Saying that the unprecedented interview of the Dukes of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was shocking is a huge understatement. During an interview of more than two hours with American TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey at a gorgeous Californian villa, the former royals blasted the institution raising a huge list of claims that were quite surprising.
Meghan Markle and Harry reported, among other things, that some members of the royal family had expressed concerns about the skin color of their son Archie, implied that he was not granted an HRH (his royal highness) title due to this (although it is a 100-year tradition), accused the royals of not being supportive enough of her as they suffered the flurry of headlines thrown by the infamous British tabloid press, the lack of support of the Prince of Wales Charles, and -most terribly- confessing that Meghan had suicidal thoughts during her active time as a working royal.
These allegations are one side of the story, and the most damaging ones, especially those regarding the lack of care for the duchess’ mental health, should be taken very seriously. This tug of war between the Palace and the Sussexes is expected to continue as there are ongoing investigations about Meghan bullying some of her former staff.
If you were to follow the American coverage of the whole affair, you would be forgiven to think that this was the end of the monarchy and that it would be just a matter of time for the rebellious crowds to march to Buckingham Palace, depose the monarchy and install a Republic. However, this does not appear to be the case; a YouGov survey showed that 47% of surveyed British adults think that the interview was inappropriate, and 56% hold an unfavorable view of Meghan and Harry.
Following the Royal Family is a guilty pleasure of many Americans, especially those intrigued by British politics and culture. For Anglophiles yesterdays interview made for compelling television. However, it is perhaps more important to look solely at the facts rather than the sensational coverage of the British tabloid press. So what did Harry and Meghan actually reveal?
What is for sure is that this latest saga showed how easily we overlook the burden of duty and public service and also highlights the magnificent job that Queen Elizabeth II has done over her almost 70 years as a monarch.
Meghan and Harry: Privilege comes at a cost
The problem that many have with the interview is not that there were some unfavorable depictions of the familiar relationships between Charles and Harry or that the lifestyle of the monarchy is different from the fairytale of Disney movies. We all know that. We’re talking about an institution that has lasted for over a thousand years, not a family depicted in a rosy 1980’s sitcom; not even the most ardent monarchist would say that the Windsor’s are a family known for their warm familiar reunions.
The first problem is one of optics. It is very difficult to see the Duke and Duchess as defenseless victims while talking with their neighbor Oprah at a beautiful California villa, especially while millions of people worldwide are suffering the heavy consequences of the economic pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second issue is misunderstanding how public service should interact with private life. Being a public servant (basically what the royals are) is not the same as being a celebrity. Your actions, thoughts, and beliefs will be questioned and unfairly scrutinized; that’s in the job description. You give away some of your personal freedom to serve a greater cause, which is usually a job you are born into. Meghan Markle decided to be a part of it.
The most revealing quote was that of Prince Harry when he said that his brother and father were “trapped (in the royal life). They don’t get to leave.” And what is the trap he’s talking about? Of course, public service. Being a member of the royal family (a senior member at that) comes with many perks: recognition, money, opportunity, and an overall privileged lifestyle. Nevertheless, it is also a job, you now represent one country as a whole, both to your people and the world, and that comes with high costs.
Meghan Markle was not ready to pay those costs, which is completely reasonable and even advisable. However, asking for a separation from the royal family while also trying to enjoy the privileges that come with the title is not a fair deal. Both Megan and Harry intended to construct their personal brands from the name recognition that their royal titles gave them, as they intended to create a “Royal Sussex” trademark after deciding to leave the monarchy. Prince Harry even said that he was hurt by the Queen’s decision of retiring him from the patronages he enjoyed as a working member of the monarchy.
If Prince Harry considered his duty to be done and thinks the best for him and the monarchy is a reduced role as a public servant so he can pursue a freer life with his wife, that’s great. However, independence comes at a cost, and it is really mind-numbing to understand them arguing they should still receive some financial and security benefits from the monarchy (paid for by the UK taxpayer) even if they do not hold any official role in the family.
There is no “part-time” royal life where you get to enjoy the benefits and not burden the costs and, certainly, and there is no need to publish an hour-long interview aimed at tainting the monarchy once they have already left, is a dereliction of a duty you previously committed yourself to follow for decades.
Being the image of an institution that represents a nation is a tough job. It requires stoicism and a deep sense of duty, especially during these times of mass communication and social media paranoia. Those are qualities that are not easy to find. To keep your opinions to yourself is the ultimate act of restraint; it is frankly inhuman.
Yet, it is vital for those in the family to maintain those qualities; the constitutional role of the monarch is to remain above the political fray in order to be able to represent an entire country. If you don’t want to keep those requirements, it is unfathomable to ask for the same benefits.
The entire Meghan Markle and Prince Harry saga show us how an incredible lesson: the great job that Queen Elizabeth II has done throughout her reign. She has kept a stable and credible leadership throughout challenging times in the UK and the world; she became Queen when the nation was still an empire and has survived dozens of Prime Ministers while keeping a stoic and committed responsibility to the public and by just committing herself to her duty silently, but with conviction, not with flash and noise.
Stoicism and commitment to duty are increasingly hard to find nowadays; let’s appreciate the great example that the Queen has shown to the world. God bless her.