Yesterday morning, after I dropped the kids off at school, I set whatever I was planning to do aside and watched the Oprah interview with Meghan and Harry. It seemed like you could not exist on the internet yesterday without doing so. There were a lot of allegations in there billed as “shocking,” but I didn’t find any of them that surprising. The more shocking thing was that Meghan and Harry said them out loud.
Normally, I do not follow the Royal Family and I am not even close to an expert on the topic, but a few months ago, I listened to a five part series on the podcast “You’re Wrong About” about Diana, Princess of Wales. The podcast hosts described the Royal Family as trapped zoo animals, which I didn’t fully understand until I had listened to the series in its entirety. It’s hard to view the Queen, Charles, William, Kate and Harry as anything but privileged, but the existence described on throughout the series, especially through the lens of Diana, who was an outsider who thought she was stepping into a fairy tale, sounded unfathomably awful. She was isolated, lonely and by her accounts, in the midst of a mental breakdown, all while having to continually pretend that she was living a life of unimaginable luxury and purpose. It strikes me as similar to the concept of Instagram vs. Reality, except imagine all the people you are surrounded by expect you to act out the fantasy in real life too. Having the background of that podcast series made me much more prepared and inclined to believe Meghan and Harry’s story.
During the Oprah interview, there is a part where Harry talks about how everything took a turn for the worse after they came back from a tour of Australia. On that tour, Meghan had proved to be incredibly good at her job of being a Royal. Oprah asks why that would be a problem. Wouldn’t the Royals want Meghan to be good at her job? The question wasn’t really answered, but I saw a clip from an interview with Diana that spells out the answer perfectly.
She says, “I just don’t think I have many supporters in the [Royal Household]. They see me as a threat of some kind and I’m here to do good. I’m not a destructive person. I think every strong woman in history has had to walk down a similar path, and I think it’s the strength that causes the confusion and the fear. Why is she strong? Where does she get it from? Where is she taking it? Where is she going to use it? Why does the public still support her?”
Diana was also very good with the public early on and ultimately, that was held against her. I think almost every woman who has tried to work their way up in corporate America can relate to this, myself included. And I certainly believe that because Meghan is of mixed race, that made the perceived threat to the Royal family (or the institution of the Royal family) even more serious.
The similarities between Meghan and Diana are glaringly obvious. But I also see similarities between Meghan and the Obamas. When Barack and Michelle Obama became the President and First Lady of the United States, it was celebrated on the surface but it also signaled a very big shift in the cultural hierarchy. For many people, that was a problem. The Royals were happy to welcome Meghan in, but they recoiled once it looked like she could gain too much power. Power was in the form of being good at her job and in the form of children born into British Royalty. Hence the questioning of how dark their baby would look. I believe the Royal Family began to see the possibility of a much larger racial shift than just one woman of color.
It’s important to note that neither Harry or Meghan accuse the Queen of racism. They maintain that the family and “the firm” are two different things. In fact, Meghan spoke about always having very welcoming interactions with the Queen, including an instance when they were in the same car and the Queen offered to share a blanket that was draped over her knees for warmth. From an outsider’s perspective, I always assume when the press reports that the “Royal Family” feels X, this is coming directly from the Queen, because she is the highest ranking Royal. But Meghan and Harry suggest that the institution of the Royal Family is a business with far more value than the individual Royals themselves. The people running the institution are the ones making decisions, issuing statements and pulling the strings. They are also the ones who have an incredibly close relationship with the British tabloids, so it’s safe to assume that a lot of the Royal Family narrative is coming directly from the institution itself. Meghan points to the fact that the British press holiday parties are held at the palace. This symbiotic relationship is another reason why Meghan was so hurt by the treatment of the tabloids. Their source was most likely from within the palace walls. Not a service person or assistant looking to make a buck, like you might expect, but those running the entire show.
If Meghan’s claims are true that she tried to get help for suicidal thoughts and was denied support (I believe her), I think that was partially because the institution was afraid of what that would look like, but also because Meghan’s failure as a Royal helped maintain the status quo.
At the end of the interview, Meghan and Harry say that they barely survived the last few years even though they had each other, so they can’t even imagine how hard it was for Diana to deal with everything alone. I am glad that Meghan and Harry got out. It is the second act that Diana would have wanted. Sometimes changing an institution is not worth sacrificing yourself.
Did you watch the interview? Please share your thoughts!