It was inevitable that the cult of victimhood would go royal, but, wow, what a way to make it so in a single interview with Oprah. Trapped in the palace? Unprotected? Alone? Suicidal? Charges of racism? Powers aligned against them? No royal title for their kids? If only we could all be so lucky with $50 million the bank.
Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, sat down with Oprah Winfrey for two hours on Sunday evening to declare themselves the still-suffering victims of their own royalty, celebrity, and wealth. Harry is literally a prince, somewhat removed from the throne, but still in the line of succession and the grandson of Queen Elizabeth herself. Meghan is a recently minted Duchess. They are two of the most recognized and fawned over people in the known universe. Together, the couple have a net worth of around $50 million dollars with ample earning potential including lucrative deals with Netflix (worth $25 million), Spotify (also worth $25 million), and Apple (unknown).
To hear them tell it, they live lives of continual misery, victims of their own royalty. The Duchess of Sussex set the stage early in the interview, saying, “I think, as Americans especially, what you do know about the royals is what you read in fairytales, and you think is what you know about the royals. It’s easy to have an image that is so far from reality, and that’s what was so tricky over those past few years, when the perception and the reality are two different things and you’re being judged on the perception but you’re living the reality of it. There’s a complete misalignment and there’s no way to explain that to people.”
No comment on how an almost 40 year old woman, an actress no less, only recently discovered that there is, indeed, a difference between perception and reality.
What are some of these misalignments?
Apparently, you have to curtsey when you meet the Queen. Amazingly, Oprah was shocked by this obvious point. Ms. Markle recalled a conversation with Prince Harry before her first meeting with Queen Elizabeth, “‘Do you know how to curtsey?’ ‘What?’ ‘Do you know how to curtsey?’ I thought genuinely that’s what happens outside, that was part of the fanfare. I didn’t think that’s what happens inside. I go, ‘But it’s your grandmother’. He goes, ‘It’s the Queen!’” Oprah responded, “wow” and Ms. Markle declared “And that was really the first moment the penny dropped.”
Clearly, this is shocking stuff. Ms. Markle also griped about leaks from the palace staff that placed her in an unflattering light, because you know no one in a position of power or otherwise ever has to deal with that. When Oprah asked her if she had made her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton cry, “Was there a situation where she might have cried? Or she could have cried?” Ms. Markle asserted that the reverse was true and that she protected Ms. Middleton. “I would have never wanted that to come out about her ever, even though it had happened. I protected that from ever being out in the world.”
Now it’s out in the world. In the meantime, it was all so hard, so very hard. “What was hard to get over was being blamed for something that not only I didn’t do but that happened to me. And the people who were part of our wedding going to our comms team and saying, ‘I know this didn’t happen.’ I don’t have to tell them what actually happened…But I can at least go on the record and say she didn’t make her cry. And they were all told the same…Everyone in the institution knew it wasn’t true.”
Do you have a comms team? Me neither.
Ms. Markle is very concerned that she’s gotten bad press, very concerned. What someone once praised her sister-in-law for, has been used to disparage her. For example, while she was pregnant, the media blared “Meghan can’t keep hands off her baby bump for pride or vanity.” There was a controversy over, I’m not kidding, eating an avocado. The media loves controversy, who would have known? “They really seemed to want a narrative of a hero and a villain,” a fact that Oprah helpfully attributes to her “mixed-race.”
According to Ms. Markle, there were “layers at play,” while she returned to the racial angle several times, far too many to not take note. She’s also concerned that she’s been silenced. “I’ve always worked. I’ve always valued independence. I’ve always been outspoken, especially about women’s rights. I mean, that’s the sad irony of the last four years… is I’ve advocated for so long for women to use their voice, and then I was silent.” To put a fine point on it, Oprah asked, “Were you silent? Or were you silenced?” “The latter,” Ms. Markle replied.
This is where we get to the point where one wonders what she thought was going to happen. Her grandmother-in-law is the Queen of freaking England. She married into a 1,200 year old institution. Did she think she was taking a job as a talk show host? In essence, the royal “deal” is to exchange your personhood for prestige and privilege. Watch The Crown on Netflix for more details like the rest of us in the cheap seats.
Of course, she also assumed that her children would also be princes and princesses (who doesn’t?), and were entitled to protection. That portion of exchange, like so much else in the interview, however, is incredibly vague, perhaps deliberately so. Ms. Markle claims that before their son, Archie was born, “they were saying they didn’t want him to be a prince or a princess — not knowing what the gender would be, which would be different from protocol — and that he wasn’t going to receive security.” Oprah, to her credit, tried to clarify the statement, “he wasn’t going to be a prince? How did they tell you that? And what reasons did they give?”
To which Ms. Markle replies, “There’s no explanation.” She continues, however, by pushing the racial angle, “the idea of the first member of color in this family not being titled in the same way that other grandchildren would be…You know, the other piece of that conversation is, there’s a convention — I forget if it was George V or George VI convention — that when you’re the grandchild of the monarch, so when Harry’s dad becomes king, automatically Archie and our next baby would become prince or princess, or whatever they were going to be.”
This would seem to suggest that her children would be titled after Queen Elizabeth’s death (more on that below), but then Ms. Markle claims the unnamed “they” wanted to change the convention. She attributes this change to the color of his skin. “But I can give you an honest answer. In those months when I was pregnant, all around this same time…so we have in tandem the conversation of ‘He won’t be given security, he’s not going to be given a title’ and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”
A shocking allegation if true, but again Ms. Markle provides no specifics, no person, no actual statement. She said it was relayed to her from her husband and then continues, “I wasn’t able to follow up with why, but that — if that’s the assumption you’re making, I think that feels like a pretty safe one, which was really hard to understand, right?…And growing up as a woman of color, as a little girl of color, I know how important representation is. I know how you want to see someone who looks like you in certain positions.” Ultimately, she concludes in true identity politics style, “At all times, but especially right now, to go — ‘how inclusive is that, that you can see someone who looks like you in this family, much less one who’s born into it?’”
In a darker section of the conversation, Ms. Markle recounts her depression and suicidal thoughts, claiming no one would help her. “And so, I went to human resources, and I said, ‘I just really — I need help’…And I remember this conversation like it was yesterday, because they said, ‘My heart goes out to you, because I see how bad it is, but there’s nothing we can do to protect you because you’re not a paid employee of the institution’.”
Of course, if these stories are true, I sympathize with Ms. Markle. It goes without saying that depression is real and damaging, and I don’t mean to minimize anyone struggling with it. If you are, get help.
At the same time, I find this somewhat difficult to believe. Throughout the interview, she combines a vagueness that makes her claims impossible to confirm and a naivety that defies description. “I would say I went into it naively because I didn’t grow up knowing much about the Royal Family.” She also claims she “didn’t do any research about what that would mean.” Even Oprah found this hard to believe, “You didn’t do any research?” “No. I didn’t feel any need to, because everything I needed to know he was sharing with me. Everything we thought I needed to know, he was telling me.”
There’s also reason to believe she’s lying or at least not telling the whole truth. Biographies of her claim she binge-watched videos of Diana, owned a copy of her biography, and wanted it for herself. Her childhood friend, Ninaki Priddy observed, “She was always fascinated by the royal family. She wants to be Princess Diana 2.0.” There’s also reason to doubt the racism angle. I have no idea what happened behind the scenes, but publicly her bi-racial heritage was celebrated. A black gospel choir performed “Stand By Me” at her wedding. Her mother was hailed as “chic” and a “legend,” and Ms. Merkle herself has graced many magazine covers. There’s also the matter of the titles: No great grandchild of the Queen except for the heir to the throne’s children have them. Under the existing protocols, Harry and Ms. Markle’s children would not receive them until her death.
Regardless of the truth, Ms. Markle seems obsessed with the powers aligned against her, a victim of venomous fate to borrow a phrase from the Rush song. The institution of the monarch, The Firm, not to be confused with the Tom Cruise movie of the same name, is mentioned five times. Generally speaking, The Firm is not good, just like the Tom Cruise movie of the same name.
They’re either perpetuating falsehoods, “I don’t know how they could expect that after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that The Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us,” denying her freedom of expression, “The Firm would say, ‘Well, you can’t do this because it’ll look like that. You can’t’,” and not giving them enough support, “Or was the move because you weren’t getting enough support from The Firm?”
The lack of support included protection for the family. The word, “protection,” comes up six times. “I even wrote letters to his family saying, ‘Please, it’s very clear the protection of me or Archie is not a priority. I accept that. That is fine. Please keep my husband safe. I see the death threats. I see the racist propaganda. Please keep him safe. Please don’t pull his security and announce to the world when he and we are most vulnerable’. And they said it’s just not possible.”
Ultimately, royal life can be distilled into a single term for the couple: Trapped. Prince Harry states it plainly, “Yeah, but, you know, I was trapped, but I didn’t know I was trapped.” Oprah seems surprised, “Please explain how you, Prince Harry, raised in a palace and a life of privilege — literally, a Prince…how you were trapped.”
Can we just stop here and agree that this is madness of the highest order? The Prince of England is trapped. Yes, trapped and needed to escape. He laments, “No matter who you are in the family, no matter what’s going on in your personal life, no matter what’s just happened, if the bikes roll up and the car rolls up, you’ve got to get dressed, you got to get in there. You wipe your tears away, shake off whatever you’re thinking about and you got to be on your A-game.”
What does he think life is like for the rest of us? Has he ever heard a Bruce Springsteen song? We all have to put on our best face and keep going. It’s called life. The lyrics from “The Promised Land” might say it best, “I’ve done my best to live the right way, I get up every morning and go to work each day, But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold, Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode, Explode and tear this old town apart.”
I assume everyone feels that way at some point, I know I certainly do. What most everyone doesn’t have, however, is an inside track at Netflix, Spotify, and Apple an over $10 million dollar inheritance from their mother, enough to amass a $50 million fortune in just a couple of years. Forgive me if I don’t shed a tear for Poor Prince Harry and his bride, trapped in the opulence of a palace with a golden parachute if things don’t go well.
Yet, what else should we expect in the world today? Victimhood is at a premium. It shouldn’t surprise us that even royals now bemoan their tired state, and the interview had all of the makings for the media to lap it up: Vague allegations of racism, systemic powers lined up against the poor couple, the dark side of a beautiful life, and no real way to verify the stories.
CNN for instance ate it up with a silver spoon. Here’s their summary, “Over the course of the two-hour special, the couple — who despite their royal split still sit five relatives away from the throne — painted a picture of a family so stubbornly rooted in its ways that it left a young, bi-racial couple alone to fend off racist abuse and their own troubled mental health, forcing them into silence and ultimately leaving them with no option but to flee the palace’s clutches.”
Yes, the poor young couple, a prince and his famous wife, both in their 30s, were left all alone and forced into silence before fleeing to a life in the Hollywood Hills. Truly, it’s a tragic tale. What’s that Shakespeare said about changing my state with kings? I don’t know who is more disconnected from reality in this whole affair: The prince, his princess, Oprah, or the media.
Otherwise, it’s tough to escape the conclusion that Ms. Markle’s real complaint is that she didn’t get to have her cake and eat it too. She wanted the prestige and wealth, pomp and circumstance, titles and ceremonies, of British royalty, but she didn’t want to pay the price. Oprah, at least, got paid a reported $7 million for the interview. She’s laughing all the way to the bank, unlike the rest of us poor proles who have it so good.
Either way, in America today royals can now claim the mantle of victimhood. Small business owners shut down or forced to watch their life savings burn to the ground, not so much. Where do they go to get their $50 million?