DM168 Royal Ruckus

Harry and Meghan’s love and hate affair with the Fourth Estate

Harry and Meghan’s love and hate affair with the Fourth Estate
In this handout image provided by Harpo Productions and released on March 5, 2021, Oprah Winfrey interviews Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on A CBS Primetime Special premiering on CBS on March 7, 2021. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)

The couple may say they hate the media and insist they want to be left alone, but as the very act of participating in the interview with Oprah Winfrey broadcast in South Africa on Monday showed, Harry and Meghan simply can’t kick the media habit. It’s a little more complicated – and symbiotic – than that.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

I don’t know if you clocked this at the time, but human civilisation’s darkest hour was reached in 2014. It was in that year that the extraordinary American reality TV show I Wanna Marry Harry debuted on our screens, for its one and only season. The premise of the show was so surreal that you’re going to think I’m making this up, so feel free to take a Google break and come back when you know better.

The show featured 12 young American women competing for the romantic attentions of an eligible single man. This in itself is the idea underpinning far too many reality show franchises, but I Wanna Marry Harry had, um, a twist. The bachelor in question was a posh, red-haired young Englishman who travelled everywhere by helicopter and had a retinue of bodyguards.

Do you see where this is going? The women on the show had been led to believe that the man was Prince Harry. They had swallowed the idea that the – at that stage – fourth-in-line to the British throne had been given permission to participate in a reality TV show where he would choose a princess from among 12 American dumdums.

The man who was posing as Prince Harry was really an environmental consultant called Matthew Hicks, who looked like Harry in approximately the same way that I look like Princess Diana.

“Judging by the evidence of this show,” I wrote at the time in a TV column for the Sunday Times, “you could shove a ginger mop on top of a cardboard box and American girls would think they were hanging out with Prince Harry. When they are eliminated from the competition, they bawl, ‘At least I got to meet Prince Harry’, never stopping to consider how profoundly strange it is that Buckingham Palace is outsourcing Prince Harry’s wife-hunt to American TV producers.”

But life has a funny way of imitating art, and so it is that in this year of our Lord 2021, Prince Harry is – for real-real – placing his marital dramas in the hands of American TV producers. I am referring, of course, to the CBS primetime feature that saw Harry and bride Meghan sit down to bare their hearts to the Queen, by whom I mean Oprah.

Oh, how I miss Oprah. That, surely, was the major takeaway from the whole multimillion-dollar tableau: the world needs Oprah now more than ever. Oprah, with a new pair of earnest spectacles, managing to move her face in ways both empathetic and sceptical at the same time. Oprah, who had brought a tracksuit with her so that she could commune with the Sussexes’ chickens in appropriate attire. Oprah, who echoed the feelings of so many of us at various points by simply responding: “Wut?”

WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM – MAY 19: Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex leave from the West Door of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Ben STANSALL – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The interview, which required South African TV viewers to sit through innumerable adverts for the haemorrhoid medication Anusol, took place in the garden of a lovely home that we were immediately told was neither Oprah’s nor the Sussexes’. Harry and Meghan, it emerges, are now utterly obsessed with security and privacy, and loathe the media. On the one hand, this is only to be expected when your mother dies in a Paris underpass being chased by paparazzi. On the other hand, why then choose to participate in a globally broadcast TV production at all?

Just go and live your lives, Harry and Meghan, with your chickens and your children. Never give another interview. But the basic problem is that for all their protestations, the pair desperately need the media. Their new business ventures are all within the realm of media. The media is how they elevate their profile above just another Santa Barbara couple hoping to break into the streaming industry. They may hate it, but as the very act of participating in the interview showed, Harry and Meghan simply can’t kick the media habit.

Even if you didn’t watch the interview, by now you will doubtless have heard of the biggest bombshell emanating from it: that unnamed members of the British royal family asked Harry “how dark” the skin of his offspring with Meghan was likely to be. The couple refused to be drawn on which member was responsible for this offensive query.

CHESTER, ENGLAND – JUNE 14: Queen Elizabeth II sitts and laughs with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex during a ceremony to open the new Mersey Gateway Bridge on June 14, 2018 in the town of Widnes in Halton, Cheshire, England. Meghan Markle married Prince Harry last month to become The Duchess of Sussex and this is her first engagement with the Queen. During the visit the pair will open a road bridge in Widnes and visit The Storyhouse and Town Hall in Chester. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Afterwards, I started drawing up a mental list of suspects. Top of the list without question was Prince Philip, who is famously the least woke person in Great Britain. Al Jazeera once ran an article titled, “The priceless racism of the Duke of Edinburgh”, which is a more accurate description of what sycophantic British news outlets more often call Philip’s “gaffes”.

On a visit to China, Philip referred to “slitty eyes”; in Ethiopia, he compared the local art to something a toddler would draw; he described Nigerian national dress as resembling pyjamas; a black British politician was asked by Philip “what exotic part of the world” he came from. The list literally goes on and on – but given that the duke is currently in perilous health in hospital at age 99, it feels a bit unkind to labour the point.

Suspect number two on my list has to be Princess Michael of Kent, who was photographed wearing a “blackamoor” brooch to the occasion of Meghan Markle’s first Christmas lunch with the family. It was later revealed by her daughter’s ex-boyfriend that Princess Michael owns two black sheep that she named “Venus” and “Serena”. There was also the awkward occasion in 2004 when the princess allegedly told a group of customers talking too loudly in a restaurant to “go back to the colonies”.

Other suspects: Prince Charles, who joked in 2018 that a brown-skinned woman did not look like she could be from Manchester, and who was previously exposed as having nicknamed one of his Asian polo chums “Sooty”. Next: the Queen, who told travel writer Paul Theroux in 1996 that the premier of Papua New Guinea had “fuzzy-wuzzy” hair: a derogatory term for black people popularised by poet Rudyard Kipling.

About a decade ago, another of my prime suspects would have been Harry himself. There was his well-publicised decision to dress in Nazi uniform at a fancy dress party. There was the time he was caught on camera referring to a brown-skinned pal as “our little Paki friend”. There was the occasion on which he remarked to British comedian Stephen K Amos: “You don’t sound like a black chap”. But Harry told Oprah that it was Meghan who opened his eyes to the world of racism, so we assume those days are behind him.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – SEPTEMBER 25: Archbishop Desmond Tutu kisses Archie Mountbatten-Windsor on the head as he is held by his mother, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex during a visit to the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation during their royal tour of South Africa on September 25, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Toby Melville – Pool/Getty Images)

Under these circumstances, Harry being asked “how dark” his child with Meghan might be sounds a lot like a best-case scenario to me. I can think of about a thousand more offensive comments coming out of the mouths of most of the Windsors. Yes, the question is stupid and ignorant – but anyone expecting different from the British royal family clearly has not followed their history very closely.

And this was, to be fair, the exact defence marshalled by Meghan. She assumed the royal family were just like … celebrities, she told Oprah. She didn’t Google Harry before their first date (luckily for him, or she might have found the racist stuff). She didn’t know you had to curtsey when you met the queen. Meghan, in short, was about as clued up about the prince and his family as the contestants on I Wanna Marry Harry.

As I see it, the problem is that Meghan met Harry in 2016. The first season of The Crown was only aired in November of that year, so she cannot be blamed for her ignorance. The Crown is now the portal through which all of humanity is receiving its education on the Windsors, as Oprah admitted without an ounce of shame during the interview. Oprah is all of us.

If you stumbled upon the interview without any context and had no idea who Meghan Markle was, you might have assumed that Oprah was interviewing a woman who had recently escaped from the clutches of Scientologists. “That was the last time that I saw my passport, my driver’s licence, my keys. All that gets turned over,” Meghan said, adding that she was not even permitted to go out for lunch with friends.

I have questions about this, since it was well publicised that Meghan flew to New York for her baby shower and a five-day “girls’ trip”. But it is also plausible that she could do this without laying her mitts on her passport, because members of the royal family may not actually be required to carry any such plebeian documents.

epa09013040 (FILE) – Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, holding their son Archie, at the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, 25 September 2019 (reissued 14 February 2021). The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are expecting their second child, a spokesperson for the couple has confirmed on 14 February 2021. EPA-EFE/TOBY MELVILLE / POOL

This almost-unimaginable level of privilege is, in a nutshell, the issue that sticks in many gullets when we try to summon up real tears for the estranged royal twosome.

That Harry and Meghan are better off outside the palace walls is a no-brainer. They will not struggle financially, even if their media ventures don’t take off: Harry gets a reported £300,000 (around R6.3-million) annually from his late mother’s estate, and Meghan is independently wealthy from her acting career. What they may battle with more is a sense of purpose and meaning beyond the burdensome significance of their former roles. In which case, all we can say is: welcome to the real world, guys. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • gorgee beattie says:

    It is a sad reflection on the human condition that so much attention is paid to the likes of the Windsors and the Sussexes (and Winfrey)
    The public pay hard earned money to support the longest running, most successful scam in history

  • Kirsty Hämmerle says:

    The irony of two stupendously wealthy, uniquely privileged grown ups complaining to one of the richest people on the planet about how awful their life is beggars belief. Dad cut him off, wedding histrionics, don’t know how to call a doctor. Which time tunnel did these two brats travel through?

  • Johan says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you Rebecca.

  • Johannes Vorster says:

    An excellent piece of writing – it has been a pleasure to read this and expressed, I think, what many of us feel. Thank you Rebecca.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    I hardly think renting your name out to Netflix for a ton of money is a “business venture”.
    And by the way Phil the Greek is a national treasure. Last year after bring messed around for 10 minutes by a photographer trying to arrange him in a group, he said “Take the f****** photo already!”.

  • May Beam says:

    Best article on the topic I’ve read, thank you!

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    An excellent article, extremely well written! The interview itself was puzzling- why do a sit down with arguably the most famous media personality in the world, if you hate publicity and by extension the media ? And again if it was meant to be cathartic, it certainly was not, rather overall demeaning, to themselves as well

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