The Duke and Duchess of Sussex relocated to LA last year under a barrage of criticism

Meghan and Harry are the victims here – but the royal family refuse to see it

The Duchess of Sussex is a woman who fell in love with a man. That’s it. Unfortunately for her, this man happened to be a British prince

Funmi Olutoye@FunmiOlutoye
Thursday 04 March 2021 18:48
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Once upon a time, I naively thought that Meghan Markle’s entrance into the royal family represented a changing institution and a changing society. How wrong I was.

From the day their relationship was officially announced in late 2016, there has been excessive criticism and abuse directed at them. It has been ferocious, relentless and, frankly, absurd.

The Duchess of Sussex is a woman who fell in love with a man. That’s it. Unfortunately for her, this man happened to be a British prince. For that, she has paid an incredibly high price: attempts to undermine her character, unprovoked criticisms and bizarre anger from royal commentators determined to disrespect her. All this quickly became the norm.

And so, under a barrage of abuse, the pair decided to leave the UK last year, relocating to Los Angeles.

But that, of course, was not the end of the story. As relations between the couple and the palace appeared to sour, Harry and Meghan were recently asked to hand back certain titles and royal patronages. The palace released a statement, explaining: “In stepping away from the work of the royal family, it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service.”

Read more: Harry and Meghan on Oprah: How to watch interview where ‘nothing is off-limits’

The couple hit back, releasing their own statement, in which they declared that “service is universal”.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago, Oprah Winfrey announced she had recorded an interview with the couple. And then this week, all of a sudden, it was revealed royal aides wanted to talk about their experiences working for Meghan at Kensington Palace, amid claims they had allegedly been “bullied” by the duchess.

At this point, we have to analyse the way the duchess has been constantly pursued and indeed bullied herself from day one, to the point where private letters between her and her father were published in a national newspaper. If the media and the public are going to hound someone for alleged bullying, we must view these attacks in context and perspective.

Prior to all this, the couple have been largely self-sufficient in their new life, championing noble causes, literally halfway across the world. So what is it about Harry and Meghan – but particularly Meghan – that makes people so irate?

The writer RS Locke points to the fact that she is a mixed-race woman at “the top of the pyramid by marriage, negating both the birth and blood requirements society had previously been told were preconditions”.

“Because she lacks those prerequisites, she’s considered unworthy.” 

If that is true – and I suspect it is – it is a damning indictment of British society. This, I think, is about that unique type of racism that many British people of colour experience, complain about and are hurt by every day. The type where you know it and feel it but, ever elusive, you can’t quite place it or “prove” it. I suspect the Duchess has tasted this, a bitter taste indeed.

Locke points to comments such as: “I look at her and I think, ‘I don’t think I’d like you in real life’”, or, “We Brits prefer true royalty to fashion royalty” and, “She just doesn’t speak our language.” And of course who could forget when a certain prime minister’s sister called Meghan’s blood “exotic”.

Read more: Why did Megan Markle call the royal family The Firm and who is included?

And where was The Firm to defend her? Where is it now? Let’s not forget, Meghan is pregnant, an incredibly vulnerable time for any woman.

It would be hard to argue that the Sussexes are completely blameless. We’d all love to fly on private jets but, unlike them, many of us would be uncomfortable championing environmental causes at the same time. And even I recoiled slightly when I heard about the sit-down interview with Oprah. Even I fleetingly thought, hang on, this isn’t exactly protecting the privacy they claim to want.

Yet the hard fact is that they have done the British taxpayer a favour by paying for themselves. For some reason, though, we’re all still unhappy. They can’t win. 

The CBS clip released today previewing the Oprah interview suggests there is more to the stormy relationship between The Firm and the Sussexes than meets the eye. This is something Princess Diana alluded to about her own situation many years ago.

In her 1995 interview with Martin Bashir, the Princess of Wales said she believed there was an orchestrated smear campaign against her and that she was a “problem” for the royal family. The Duchess of Sussex now says the Palace has “perpetuated falsehoods” about her. There are clearly parallels here.

I tweeted yesterday that the allegations of bullying made against the Duchess arrived at a suspicious moment. Let’s not forget that these allegations first appeared in 2018, yet it is only now, days before the interview, that Buckingham Palace has decided to announce an investigation into the claims.

Something is amiss, particularly as the Palace has been silent on the issue of the FBI’s repeated request to question Prince Andrew and his links to paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Will there be an investigation into this, too? The world waits. Both allegations should be investigated, yet only one investigation has been launched. Again, something is amiss.

There is a reason why Prince Andrew has been trending on Twitter. People are not buying it. “It” being the disproportionate criticism aimed at the Duchess of Sussex in comparison to others in the royal family accused of grave sins. Unlike in the days of Diana, social media provides a platform for ordinary people to exchange thought and debate. Only time will tell if The Firm’s PR machine will come out on top in the court of public opinion.

This is not the only hypocrisy. Social commentator Kelechi Okafor said yesterday: “The monarchy has bullied most of the world and renamed that bullying ‘The Commonwealth’. Let’s talk about it.”

And then there is the hypocrisy of royal commentators focusing on the earrings the Duchess of Sussex wore in 2018, allegedly a gift from Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia. The British government, using taxpayers’ money, not only converses but deals with Saudi Arabia on a daily basis. Should we all, as taxpayers, be held in contempt, too?

If we were to judge fairly, one might say: if Saudi Arabia is good enough for the British government, it is good enough for a member of the royal family. As Ayesha Hazarika pointed out on Good Morning Britain, the Queen has previously “rolled out the red carpet” for the very same person. Dare we criticise Her Majesty the way some have of the Duchess of Sussex? Highly unlikely.

The intrigue of the royal family has always been their tantalising mysteriousness. They are so close to us and yet so far. Our only hope of knowing who they are and what they do outside of cutting ribbons and opening buildings are rumours, whispers and PR briefings exchanged between the Palace and official royal commentators.

This is why the world is on tenterhooks about the Oprah interview. Oprah says in another clip that “no topic is off the table”. This interview could cause potentially irreversible damage to the royal family. This time, they cannot control the message.

But we must also remember that, while this may be box office stuff for you and me, it is real life for a young couple who clearly see they can do more good in the world halfway across the world, without titles, royal constraints and a media hellbent on destroying their reputation.