A storm in a royal teacup

January 19, 2020

The British press has been hysterical about Meghan and Harry’s ‘betrayal’

Dear All,

From media coverage last week you would think that Britain had been plunged into some truly terrible crisis.

In the week in which a commercial flight was shot down by Iran in Iranian airspace, and when talk of a third World War being imminent was common, the same week in which three years of political paralysis ended as the parliament of Northern Ireland went back to work and power sharing was resumed, the same week in which the British ambassador to Tehran was arrested (briefly), the week in which a female broadcaster won a landmark equal pay claim against the BBC, the news headlines were dominated by news that the Queen’s grandson and his wife had decided to step back from royal duties and try to be “financially independent”.

There was rather a lot of news hysteria in Britain (and the rest of the world) after this announcement by Prince Harry (Duke of Sussex) and his wife, the American actress Meghan Markle. The tabloids, particularly the Daily Mail and people like Piers Morgan went berserk (the latter writing a column depicting Meghan as a scheming social climber who had stolen Harry away from his family), and The Daily Telegraph ran a huge banner headline saying “A Royal Crisis” with four different columnists writing on different aspects of this ‘crisis’. Crisis? Really?

What was the fuss all about? Most of it was based on the fact that the Queen and her heir (Harry’s dad, Prince Charles) had not signed off on the matter and the announcement had caught the palace by surprise.

There was a degree of public and press outrage that the Queen had not been informed of the announcement and had not signed off on it and that by doing this Harry had somehow betrayed both his family and his country.

The role of the villain in all this was of course given to Meghan Markle. She was portrayed as a dreadful controlling woman, a difficult person, the daughter in law from hell, the evil bahu who forces her husband to move out of the family home and takes him away from his family.

This tone of media coverage of course strengthened the couple’s point that the hostility of the media, the tabloids in particular, was poisoning their lives.

Then we heard there was going to be a ‘summit’ to sort out the matter. A ‘summit’? More like a family meeting surely? Yes, it involved people other than family because of course there are the matters of funding and protocol security and dos and don’ts to sort out but the reporting of it made it seem as if it was a major global meeting to sort out a world war or some such thing.

But what I was especially bemused by was the way not just the tabloids but also people all over the world really ripped into Markle. One friend of a friend (in Pakistan) was vicious on Facebook: she accused the Duchess of being manipulative and unpleasant, then said she had ‘never liked her anyway and and that her wedding dress had been horrible and ugly’ (!).

Markle had already left Britain by the time the story exploded and was by then ensconced back in the luxury Vancouver house of a rich friend, along with her baby son (strangely named ‘Archie’), thus presumably avoiding social media and public appearances and, to some extent, avoiding the poison vibes.

But the fact that Sussexes’ move provoked such a bitter public and press reaction is perhaps unsurprising given the buildup of hostile news stories that for months have portrayed Markle as ‘difficult to work with’, ‘demanding’ and ‘rude’. It has also followed lawsuits filed by the couple against some tabloids and various statements they have made about the matter. Prince Harry has often spoken of how his mother (Princess Diana) had been hounded ruthlessly by the press and seemed determined to protect his wife from a similar fate.

But what went wrong in the 18 months since the fairytale Windsor wedding watched adoringly by viewers all over the world? Probably a combination of factors: apart from the press looking for (and possibly inventing) sensational stories of family conflict or prima donna behaviour, there was also the matter of Meghan Markle’s ‘otherness’. Not only was she a foreigner - she was American (stereotypically somebody who is loud and pushy) and mixed race (her mother is black). The other factor is that Meghan Markle is not Kate Middleton who even though ‘a commoner’ has managed to win the hearts of the British public through not just her sartorial choices, but also through her warmth and charm and by being able to produce three young (and photogenic) children with relatively little ado. In contrast, Markle’s ‘control’ of information regarding her own pregnancy and delivery seemed paranoid and was novel for royal watchers.

But maybe Markle just finds Britain too stuffy, or maybe she wants to get back to work? Certainly one video that surfaced showed Prince Harry trying to get work for his wife when he was recorded talking to Disney executives at a social occasion and telling them that his wife was open to doing voice-over work.

That particular recording underlines one of the main problems about the proposed new status of the couple: there will, inevitably, be a conflict of interest where the use of royal connection and royal position being used to secure business deals can be questionable.

In any case, it is now to be seen how this ‘bahu alag ho gayee’ story impacts on the financing and position of the British royals. Will the monarchy be able to move towards the European model of being more down to earth, working-for-a-living royals or will the latest twist in this soap opera -that we now watch as The Crown -help them to continue just as they are?

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The writer is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

Twitter: @umberkhairi

Media portrayal of Harry and Meghan's exit: A storm in a royal teacup