathy as their supermarket shelves stocked with news of the monarchy’s pregnancies, affairs, weight gain and loss. Any information they retained, was always seasoned with at least a few grains of salt.
But in the UK, there’s no salting gossip — especially when it becomes gospel. Last week alone saw an immense uptick in stories from British outlets surrounding Meghan’s alleged bullying of palace staff and the subsequent investigation. Side-by-side headlines spotlighting the UK media’s laughably unbalanced treatment of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle in the lead-up to the special’s release (Oprah herself even mentions the avocados: for Kate a morning sickness cure, for Meghan "her favourite snack" was linked to human rights abuse). Upon his entry into the interview, Harry immediately shares the “fear” felt by his family members that the press might “turn on them.” Oprah is perplexed — the Windsors are the most powerful family on the planet, why do they care?
The answer is simple: the palace needs the press. While social media has allowed most famous people to circumvent the media for the better part of a decade, the British monarchy relies on the media to communicate their intentions and importance because they haven’t adapted to do so themselves. While the press still plays a major part in establishing and maintaining celebrity, social media has allowed public figures to control their own narrative. The Kardashians aren’t “wine-ing and dining” reporters like the Windsors, because they don’t need to. Publications come to them, then thank them for their time.
Despite her disappointment in her in-laws' dated views, the special reveals it was the palace’s “lack of protection” from the media that Meghan found irreconcilable. She touches on the rumours that she brought Kate Middleton to tears, adding that even though the reverse was actually true - "and I don’t say that to be disparaging to anyone, because it was a really hard week of the wedding. And she was upset about something, but she owned it, and she apologised. And she brought me flowers and a note, apologising. And she did what I would do if I knew that I hurt someone, right, to just take accountability for it," - the palace communications team did nothing to correct them.
Harry speaks of the petition calling for an end to the “colonial” coverage of Meghan, signed by 72 members of parliament but unbacked by his family. The pair then appealed to relatives with fears of their safety, detailing how the racially-charged reporting had quite literally upped their security threats. The response? “We’ve all been through this."
His primary concern, Harry explains, was history repeating. His mother’s now infamous BBC interview in 1995 became her first step toward reclaiming her voice, just two years before her tragic death rumoured to have been catalyzed by paparazzi.
Although, this time, racial tension was at the forefront of the discussion. Then social media, which not only amplifies these stories, but allows them to swell with public discourse. Meghan hadn’t left the house in several months when advisors told her to “lie low,” because she’s “everywhere.” When she began to methodically fantasize about her death - "I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought" - her request for psychiatric help was denied because the palace worried what the press would make of it. Considering her brother-in-law is a staunch mental health advocate, it’s somewhat ironic.
When asked of her regrets, Meghan cites her trust that her family would protect her from the press. Over the next week, there will be plenty of speculation as to the real reasons they didn’t. There’s racism (members of The Firm expressed “concern” Harry and Meghan’s son’s skin might be too dark); jealousy (spurred by Meghan’s initial tour of Australia). But it will most likely be in the squashing of various scandals where the truth lies — most recently, Prince Andrew’s ties to perhaps the most prolific paedophile ring of all time. “They’re scared,” Harry reinforces.
Stripping Harry and Meghan of financial support and rank, the royal family's motives were clear: relevance for freedom. Yet, as the dust settles, it may be the British monarchy that emerges most irrelevant. Each day they bolster the UK press’s power, they sacrifice some of their own. The digital generation wants authenticity and access — not an over-privileged and peripheral influencer propelled by Piers Morgan. They want to know why it's worth their investment. Until then, it won’t matter if it’s Kate Middleton’s Zara sandals or the most salacious of decoy scandals. We’ll keep scrolling, barely pausing.
You can watch the full interview on ITV, at 9pm tonight [8th March]
Images | shutterstock