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The terrible irony at the heart of the Meghan and Harry documentary

If they wish to lead private lives, then they shouldn’t sign multi-million dollar contracts with Netflix based on their fame and celebrity

Sean O'Grady
Friday 09 December 2022 10:10 GMT
Meghan Markle recalls ‘amazing’ first Christmas with royals at Sandringham

He may be the son of the King, but Prince Harry hasn’t got much to say about the old boy in the hotly anticipated Netflix seriesHarry & Meghan – at least so far. We see glimpses of a young, fogeyish Charles in archive footage, but frankly, he seems dead to Harry.

There’s not a word said about Charles III, and one wonders what devastating truths will be uttered when the time comes. Rather, he declares “I am my mother’s son”, and it’s fair to say that he and his family are haunted by Diana and her memory. He even says, in effect, that he loves Meghan because she has some of Diana’s qualities – care and compassion. Unspoken is the contrast with – and cliche of – the “cold” Windsors.

Images of the last Princess of Wales punctuate the first part of this documentary. She is beaming out from the walls of their Californian mansion to little Archie and Lilibet. There’s the video of her being harassed by the press. There are clips from the famous Martin Bashir Panorama interview a quarter century ago, when she complains about the cameras stuck in her face. He recalls as a little boy the pain on her face.

We hear again the words of her brother and Harry’s uncle Charles Spencer soon after her death, accusing the newspaper editors and proprietors who bought the paparazzi photographs of having “blood on their hands”. Plainly, Harry believes – and with some justification – that the media murdered his mother, and, as he says repeatedly, his duty is to protect his family.

The Harry and Meghan story here is portrayed as a great romance, an almost childish but enduring mutual infatuation, and there’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of that. They’re rich, spoiled, a bit hypocritical and oblivious – but so are lots of people. They’re still perfectly authentic.

Yet the troubling thing about their Netflix show is the paradox at the heart of it – why a couple “finding freedom” as they put it are exposing their whole family to massive media attention once again. There is some irony in them sitting in the back of a car on their way to an engagement in New York, complaining about someone on a scooter following them and trying to take pictures. We know they find it stressful because... there’s a Netflix camera crew in the front filming their obvious discomfort.

Harry says the difference is “consent” and that’s fair. But the point stands that if they wish to lead private lives, then they shouldn’t sign multi-million dollar contracts with Netflix based on their fame and celebrity. Harry may understand this, and be completely right about wanting to control what the media is allowed to do and not do – but it is a doomed mission, and made even more hopeless by mining his family history for profit.

The publicity for the new series has hardly been understated, and while it’s nice to know about how they met on Instagram and hung out on safari in Botswana on a sort of extended date with elephants as bodyguards (like you do), what the world really wants to know is which one – or ones – of the House of Windsor made racist remarks about them and the family.

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The public expects the highest grade goss from these shows, and if they don’t get it, they’ll be disappointed. If they do get it, then there’s a fair chance most of the rest of Harry’s family won’t speak to him again, will anyway deny it (where’s the proof?) and will take his remaining titles off him. But that won’t be the end of the matter, because the pair will continue to be celebrities.

The unkind, racist and vicious abuse the pair get on social media won’t go away – it will merely intensify. When they put images of Brexit demos and anti-immigrant racists in the documentary, well, yes that will wind up the haters. Millions of words of bile will spew forth online. The paparazzi won’t go away. The attention will be just as intense as it was for Diana.

Harry and Meghan should be able to tell their side of the story. The public have a right to know what their royal family is like, and whether racist attitudes are harboured in these grand palaces. That’s why the row about Lady Susan Hussey and Ngozi Fulani became so toxic. But in taking this step, Harry and Meghan must realise that they are even less likely to be able to lead a quiet life. Far from it. For the media, there’s no such thing as consent.

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