Of the many shocking statements made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in their full-scale assault on the monarchy during their two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey, the most peculiar was surely Meghan’s claim to know nothing about the British monarchy when she first met Harry. She was so incurious that she didn’t bother to read a volume of history or biography. She said she didn’t even do an internet search to learn the basics. Her knowledge of the Royal Family, she said, was based only on what Harry “was sharing with me.” Astonishingly, as a graduate of well-regarded Northwestern University, she said her sense of Royal life was based on “fairytales.”
What she described as naivete seemed more like a wilful refusal to accept that life in The Firm – the name first used by Harry’s great-grandfather, King George VI – would involve long days of plaque unveiling and tree planting as well as exciting passion projects made possible by her unique position. If she had read some history, she would have recognised that overseas Royal tours such as the one she and Harry took to Australia are indeed “exhausting.” She would have known that she wasn’t the only member of the Royal Family to undertake such duties while pregnant. In 1948, for example, Queen Elizabeth II, then still a princess, took her first official visit with her husband to Paris. It was a gruelling four days, and Philip and Elizabeth generated massive goodwill. Unknown to the French or British officials, she was four months pregnant with Prince Charles and suffering from nausea behind closed doors.
Meghan complained bitterly about her treatment by the press, which did ricochet between adulation and harsh criticism. Perhaps if she had sat down for tea with her husband’s stepmother, the Duchess of Cornwall, she could have learnt about years of being savaged by the media. Camilla, like everyone else in the Royal Family, survived the pummelling by staying quiet, pressing ahead and doing her job. But Meghan was already bursting to share her point of view, even months before the wedding, with no less than Oprah Winfrey.
Coming from Hollywood, where actresses are joined at the hip with their publicists, Meghan expressed surprise that Palace press officials felt duty bound to listen to her first telephone conversation with Oprah. She then went behind their backs anyway, met her future interlocutor, invited her to the wedding, and arranged a privileged seat for her. Such was the downside of being “silenced.”
Meghan’s complaint that she received no positive guidance about her role, only “certain things you couldn’t do” rang especially hollow. She lamented that there was “no class on how to speak” or “cross your legs.” It rather beggared belief that a trained actress would complain about having to learn the British national anthem, and the “30 hymns” she was expected to know. Did it really not occur to her until she was five minutes away from her first meeting with the Queen that she should know how to curtsey?
The fact was, the Queen assigned Meghan one of her most experienced advisers to guide her through her first year – the very antithesis of the insidious “grey men” who supposedly thwarted her every move. I have known Samantha Cohen for a dozen years and have watched her navigate high pressure situations on overseas Royal tours. She is a total professional, smart, loyal and knowledgeable as well as congenial. She was thoroughly dedicated to showing Meghan the ropes. Not only did Meghan fail to express gratitude, it has been credibly reported that she treated Cohen poorly, by one account subjecting her to exceptional stress.
Another conspicuous omission from Meghan’s confessional was the Queen’s most meaningful gift to her: a global platform on which she could do important work by making her patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, and naming Harry the president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and Meghan the vice-president. Meghan said that while traveling to Commonwealth countries with Harry, she first realised that people of colour made up three-quarters of the population in the 54 Commonwealth countries. Despite the Queen’s well-considered appointments, Meghan faulted The Firm for failing to see that as a biracial woman, she could have provided “added benefit” to the Commonwealth.
At one point Meghan mentioned that “a lot has been lost already” in her life even as she proudly shared her rescue hens and a luxurious California life with Harry that is “greater than any fairytale you ever read.” The dignified and beautiful Commonwealth Day Broadcast that preceded the unprecedented unburdening to Winfrey served as a stark reminder of what Meghan and Harry could have achieved had they genuinely applied themselves.