But it’s not true …

We were noodling around the television looking for something that would hit that difficult pre-Christmas spot. Ancient Inspector Morses? Seen them all, and Morse’s nasty streak is becoming more pronounced with time. Ten series of ‘Vera’? Too greyed-out pet. Can’t you do something about that Kenny love? The Year in Review on the ABC? Nah, not 2022. I’ve seen it. The (three, count them: three) Bachelor (s) doesn’t start till next year. Netflix. Anything to see? Usually no. But ‘Harry & Meghan’ comes up on the home page. Myrna says how about that? I say sure, flick it on, and get back to catching up on the five Guardian Weeklys I’m behind.

I’m not really watching. I haven’t had much interest in Harry & Meghan. You know … Royals, whatever. As far as I know, knew, she seemed a bit off the air in a slightly shrill southern Californian way. With Harry there’s the interesting colour of his hair, the Nazi uniform and the girls, his Mum’s death and her almost equally tragic life, and of course the recent breakup with the family which all seemed not quite at my attention grade. Whether above or below I can’t tell you. Besides the Guardians are burying my head in the pure insanity of the Ukrainian war, as well as the climate crisis, Liz and Rish!, the consequences of the spectacular own goal that was Brexit, and FIFA’s complicated version of the same in Qatar.

For those who missed it, this is what Barney Ronay thought about that:

Beyond that, Qatar is not, when you look more widely, some kind of rogue state peopled by a different kind of human being. In fact, the best way to look at it is perhaps as a very literal-minded and efficient expression of the forces at work across every other modern state. Qatar just does it wilder, harder and without apology. It is a reductio ad absurdum of the idea of supremely wealthy overlords, of the surveillance state, of an underclass of workers, of increasingly repressive laws, of the global carbon addiction. Do any of these sound familiar? In many ways Qatar is like your furiously able and efficient younger colleague; who has essentially looked at this, learnt the mannerisms, and said, yeah, we can do that.

Barney is rarely wrong.

But I was catching glimpses of the pair on the screen and it started to reel me in. By the end I was close to glued. Like most people, the more closely you look the more interesting they get. So while I accept it might take a pretty courageous argument to recommend watching the full six hours of ‘Harry & Meghan’, the series, let alone taking it seriously, this is my purpose here.

• • • • • • •

These are my arguments.

  1. If you want to have a point of view, you need to actually see what all the fuss is about.
  2. The series is something of a masterpiece of its type, and is worth examining as a fine example of purpose full art.
  3. It is a case study of the confected and visceral hatred that seems to drive so much public and semi-public discourse at present.
  4. Harry and Meghan are both more engaging, interesting and intelligent people than you thought. They have thought deeply about their predicament and have made clear rational choices about it. They probably won’t win the war but they know exactly how it’s being fought and who is fighting it. But do you believe them?

• • • • • •

The Fuss

“The first three episodes of ‘Harry & Meghan’ recorded 81.55 million viewing hours around the world after its debut last Thursday, Netflix said, ‘the highest view hours of any documentary title in a premiere week’. More than 28m households watched at least part of the series.”

‘Squid Game’, ‘The Stranger Part IV’ and especially ‘Wednesday Addams’ out-rated it world-wide. (Although it is the highest rating Netflix series ever aired in Britain, out-rating ‘The Crown’ the previous winner; and, just incidentally, an estimated 2 billion people watched Harry and Meghan’s wedding on TV.) But that’s not really the point.

A lot of people watched it but just about as many seem to be writing about it and far more are talking about it. I have read more than 30 (of 100s) considered reactions to it and several hundred (of what seems like millions) short ones. We were sitting out at dinner the other night when, perhaps after overhearing our conversation, the diners at the next table left saying, ‘We might as well not pay like that phoney parasite Meghan Markle.’

You might already have an opinion. It might need substantiation.

You can say what you like about their irrelevance, their insignificance, their tedium, the inconsequence of their issues and you’ll have mates. But don’t you speculate about just what made Jeremy Clarkson write (and his editors agree to publish!) this?:

We all know in our heart of hearts that Harold Markle is a slightly dim but fun-loving chin who flew Apache helicopter gunships in Afghanistan and cavorted around Las Vegas hotel rooms with naked hookers. But then along came Meghan, who obviously used some vivid bedroom promises to turn him into a warrior of woke. One day, Harry will tell the truth about his wife [but] now it seems that she has her arm so far up his bottom, she can use her fingers to alter his facial expressions. I actually feel rather sorry for him because today he’s just a glove puppet with no more control over what he says or does than Basil Brush.

Meghan, though, is a different story. I hate her. Not like I hate Nicola Sturgeon or [serial murderer] Rose West. I hate her on a cellular level. At night, I’m unable to sleep as I lie there, grinding my teeth and dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her.

Everyone who’s my age thinks the same way. [etc.]

This was published in the December 18 edition of mass circulation tabloid ‘The Sun’. I can see him sitting at home in his study on the farm writing it, Boris Johnson without the wit, imagining himself as part of a group (men) sitting around a table, wood panelling, leather cushions, drinking, roaring laughing, having a competition as to who can say the most disgusting thing and then get it published in ‘The Spectator’ say, or, on this noble continent, in a menu. (‘Small Breasts, Huge thighs, Big Red Box’ Haa Haaaaaaaa. Yeah put that in. Hilarious. ‘Ditch the witch.’ Fantastic.)

But I can’t see the why. Why them? The degree of malevolence … what is it exactly about these two that excites such profound animosity? Or is it just a mindless pile on? (like the way Adam Goodes staged for free kicks …)

We’ll return to that question. But what are we dealing with just here?

The Series as a work of art

The medium is the message.

In this war of Californian Hollywood v. British Red Tops (as the British tabloid dailies are known) the message of the medium chosen by the principals and the Director, Liz Garbus, is a claim to the highly-polished and scrubbed voice of reason, ‘Truth’ as we call it, Meghan and Harry’s Truth.

You would be a duffer not to spend a moment thinking what a long and expensive puff piece, in which the focus is soft, the colorations pastel and the houses impossibly grand. You may wish Episodes 1 and 6 advanced more speedily with less footage devoted to displays of just how cute Archie is. But you can’t deny the skill with which the whole thing has been structured and composed. Garbus knows her business.

‘Harry & Meghan’ is not a documentary. We don’t have any of that ‘equal time’, ‘but on the other hand’ business. Three or four times we get a black text cell with legalistic responses to assertions that have been made, but it is a personal narrative. It is completely and unapologetically their story — their home movies, their video logs, their happy snaps and their friends and confidantes, some of their relations. The primary structural vehicle is their talking heads and their voice over commentary.

But there is a resolute skill with which this has been managed, and it’s partly because Harry is such tremendous talent: articulate, poised, balanced, convincing. And open. He’s been through this. He’s seen what happened to his mum, and thought about it analytically. He has lived with Charles. He has learnt how punishing it is to maintain these iron bonds of formality and ‘doing the right thing’ and, driven to some degree by the nature and example of his wife, he is going to tell his ‘truth’. He has some idea — a more sophisticated idea than Meghan I think — of the dimensions, reach and indomitability of what the pair are up against, but he is not dismayed. He has been in the army, he has fought in combat situations, and he has a concept of how simple courage can be.

Harry & Meghan is also a love story. They are a good fit; so apparently different in background and yet in some essential ways quite alike; and they quite evidently love each other. This will of course draw mortal offence from some. (Yuck! Keep it to yourself. We don’t want to know.) But that is just background. The story they want to tell goes like this.

By way of explaning the ‘whole thing’, Harry proposes, ‘Anyone in my situation would have done exactly the same thing’ [viz. dissociating himself from the institution that is the Royal family]. In saying this he is entirely believable, but with the obvious proviso that there is no one anywhere else in the world in his situation. He is a Royal, and as a former courtier observes, ‘[The Royals] lack many of the freedoms that the rest of us take for granted. Choice of career for example, certainly choice of religion, choice of activity, choice of wife even’.

His mother would have understood. The way Diana was hounded by the press is not just illustrated by footage of her in flight but by clips from the Martin Basheer BBC interview with her crisply crucifying her oppressors from under a verandah of hair. This interview is also sampled for depictions of Royal life and entry into it. (It is Diana, not Meghan, who says ‘I was completely unprepared for it’, Diana … who’d been hanging round versions of this rhubarb most of her life.) We are provided with effective evidence of the pervasive influence of the British press and its paparazzi — ‘We pay, you pose. That’s the deal’ — and the almost unbelievable lengths to which they will go for a picture and to construct stories based on the whiffiest of half-truths.

The second episode contains Meghan’s growing up story. The initial focus is on the ‘growing up’ entailed by getting together with Harry, ‘H’ as we say. ‘My face was everywhere. My life was everywhere. Livestream cameras focused on my house and yard were installed on my neighbours’ houses.’ This is followed by a roseate portrait of her earlier life as the product of a household for many years run by her single mum, Doria, a social worker (a relevant fact of which nothing is made). Doria gets a good deal of air time. She too is very capable talent, warm, measured, puzzled by all the shenanigans surrounding her daughter but at the same time insightful about them and determined to stand her ground, her own ground.

The pitch is that Meghan was not at all glam growing up; she was the ‘big nerd’, the smart one, the eleven year-old who got a national television ad changed for stereotyping the business of cleaning dishes as a female task. Immersed in her studies, dux, valedictorian: it’s all there, a strong pictorial record. And then her history as an activist for all the right causes, especially — and the irony of this really — female empowerment. She’s not who you thought she was; she’s got a lot more strings to her bow. That’s the message, and the series goes to some lengths to prop up this view. She is or has been a UN Women’s Advocate for Political Participation and Leadership for example. But this case is more convincingly made through her own ‘domestic’ contributions to the series. She is smart. In the finest of American traditions she is highly articulate. And she is, in her own terms has to be, committed to not being brow-beaten.

She is also light-skinned. Her mother had never given her ‘the talk’, but in the tsunami of attention (‘The only title for Meghan is BLACK BITCH’) Doria anticipates that that the issue of ‘race is coming down the pike’. And lo and behold, it slithers and then is slathered right down the middle of the road in 72 point-type. ‘Straight outta Compton’ was one example from ‘The Sun’. Compton, a suburb of LA, has been notorious (in the media) as a low rent black and mixed-race gang area. ‘Straight outta Compton’ is the name of a gangsta rap album. Meghan and her mother had never been to Compton, but the message was received and endlessly amplified.

David Olusoga and Afua Hirsch, British writers and public intellectuals, and Black, are excellent choices as running commentators. The contributions they make are consistently interesting and insightful. One of Olusoga’s points, roundly ridiculed by the critical press and right-wing commentators especially, is that the emergence of this relationship coincided quite precisely and interactively with the lead up to the Brexit poll. According to a ‘Daily Mail’ poll (which is a bit like saying according to the neighbourhood goat, but still), 7 out of 10 Britons at that time thought there were too many immigrants in the country. It is generally agreed that this was one of the main issues which drove the ‘Leave’ vote.

But then, for a time, the tide turned, the wave lifted. There she was: ‘relevant to the modern world’, ‘a breath of fresh air’, a gifted worker of crowds, a warm presence with a compelling smile. There were those who thought that her introduction into the Royal family might help to make it more like Britain, to look less like the white remnants of a largely black and brown Empire and more like the contemporary cosmopolis that it is.

The tide goes out. Meghan has a step-sister Samantha who provides: ‘Meghan’s life is a lie: Sister’, ‘Her ex was a porn star’, ‘Meghan’s gangsta friends involved in drug scam’. The mass which is her father Thomas rolls into view and finds that photos posed for the tabloids (scouring a hard cover copy of ‘Images of Britain’ for example) can earn him $100,000 a shoot. Was money ever made so easily? This man has got to come to the wedding? And Samantha? Well no not Samantha, definitely not Samantha, and five days before the wedding Meghan discovers from a tabloid headline that her father is not going to come either.

I wouldn’t just have had Kate in tears over the flower girls’ dresses, I would have given up about now.

The wedding: tide high and incoming. The dresses were fine. The Queen and Doria were able to make conversation. The homily referring to Martin Luther King as an example of the transcendent power of love was delivered with most un-British force and vigour by Michael Curry, the African-American primate of the American Episcopal church. A gospel group led by Karen Gibson sang ‘Stand by Me’. And there would have been people watching all that thinking, pushy bitch, she’s had a bit too much to do with this wedding. Spoiled the whole thing. Doesn’t she realise it’s for us? US!

In short order this was followed by the couple touring Australia (and NZ and Fiji): 76 engagements in 16 days and Meghan is pregnant. Despite her getting a bit narky, it appears a brand new page has been turned in that fusty old book. The colonials adore them. It’s a rave up, a love job. On arriving home the press are saying ‘more popular and better at it than all the others’. This matters, it is explained, because popularity is the Royals’ currency. It funds their charities, allows them to go about their business, and (in William’s case) positions them for becoming monarch. Harry is incisive on these matters. He grasps exactly how all this plays out and is respectful of its requirements.

But the leaking begins. Tabloid headlines: Meghan is mean to Kate. She’s bossy. She’s demanding. She’s a narcissist. She refuses to play the game. He talks to his father to ask him for help in staunching the bleeding. ‘It’s about time it stopped isn’t it?’ he says. ‘For everyone.’ Charles advises that you can’t take on the media.

Meghan asserts that at this stage she became alert to the fact that she wasn’t just being thrown to the wolves [by the Royal Communications Offices and by implication their bosses Charles and William], she was being fed to the wolves. This appears incontrovertible.

Father Thomas re-emerges with a new game. ‘Royals a secret Scientology cult’, he headlines, and when this is received with tabloid acclaim he kicks on, doubles down, imagines more. What a dude. On the advice of the Royal offices Meghan writes him a private letter to ask him to ease off. Shortly after extracts from this letter appear in ‘The Sun’. A redacted ‘full’ version which highly colours what Meghan has written is made available on line. A social media campaign against her heats up. A respectable authority cites evidence that about 70% of the more than 150,000 online attacks come from just 83 accounts, at least 11 of which can be linked to her step-sister. (Denied by lawyers acting for same.)

You’re reading this and thinking this sounds like a movie, and yes of course it does because it is a movie, but by this stage you’ve forgotten. You’ve heard Harry and Meghan talk about it clearly and persuasively. You’ve seen the footage of the paps in the boats off Vancouver Island. You’ve seen the threats. ‘Meghan needs to die. Somebody needs to kill her. Maybe it should be me.’ A podcast is published calling for Archie to be put down. The Palace withdraws security. And you can’t imagine how they’re going to get out of this one.

The case has been made: they’ve gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing they ever do, cause girl, there’s a better life for me and you. You can watch the rest about the court case and Charles’ perfidy and William’s tantrums and the backdooring and Oprah and the next smear campaign … but, yes, the case has been made. And if you’re not persuaded you’re a block of granite, or just a bit bored. It’ll be later that you start asking yourself what the hell is going on.

Red Tops v. Hollywood. Hollywood has played this set exceptionally well but Red Tops are either indifferent or inflamed. They continue the game by their own rules, regardless of who’s up the other end and in the confident certainty that it will go on probably at least forever. Maybe longer. Look.

The Aversion

I was persuaded. I thought it was a salutary tale of a certain type of innocence encountering some of the realities of life and responding with the (not inconsiderable) resources at their disposal. I had no trouble identifying the bad guys.

Others demurred.

Petronella Wyatt (‘Petsy’, partner B. Johnson 2000-04) writing in ‘The Telegraph’ for example:

Like the perpetually wronged 1940s cartoon character Mona Lott, the Sussexes decided on a vicious and destructive narrative that has left no door open for a return to the royal fold if life in LA goes awry. Which means their options are running out.

Who are they, really, when you strip away their tawdry celebrity? Before Meghan joined the Royal Family, she was an inconsequential television actress staring at the abyss of bit-parts in B-movies. It was only her marriage to Harry, and the generosity shown to her by the late Queen, that made her a star.

Her intelligence is basic rather than profound, and her values acrid and transient. She is a bolter [A bolter! Surely not.], who won’t stick to things she finds hard or disagreeable, nor accept life’s rougher edges. Can she truly set up her stall amongst the cream of America — amongst people whose fame is of the solid and enduring kind that is based on extraordinary talent, frequent hardship, hostile criticism and grindingly hard work?

No. Harry and Meghan had one big chance to prove themselves and make their future unassailable, one big chance to look themselves in the mirror with pride and self-assurance. They were given that chance as working members of the Royal Family.

When the curtain came up on the first act of their starring role as a couple, the audience, namely the British public, were warm to the point of effusion. So was the Press, though the Sussexes have singled it out for particular opprobrium.

The Queen even gave Meghan special privileges — such as allowing her to stay at Sandringham before her marriage — that were denied to Kate. But they took their chances and threw them back in the faces of those who had wished them well.

So, disdain. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth indeed …

Meanwhile the ‘Daily Express’ reports that ‘former Colour Sergeant Trevor Coult who won the Military Cross in Iraq in 2006, has claimed the Duke of Sussex, who resides in Montecito, California, was “absolutely appalling” for criticising the royal family in the show, and that the series and Prince Harry’s attitude towards the King and other members of the royal family was damaging the morale of British troops fighting for the country’. And Nigel Farage has helpfully revealed that the whole thing is about nothing more nor less than Meghan positioning herself for a run at Congress.

And the more sober press? Former Royal correspondent Stephen Bates in ‘The Guardian’:

So this is what snowbound, strike-hit Britain needed on a Thursday morning: a rich and entitled couple living in agreeable circumstances in California bemoaning their treatment by the media, the royal family, courtiers, a woman in the crowd in Liverpool, Meghan’s father and even the Queen by implication. Assailed by “them” and “they”.

Yes, it’s the Harry’n’Meghan show on Netflix again, another two and a half hours in which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex back resentfully into the limelight to reveal once more their truth, complete with home movies of their son Archie and copious intimate photographs showing them intruding on their own privacy. So, what’s new? Well, on this telling, they have been bullied and harassed out of The Firm they worked so hard for: five engagements in five days during their last week in Britain. And the cottage the Queen gave them in the grounds of Kensington Palace was really rather pokey.

Et voila. Fair enough! We all can agree with Nigel Farage that they’re ghastly! There’s the money thing for a start.

They’ve got all this money, they’re privileged and they’re still moaning. This lament comes in a range of colours one of which is a sombre shade of browny-grey and straight from the shoulder.

Asking for tolerance is one thing, but asking for tolerance of feudalism built on institutionalising inequality, tax breaks and legal exemptions for sovereign billionaires? As far as the royal family are concerned, Harry and Meghan don’t want a coup: they want their cut. … The experience of Harry and Meghan, or any number of similar figures in public life, is limited. More importantly, it cannot flow downstream. It cannot ever become about the Home Office, or the black unemployment rate, or the black prison population.Their gripes with the press focus only on the treatment of them as royals, never extending the very short distance to understanding that celebrities are only part of a business model for some papers whose bread and butter is the constant hammering of, and misinformation about, migrants, Muslims and other minorities (Nesrine Malik in ‘The Guardian’ 19/12).

But however interesting and prospectively valid, Malik’s view is unrepresentative. The most common view is you’ve got all this money — it just comes raining down on you for no reason — and you want a lot more you disgusting shits.

The actual amount paid by Netflix and not for just this series but for material generated over a four-year period is unknown but rumoured to be $100m, a nice round figure. That’s a lot of money, however as Marina Hyde (also usually correct) observes:

Of all the charges laid at the door of Harry and Meghan, we can reasonably discount the idea that being paid by Netflix is the sin to end all sins. I’m not sure how people think the British royal family have historically accrued their vast wealth, but a contract with a streaming giant is right down the list of money-spinning horrors. Let’s face it, there are a lot worse ways to lay your hands on a reported £88m in today’s money. No one dissolved the monasteries, here. No one ran a foreign country as an extraction colony. Looting-wise, no one did much beyond taking a call from telly warlord Ted Sarandos and thinking: yes please. This is the market value of my truth.

But as you ramble through the criticism, one feature emerges. It tends to shift, then congregate around and then focus quite specifically — on Meghan. (See Clarkson above for an ostentatiously clear example of this.) Harry is just a ‘glove puppet’ and Meghan’s real name is The Manipulator. It’s Meghan where we should focus. She’s the one who has ruined everything. She’s the cause of all the problems.

Apart from the obvious issue of being a bolter, what else is wrong with her? Lord, where do we start?

Okay. Background. Family. Awful. Oh maybe not her mum, and maybe not her sister (she just tells the truth about what a lying bitch Meghan is) but that father. He’s beyond awful. Like Wallis Simpson, Divorcee. And wasn’t she married before? And wasn’t he a drug dealer or a porn star or something? Poor. And they lived in those poor suburbs in LA … There’s all that. She’s not entitled. She’s an upstart. Even, … she’s common. So there’s a class-crossing problem, standard really for royal marriages because just where can you get access to that stock of suitable princes/ princesses?

She’s an actress. All that stuff she says, that’s just acting. Even when she’s not acting, she’s acting. She’s so phoney. She’s been trained to cry, you can see all that. This seems to be coupled with a more generalised and I had thought anachronistic suspicion of female actresses and their behaviour and morals. In this context that’s an oddity. As Jonathan Freedland points out:

[Harry and Meghan] continue to provide the service Britons have been demanding from the Windsors for a century or more. And what is that service? At its simplest, it is entertainment – or, perhaps more accurately, diversion.

All the Royals are actors. With a public like that, they have to be.

And then there’s the Race Card. She isn’t Black but she is mixed race. The idea that this is a primary source of criticism is common. (And where are you from? Yes but no, where are you from? Where are your people from? There’d be plenty of that.) But I don’t think this is what has people grinding their teeth. It might be but the accusation of racism is often only a blanket abstraction that is used to throw over the complexities of real situations. In fact shouting RACIST! may be enough to have the desired effect. Not Black, however the issue might be that she is American, the sort that can find the idea of curtseying amusing.

What did Henry James say?

The American’s sense of spontaneity, sincerity, and action leads him into natural actions. He seems to represent nature itself. On the other hand, the European’s emphasis on form, ceremony, ritual, and urbanity seems to suggest the artificial. It represents art as an entity opposing nature. Finally, these qualities lead to the ultimate opposition of honesty versus evil.

Henry actually only said something of the sort, albeit in several very long novels. This is commentary. He would never be so bald and obvious. And simple. But as I have written before, communication depends on cliche and stereotyping and this is a good case in point. ‘These qualities lead to the ultimate opposition of honesty versus evil.’ That’s where this sort of talk takes us.

Meghan is expressive, cuddly, loud, direct. And while all the reasons above compound into one glorious ball of hate, I can’t help thinking the main reason we hate Harry & Meghan is that she’s a mouthy woman who doesn’t know her place and won’t do what’s she’s told. In the end, that might be it.

I was reading ‘Passion’ at the time, one of Alice Munro’s truly amazing stories. The heroine, Grace, is similarly out of water in an adopted home and family. They make assumptions about her and her behaviour without checking for evidence. There is a mute understanding that she will marry the oldest boy. But she doesn’t. She’s been sitting on her own box of ideas.

She could not explain or even quite understand that it wasn’t jealousy she felt; it was rage. And not because she couldn’t shop like that or dress like that but because that was what girls were supposed to be like. That was what men—people, everybody—thought they should be like: beautiful, treasured, spoiled, selfish, pea-brained. That was what a girl had to be, to be fallen in love with. Then she’d become a mother and be all mushily devoted to her babies. Not selfish anymore, but just as pea-brained. Forever.

It seemed to fit.

The Truth

‘Harry & Meghan’ illustrates and confirms several things we already knew.

One is that life in the public eye is extraordinarily punishing. The bigger the eye the more punishment. Scarcely survivable. Why doesn’t Meghan just suck it up, goes the line. The rest of them (us!) did. The news, the point of difference, is that she isn’t going to.

Another is that the series casts a violent beam of light on what a Royal is required to be and consequently is. That’s not news. It was 2013 that Christopher Hitchens wrote this in a public letter (well worth reading) on the occasion of Kate Middleton Duchess of Cambridge (as was) giving birth:

If you really love him, honey, get him out of there, and yourself, too. Many of us don’t want or need another sacrificial lamb to water the dried bones and veins of a dessicated system.

The series provides access in a unusually digestible way to how the whole apparatus is quite deliberately constructed to produce as its by-products people who are at best unhappy and at worst emotionally, culturally and morally crippled. That’s Royalty, and this is behaviour for the populace to model. ‘Some recollections may vary’ indeed because they always do. But it’s not the highlight reel of the series that proves this point but the relentless day-to-day of being rich, entitled and pointless.

This is a couple of nice young people fighting for their right to be who they are. That’s what I thought, and my heart went out to them. They are stuck because Harry is in a weird situation which he understands and respects at quite remarkable depth. I think he must have learnt a lot in the army about surveying territory and strategic analysis. ‘What has happened is that I’ve changed to the point where I’ve outgrown my environment’, he notes. He has been educated in a way that his mother never was. She had rat cunning and a profound survival instinct — and no partner, no staff, no office — to help her. ‘I am a strong person’, she told Martin Basheer and my lord she must have been.

Meghan explains why they are not lying low, just tucking themselves away behind the ‘no comment’ that is the Royal patois. ‘We’re under the microscope, and if we’re under the microscope you should look at what we’re looking at. That’s what we’re for. How can it be that we can never talk about things like mental health, the environment, gender equity? Are we to be silent from now on?’ That’s an honourable perspective.

‘It is also true’, as the Guardian notes in an editorial, ‘that the greatest villains of this whole saga are not King Charles, Princes William or Harry, or any of the individual royals, but the relentlessly intrusive and hyperbolic British tabloid press and the lying and abusive world of social media.’

And if you’re going to say that — again, the bleedin’ obvious — you’re going to have to talk about the audience that funds and feeds on these industries of outrage. You will need to engage with the proposition that emotional cake and visual distraction will in fact keep the masses content. We are going to be taught some very unpleasant lessons about ourselves.

They’re the obvious takeaways.

• • • • • • •

Samantha Markle, half-sister of Meghan Markle, is calling out the Duchess’s new Netflix documentary. Speaking with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, Samantha took a swipe at Meghan’s claim of taking care of sick grandmother during the final days of her life.

She fumed: ‘The whole grandmother thing – that just did it for us. I think my grandmother would be rolling over in her grave if she saw that. [Meghan] didn’t take care of her, she visited her maybe twice. She never made apple butter with her because my grandmother was making apple butter, like, in the 1970s before Meghan was even born. So, it’s been so far-fetched.’

That’s not what happened. Listen to me will you. Listen. And I’ll tell you what happened. It was a Thursday, and she didn’t. No … just listen. Shut up. No you shut up. SHUT UP! You weren’t even there.

What resonated with me more strongly was the portrait the series provided not of people telling the truth, but of trying to convince you, the greater public, that what they are saying and showing IS The Truth, a universal event happening at this instant in at least 100 million households. It’s a case study of this process. And what makes this situation particularly compelling is that this is occurring in a super-charged environment, one constructed not just by Barney Ronay’s ‘furiously able and efficient younger colleague’ but by him and teams of his mates operating competitively. That is also why it is worthy of attention. It is the World Cup of extraordinarily common versions of this situation.

How to tell a story, a story that you firmly believe to be true, that you have lived through, a story that may be crystal clear — you think— at points, if complex at others, and whatever you say … they just don’t believe you. How could that be? How do you make yourself believed? Can you find an arbiter who will make things right? Can you build the requisite message — big enough, strong enough, insuperable enough — from the medium?

So for me the powerhouse notion of the netflix series Harry & Meghan is not their story, their so carefully constructed personal narrative, and whether or not it is successful. (Is in the US; is not in the UK apparently.) It is whether or not you believe them and why or why not. It is your reaction. Will you say, I don’t like them therefore it’s not true?

In the end it will be pointless because they inhabit a fairy tale, and that’s true whether you’re being crowned, giving speeches at the UN or digging the garden supervised by paparazzi. The idea of truth will have been compromised so comprehensively by the circumstantial ecology that it won’t mean anything.

But I’ll still believe them.

4 thoughts on “But it’s not true …

  1. Dear David,

    I haven’t watched the Harry & Meghan series. Nor indeed any series, since I don’t have a TV and use my PC almost solely for accessing/researching music. Once in a blue moon, years after the original broadcasts, I may check out a YouTube compilation of highlights from a series like Game Of Thrones or The Sopranos to get a handle on what other people find compelling about it. But because I have eight squillion hours of music still to investigate and limited lifespan, something has to give and that something is TV.

    I like your essay on Meghan & Harry. Clear-eyed as always. The trademark David McRae balance of no-bullshit call-it-as-I-see-it appraisal and philosophical nuance.

    I was vehemently anti-Royal Family in my Australian youth but now that I’m in my sixties and living in the UK I am agnostic. Age has brought with it an awareness that the majority of citizens in most countries are ill-educated and irrational, and they need to regard various famous personages with envy, worship, love, hate, idle preoccupation. Whether it’s a Royal or Trump or the Kardashians, these godlike heroes & villains serve a vital purpose, and I achieve nothing by bleating that they are unworthy of so much attention.

    I don’t think I’ve even ever heard Meghan speak. The focus on her ethnicity is an illuminating insight into how obsessed humans are with where others are “from”, because to my ignorant eyes she just looks like a white girl. Half the women in Glasgow with their fake suntans are darker than Meghan. So the issue would seem to be not about blackness in any perceivable sense but the lingering KKK notion that if a person has even “one drop of black blood” hidden within them they are infected with some sort of subhuman taint.

    This clip of white supremacist Craig Cobb getting the results of his DNA test is always good for a chuckle:

    When people in our culture become incredibly famous, they are inevitably called upon to comment upon the significant issues of the day, which can yield good fruit if the person happens to be smart (eg, Frank Zappa) but doesn’t go so well if the celeb is rather thick (eg. Kanye West). Whatever excellent qualities she had, Diana Spencer was not the brightest intellect on the planet and her second-born is dimmer still. That doesn’t mean he’s ill-qualified to fly a helicopter or have worthwhile perspectives on the way the media have treated him & his wife, of course, but it does put certain parameters around what “his truth” can articulate.

    I loved your gloss: “In saying this he is entirely believable, but with the obvious proviso that there is no one anywhere else in the world in his situation.”

    It’s possible that the days of the British monarchy are numbered. Charles may prove to be much less long-lived than his mum, his successor may find the challenge of reconciling antiquated traditions with whatever modernity consists of by then impossible, there may be more scandals of a Prince Andrew sort, and the whole shebang may implode. The Royals are, as you say, actors, and the soap opera may at last be cancelled. I’ve come to feel that the glow of pride that many Britons feel at having shaken hands with the Queen or benefiting from one of the Royals’ charities is no bad thing. Andrew is appalling but by & large the real monsters are the parasites who combine their lives of privilege on the fringes of the artistocracy with an ability to actually influence politics — the Lis Trusses and Petronella Wyatts and Michelle Mones.

    Love,

    Michel

  2. When I saw what your latest was about I wasn’t going to continue reading as I have no time for any ‘celebrity’ (except maybe Big Max who is a laugh a minute), but I’m glad I continued. You’ve really enlightened me on their situation. I have a very best friend who can’t wait to get to London to attend Charlie’s coronation because he attended Liz’s in 1953. I also have a sister-in-law who hangs on every word written or spoken about the British Royal Family. I even remember being woken up at some time in the morning to listen to the moment when Liz had the crown placed on her head; in those days there was no television here and the radio was paramount. I was on the ground at the MCG when Liz and Phil rode around the oval during her visit in 1954 and my dad took me to Warburton to watch the Royal Train arrive at the Warburton station. Despite all this I have no interest in any of the Royals but sort of understand why some people do.

  3. But will you be rushing out to buy a copy of ‘The Spare’? I also watched it and thought it to be about the slickest documentary without substance that I had seen in many a long year. Clearly they are concerned about what the public perceives and want an untarnished image to be portrayed. They make no real analysis of what press (the right wing of course) keeps trashing them and why. The race card is overdone as is the we were more popular than them. They will probably end up being like his great uncle and his ‘consort’, living the high life which is clearly what they are currently doing and as for the ‘good works’ one can only question what real impact they have on the lives of those who are in dire need or, whether it’s just another photographic opportunity.

    • Probably won’t be racing for a copy of Spare. Marina Hyde thinks they may end up like the Ancient Mariner, permanently condemned to repeat their story to whoever can’t avoid them.

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