11 March 2021
The actress in the palace.
By Lynda Goetz
“Did you do any research before you got married?” asks Oprah as one of her opening questions in The Interview. Meghan ‘confessed’ she had not and claimed she had been really naïve. Both of these statements seem disingenuous. Given that so many Americans are avidly interested in our royal family and their goings-on, it seems highly unlikely (and goes against the reports of some former acquaintances) that Meghan had not done some delving into the various royal stories, especially that of Diana, given how keen she appears to be on stories and storytelling. As for being naïve, Celia Walden may be exaggerating slightly when she says that during a decade living in LA she has yet to meet a naïve actress (there are surely some?), but it is hard to believe Meghan Markle is one of them.
The Duchess of Sussex, as she now is (and would presumably hope to stay, although not for love of the Institution, clearly) was serene, saintly and poised throughout her interview, apart from the odd occasion when emotion overcame her and the tears welled in her beautiful eyes at the recollection of her sufferings. Her powers as an actress shone through as, in a fairy-tale setting in a beautiful garden, she ‘recovered her voice’ and told ‘her truth’, having previously, like The Little Mermaid, lost her voice or been silenced. She was extremely careful throughout, as was Harry when he later joined the party, to be respectful and warm towards the Queen (managing to highlight her own caring nature at the same time, by pointing out how she had rung her grandmother-in-law on hearing of Prince Phillip’s admittance to hospital), although other family members did not fare as well.
How you view these ‘truths’ appears to a large extent to be dependent on your age, ethnicity, nationality and republican or royalist leanings. In the time since The Interview was first aired in the US on Sunday and then in this country at 9pm on ITV on Monday evening, there has been plenty of time for reactions from all sides. From the other side of the Atlantic we have heard how the President views the ‘tell all’ interview as ‘courageous’, plus a great deal of clamour for the Palace to investigate the claims of racism. On the whole, there would appear to be a lot of support for ‘team Meghan’, which was presumably the effect intended.
Over here, there are those, mostly young and ‘woke’ or of inherently republican bent, who are also nailing their colours to Meghan’s mast. In The Telegraph, as a counterpoint to the Celia Walden viewpoint is an article by the young journalist Radhika Sanghani, who states quite clearly that her generation are firmly behind Meghan, ‘a relatable millennial heroine’, whilst her mother (60) and her friends were, before the interview at least, behind the Palace, but now ‘don’t know what to think’. Celia Walden’s husband, the outspoken Piers Morgan, labelled Meghan’s remarks lies and walked out on live television after clashing with a co-presenter over the subject[i]. On the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2, opinions varied between those who felt that the wonderfully diplomatic and succinct Palace statement said all that needed to be said by way of response and those who felt that it fell far short of what was needed and the whole sorry Institution had a serious case to answer. This was also the line taken by opposition leader Keir Starmer[ii].
Between these two poles are many who are exasperated by the amount of time, ink and airspace spent, at a time of global crisis, on what is, they claim, essentially a family row. Unfortunately, it is more than that. The monarchy in this country has no political power, but it does have ‘soft power’. Since the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, when William (effective ruler of the Dutch Republic) and Mary his wife (daughter of the deposed Catholic James II) were invited by Parliament to take the throne of England, we have had a constitutional monarchy. It has been argued that it is this lack of power at the heart of our monarchy which leads to its need to secure a pact with the media. As suggested by Meghan and Harry, it is to a large extent fear of the media over its ability to control royal image which leads to what they view as a ‘pact with the Devil’. This interview has the power to seriously damage, not just family relations, but also the world-wide perception of the monarchy. There are, even in these egalitarian times, many who prefer the idea of hereditary monarchy with ‘public service’ at its heart to an elected president with the associated problems of political ambition and power inherent in such a system; not to mention corruption (e.g. recent jail sentence handed down to former French President Sarkozy only last week).
Meghan may have done more research than she cared to admit to before marrying Harry, but did she really fail to do her homework? She appears blithely unaware of what ‘the deal’ was, or, if not unaware, overconfident of her ability to ‘manage’ the situation. As a successful actress, she perhaps thought that this sparkling set onto which she was walking was one on which she was free to appear as and when she chose. She seemingly failed to appreciate that there was no end date for the series; that once she had been cast, this was to have been a role for life. In return for all the priceless tiaras, necklaces and earrings; all the designer outfits and glittering events; all the trips in private jets; all the wonderful houses, beautiful resorts and exotic locations; the round the clock security as a VIP, there was a price to pay. That price was her freedom and to a large degree her privacy. Royalty is not like Hollywood celebrity.
Meghan appears to expect privacy on her own terms and in her own time. Lack of privacy, as in airing your grievances against the family into which you have married on prime time TV with one of the most famous TV celebrities in America is acceptable, but appearing for a photo call with your new-born royal baby, as expected by the British media, is apparently entirely unacceptable. Perhaps finding this latter demand unacceptable is an example of where Meghan is right, but the sad and sorry end to what could have been a fairy-tale royal story simply serves to highlight the gulf between Californian actresses and real-life modern royalty. Meghan views things only through Meghan’s eyes. In spite of her much trumpeted kindness and compassion, she appears totally unable to see things from others’ points of view. She seems narcissistic to the point of believing that others exist only in relation to her and seems to have succeeded in making Harry view the world the same way.
As the Queen so tactfully put it, ’recollections vary’. What Meghan sees as racism and ‘concerns’ about the ‘brownness’ of her child’s skin (as prompted by her interviewer) were possibly simply comments prompted by natural family interest in the way the baby might look. As anyone who has mixed-race children could tell you, this interest in which genes might dominate and what results that might give are as natural as discussions about what sex the child might be and which parent it might favour. The Duchess of Sussex has racism as somehow central to how she sees herself. For her that means we should see it as central to how we see her too and she is ever ready to be offended. Modern thought-crime supports her view. It is how ‘the victim’ perceives the slight which matters, not how it was intended. This makes any freedom of speech almost impossible. For most of us, what we see is a beautiful woman, not a beautiful black woman (however she may choose to identify, she does not look black, her Caucasian parentage appears to have had equal input from the gene pool), not a beautiful woman of colour, or even a beautiful mixed-race woman, simply a beautiful woman. If, as it seems, she feels the need to bring race into almost all her wounded feelings (including considering, surely mistakenly, that somehow Archie not being given a title and security had to do with the potential colour of his skin), she should be very clearly aware of the damage this is going to cause to the family of the man she married and to the monarchy she claims to respect.
Because this interview was mainly aimed at the American market the accusations of racism at the heart of our royal family will affect the way Americans view not simply this Institution, but all British institutions. With the current mood and anger around the subject, this accusation, in spite of lack of context and in spite of clear misunderstanding by Meghan around the issue of titles, is dynamite. This charge alone could do untold damage to our monarchy around the world and in particular to the Queen’s beloved Commonwealth; the Commonwealth to which, as both Harry and Meghan pointed out, they could have brought their undoubted commitment and particular abilities. Likewise on the issue of mental health, it is hard to see how the lack of empathy apparently displayed by those who should have been helping both of them can play out well in a world increasingly aware of the toll this takes on so many. However, trying to resuscitate the Diana story with Meghan as the lead role, does not ring true.
Diana was a naïve young woman of 19 when she became engaged to Charles and 20 when she married him. Charles was 12 years older. Meghan was 36 when she got engaged to Harry and 37 when they married. She is three years older than her husband and was a divorcee. Trying to spin the narrative as being somehow the same as the Diana story ignores the fact of the relative maturity of Meghan and her far greater experience of the world, including her previous career as an actress. As an actress, publicity is the life-blood of the profession. It seems beyond disingenuous to suggest that she didn’t see herself as perfectly cast in the role of princess (and as Harry rightly said, she proved an instant hit). This bears no comparison to Diana’s life. It also ignores the fact that Charles never really loved Diana and neither he nor the Palace staff had any idea how to deal with or support her, whereas Harry has always seemed completely besotted and totally committed to Meghan, and the Palace must surely have learnt something from the Diana situation? Was it, as Oprah might say, that ‘there was no support’ or ‘was it the wrong kind of support’?
There was a massive amount of goodwill towards Meghan Markle, the American actress, when she first appeared as Harry’s girlfriend and then fiancée. Most of the British public had a soft spot for Harry and wanted him to be happy. This striking, self-assured, successful American looked as if she would not only bring Harry that happiness, but could also contribute massively to bring a ‘breath of fresh air’ to the monarchy and be an ambassador for the Queen in the Commonwealth. She however has, for whatever reason, chosen to play the victim card and in the process appears to want above all, not privacy, but self-promotion, not ‘authenticity’, but publicity. The monarchy has survived worse, but this Duchess is no heroine and if members of her family feel saddened then so too, I suspect, do many members of the public.
[i] He has since left his role as a presenter on ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain’.
[ii] Our PM has wisely declined to comment.
Cover page photo: Northern Irish Office (Creative Commons).