The brothers who were once each other’s touchstones are now barely speaking. But as Harry and Meghan continue to peddle their “truth” with little regard for family loyalty, can there be any hope of reconciliation?
As I watch the courts of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the Prince and Princess of Wales go head-to-head from opposite sides of the Atlantic, I can’t help but think of Harry’s cri de coeur in the first volume of his recently released TV documentary series Harry & Meghan: “How did we end up here?”
The royal, no longer allowed to use his HRH for official work, looks bereft, head in hands, as well he might, for not only has Harry’s relationship with the family he was once so close to falling apart, he and his brother William are barely on speaking terms.
With their non-profit company, Archewell, whose production arm was a partner in the documentary made by streaming network Netflix, Harry and Meghan seem to be setting up a rival royal court in the US. Not content with pursuing projects entirely separate from their old stomping ground – the monarchy – they are using the collateral of their previous royal life to monetize their new one.
Many see this as an exploitation of their royal titles and are calling for the duo to be stripped of their dukedom. While I would be surprised to see that happen – there are plenty of titled royals who don’t work for ‘the Firm’ – there is an uneasiness about the way the couple continues to rake over the coals of a fire that is surely now just smoldering embers.
The Queen was reportedly bewildered by Harry’s need to express his “truth” so publicly. While she famously challenged his and Meghan’s excoriating version of events in their 2021 Oprah interview saying “recollections may vary” in a public statement after the show aired, the monarch was always at pains to add that the couple remained loved and valued members of the family.
“The Queen was always more concerned for Harry’s wellbeing than about ‘this television nonsense’ – the Oprah interview and the deal with Netflix,” notes royal biographer and family friend Gyles Brandreth in his revealing new book Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait.
“I know she liked Meghan, and Meghan’s mother, and was sorry the Markle family was ‘fractured’ and was anxious that Harry should ‘find his feet’ in California and ‘find really useful things to do’.”
However, I can’t imagine the late Queen would have found the Netflix documentary a “useful” endeavor for her grandson, and no doubt Harry may be sitting more comfortably knowing his grandmother is no longer here to see the show.
Harry & Meghan, which dropped on TV screens around the world on December 8 and 15, has been widely slammed for being disrespectful to Her Majesty.
While that disrespect is not always overt, there’s no question Harry’s laid-back willingness to take aim at the royal world that has given him and Meghan the platform to garner multimillion-dollar deals like this one with Netflix has an air of hypocrisy about it.
Meghan’s embarrassing comic re-enactment of the first time she had to curtsy to the Queen certainly shocked British viewers especially.
As she tells it Meghan was incredulous that the formality in public situations carries on behind closed palace doors. She thought Harry was joking when he explained she would have to curtsy to Her Majesty before sitting down for a cozy chat at the Royal Lodge in Windsor.
“I guess I started to understand very quickly that the formality on the outside carried through on the inside,” she says.
In her rendition of that first meeting with the Queen, when she and Harry called in for tea, Meghan dramatically bows her head in a deep mocking curtsy as she sarcastically takes issue with the idea of the deference required of her, laughing with the interviewer. It’s an awkward scene.
After the death of his grandmother, Harry released a tribute to the Queen saying “the first moment you met my darling wife” was a time he cherished, which places this piece of playing to the gallery by the Duchess in particularly poor taste.
“The couple’s most shameful moment was Meghan’s mock curtsy to the Queen with Harry looking on, totally in awe of his wife,” says royal biographer Christopher Wilson.
“The level of hypocrisy and betrayal really surprised me. For all of Meghan and Harry’s accusations of being used and abused, they exploited the memory of the Queen and turned their firepower on an institution that traditionally never answers back.
“Also… to permit Netflix to use film footage of the Queen’s most sacred moment of dedication – her crowning at the 1953 coronation – was nothing short of cynical exploitation. In the eyes of many, the first three programs were a farrago of deceit, barbs, and half-hinted slurs at the institution which made them who they are today.”
Some commentators however think the Queen would have seen the funny side of Meghan’s performance, but I suspect she would have been less tolerant of the documentary’s critique of the Commonwealth.
The friendly family of nations, of which Australia is part, was very close to the Queen’s heart and seen as one of her most potent legacies. In the show, the main commentator is writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch. She declares the Commonwealth is no more than “Empire 2.0” even though it includes nations, not in the British Empire, and implies the organization was rooted in racist colonialism.
“That was unexpected. This was a full-scale attack on not just the Commonwealth, but the Queen’s association with the Commonwealth. It is an attack on her life’s work,” a former royal advisor told The Times newspaper.