The Royal payroll / play role
Both Harry and Megan have been through a painful transition and career change. Before marriage, Meghan, who is American, was a film actress and he was on the British royal payroll. She completed her role in the series “Suits” before their engagement was announced in November 2017. For the next three years, they were in the spotlight, especially of the British tabloids.
The newspaper packs were relentless, so the couple could not protect their privacy. Harry explains that the argument runs: the royals are on the public payroll, so they must play the role. This means they are ever more attentive to how their family look rather than how they feel.
Learning the protocols
Meghan’s move into “the firm” of the royal family was always going to be hard. Coming from a culture that has no royal family or any history of one, she was totally unfamiliar with royal protocols. In recent decades, there is always some tut-tutting in certain circles when a royal marries a commoner, like Sarah Ferguson or Kate Middleton.
Respect for heraldic lineages is astonishingly long-lived in England. Within that view, it is a giant leap for a prince to wed not only a commoner, but a foreigner and also someone of mixed race (with a Black mother and a White father). Harry admits that Meghan has taught him a lot about racism.
Not serious politics
I have to confess that I do not follow royal news closely. Assuming the royal show, like football, has no bearing on serious politics, I tend to flick past them to reach items which have some bearing on how modern society and my life are being shaped.
But this Netflix series made by and for Harry and Meghan is worth the hours of watching (six x 55-minute episodes) because of what it reveals about racism and about media fakery. Do not dip in and out assuming you know all that. It is worth watching how the story unfolds from beginning to end.
100 shades … or two?
Let’s follow how the racism played out. When the engagement was first announced, there was huge interest in Meghan. Black and Brown people in the UK were hugely pleased, as our mixed-race daughter reported to us from London. The wedding ceremony itself in 2018 exceeded Anglican conventions with the Kingdom gospel choir and a Black cellist.
Queen Elizabeth herself, ever since she made a speech in South Africa committing her life to her royal duties, was notably devoted to the Commonwealth, by visits to its various countries and receptions for Commonwealth leaders. Since the majority of the population of the Commonwealth is not white, one would have thought that the addition of a Black person to the royal payroll/play role would be an asset.
It looked that way in the film clips of Meghan and Harry, for instance in South Africa in 2019. Comparing their interaction with multi-racial crowds and that of, for instance, William and Kate in Jamaica recently, the greater attraction of Meghan and Harry is obvious.
Kings and slaves
In the Netflix series, David Olusoga is a strong voice, pointing out the history of colonialism, which includes the involvement of British monarchs in the slave trade from the sixteenth century. But the links of Empire have now transformed the population of Britain too. With more black and brown people here and in the Commonwealth, wasn’t it timely for the Royal family to become more multi-racial?
But alas Meghan, in spite of her stellar attraction and dutiful royal role-play, became the victim of British racism. Some is blatant “drop of blood” racism: when she is pregnant, how dark will the baby be? Mostly, Meghan was smeared by the tabloid media with false accusations: she comes from the worst slums of LA; she is a money-grabber, she is a bully, she has a bad relationship with her father and so on.
“I know what I believe”
When I asked someone at the local newsagent here whether he had watched the Netflix series, he responded, “No, I don’t want to go there. Prince Harry ruined his life by marrying her. She made him throw away his medals.“
(In fact, as someone no longer on the royal payroll Prince Harry was not allowed to wear a military uniform at the Queen’s funeral. However, he wore his medals pinned to his suit. But in this person’s mind, as with Britain First claiming their nasty anti-migrant campaigns are for the sake of helping British veterans, racism and pro-military are yoked together in distorted patriotism).
Our daughter claims that she has stopped asking local colleagues and neighbours what they think of the Harry and Meghan stories as their replies are a sure reveal about their level of racism.
The Prince and the papers
The other theme that interests me in this Netflix series is what it reveals about media fakery. In the preview clips, Meghan declares they think it is time people hear their story from them. The pressure they suffered from intrusive journalism was horrendous.
To some extent, Prince Harry was used to the crush of photographers. There were even clips of incidents in his childhood, with Princess Diana trying to protect the family when on holiday. In fact, his mother died while being chased by paparazzi in a Paris road tunnel. So of course he was extra aware of the need to protect his wife.
Keeping up with the hacks
During the series we learn that Harry and William shared a Kensington Palace communications team. This team had a pact with the leading UK newspapers which allowed the Press access to the royals in a roster. The royals just have to comply with whatever this team advises.
One cannot help speculating that maybe this team was overwhelmed by the challenge and novelty of Meghan. Did the team have anyone with insights into racism and how it plays out? As the pressure grew, the brothers had to split the team, thereby strengthening the media speculation of quarrels between them. But in this film, Harry does not criticise his brother. He acknowledges that William has been brought up to play a certain role, and he is doing just that.
Royal jelly for the tabloids
Royal scandal is such a huge source of income for tabloid circulation that it seems the events get slanted, shaped and presented by whatever will boost the front page and thus sales: the brothers’ quarrel; Meghan makes Kate cry, Meghan breaks with her father and so on. In the worst instance, which the film shows in graphic detail, Meghan’s confidential pre-wedding letter to her father was leaked and then text from it was selected to fit the story the Daily Mail wanted.
This shattered Meghan’s relationship with her father at the time. She has therefore brought a case against the Daily Mail, and won it. She was not asking for damages to be paid: she simply wanted the truth of the Daily Mail’s forgery to be known and an apology. A few weeks ago, the court ruled in her favour, and the Daily Mail printed on page 1 (but in smaller print than the headline about something else) that she had won, but to this day it has not issued an apology.
The couple are now outside the royal “firm” and making a new life in America. Their company, Archewell, is now contracted to Netflix for $100m dollars for the next five years. This series is the first production under this contract for worldwide release. Millions will be watching it and seeing a couple who are star influencers.
The values they project have an impact. Harry is much more like his mother in being in touch with his own feelings and those of others around him. Meghan, besides being an actress, was already doing international humanitarian work by bringing attention to and championing girls’ education, before they met.
Now, with her experience of life as a persecuted royal and the depression this caused, she has additional sensitivity to mental distress. It is totally wrong to bill this Netflix series as the Harry and Meghan revenge salvo to Kate and William which the palace communications team are trying to deflect. It is a life-story that is worth telling for itself, and for the insights it gives into how the profit-seeking tabloid media evilly distort it and thus corrupt our values.