I have never been a fan of kiss-and-tell stories. I find them distasteful and dishonest. I don’t understand how anybody can be intimate with someone one minute and tell the world about it the next. Which is why I find the revenge videos of ex-girlfriends that men put up on social media so hateful. I am so afraid of my privacy being invaded that I hesitate to make video calls. Zoom meetings make me anxious. I am also probably the only person in the world who has never taken a selfie, and do not like it when people take pictures of me without my knowledge.
I am also not into reality TV shows that were popularized by the likes of Kim Kardashian. I don’t understand the fascination people have with peeping into other people’s personal lives. I find these shows voyeuristic and a complete waste of time.
So, when I heard that Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his wife Meghan Markle were doing a tell-all documentary on their experiences within the British royal family, I felt a certain level of disgust. How could this couple throw their own family under the bus? To top it all, Harry has come out with a book, Spare, that reveals even more sordid details and secrets about his family.
We now all know that the British royal family, like most families, is dysfunctional. From Prince (now King) Charles and Princess Diana’s disastrous marriage to child sex abuse allegations against Prince Andrew, the royal soap opera has been full of twists and plots that make other dysfunctional families look normal. But to expose and exploit the dysfunction in such a public way is distasteful and wrong, I thought. And especially so soon after Queen Elizabeth, Harry’s grandmother, had passed away. It seems a huge betrayal of trust.
Like many people, I thought that perhaps Meghan had miscalculated what being a British royal meant. That this former American actress wanted the title and privileges of a princess without any of the duties and responsibilities. Did she really imagine that she could marry a British royal and not be the subject of intense scrutiny by the media, as was her late mother-in-law Diana, who was hounded by paparazzi till the day she died?
I also couldn’t understand why this couple could not just fade away from the limelight as had the former King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson and led a quiet exile’s life in France. After all, Harry and Meghan had already migrated to the United States when the series was made, and by all accounts were leading a comfortable private life in their new home. Why all the hullabaloo?
But after seeing the docuseries Harry & Meghan on Netflix, I think I know why. The series is not so much an indictment of the royal family as it is of the British tabloid press. Even though Meghan could pass off as white, and had lived a glamourous life as an American actress, her biracial heritage was always a topic of discussion by the right-wing media in Britain, which has an unhealthy obsession with the British royal family. Meghan entered the whitest of white families and this made some people in Britain very uncomfortable.
From the moment Meghan started dating Harry, the British tabloid press has not been subtle in its racist, misogynistic and classist depictions of her. The misogyny and racism hurled at her has intensified after the series was aired. Jeremy Clarkson of the Sun had no qualms writing this: “At night, I’m unable to sleep as I lie there, grinding my teeth and dreaming of the day when she [Meghan] 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.” (That column has since been removed due to public outcry.)
Meghan’s beef with the royal family is that no one stood up for her when she was experiencing this kind of abuse, which in the past have included threats to her life. No public statements were issued in her defense, nor were there attempts to shield her from the relentlessly brutal tabloid press.
It was perhaps naïve of Meghan to believe that just because her wedding took place with much pomp and ceremony, with an all-black gospel choir to boot, that racism in Britain and within the royal family was a thing of the past. Having lived in the United States, a country built on the bodies of African slaves, and where race continues to determine one’s life chances, did she seriously think she would not encounter any racism in Britain? As Nylah Burton commented in Andscape, “Meghan knew that racism existed, she just felt a comfortable distance from it because of the way she looked. She felt so comfortable that she thought she could marry into the royal family – an institution built on the corpses of colonized and enslaved Black and brown people – and be accepted.”
Perhaps what Meghan has finally learned from her experiences is that racism is not an abstract concept, but something that is experienced everyday by millions of people around the world who lead much less privileged and less public lives.
Nonetheless, is it right for her and her husband to rubbish their family in such a public way? The jury is still out. Perhaps the question we should be asking is whether the British monarchy should be abolished altogether so that its members can live “normal” lives and not be the subject of unnecessarily intrusive media and public attention.