Should we feel sorry for one of the princes of England as he sits next to a glistening infinity pool in Beverley Hills and contemplates his life – while the rest of the world faces new lockdowns, mass unemployment and loss at an unimaginable level?
A new book about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, seems to think so – you can glean that from the title alone – Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family. The contents of the book, which a spokesperson for the Sussexes claim the couple was not involved in, shine a light on the reality of royal life for Meghan and paint a picture that it was not a fairy-tale existence. Issues continued to mount and that led the Sussexes to break out of their gilded cage and turn their backs on the royal family.
That Meghan was struggling with life as a member of the firm we knew, of course – she told us as much herself when she appeared in an ITV documentary saying, “It’s not enough to survive something, right? That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive; you’ve got to feel happy.” The carefully-selected language used echoed that of poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who once said her mission in life was “not merely to survive, but to thrive.” It was also eerily similar to the words uttered by Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave: “I don’t want to survive. I want to live”. Was it crass to adopt this language? It was certainly a cry for help of the most public degree.
The book describes the level of control exerted upon members of the royal household, though much of it unsurprising. Its authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand claim that Megan was called up by royal advisers and told not to wear her necklace with miniature M and H initials on it as it, “only served to encourage photographers to keep pursuing such images – and new headlines.
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As with all royals, Meghan was taught to curtsy, to slip out of a car elegantly while wearing a skirt and was sent on an SAS training course about how to survive a kidnapping or a terror attack, even going through a simulated kidnapping, the book claims. All part of an Idiots Guide to being Royal that is no doubt handed out to firm newcomers, but the authors say it was different for Meghan.
Scobie and Durand Omid explain that the Duchess of Sussex underwent the survival training before marriage, whereas traditionally it would happen only once the ink is dry on the certificate. This was because Meghan received an “unusually high number of threats”. To suggest Meghan got it no worse than any other member of the family, is a futile repudiation.
We are well-versed in the story now. A blind date, a whirlwind romance, an inundation of racism, sexism and classism at the hands of the British tabloids, an unprecedented warning from Prince Harry to the media, proclaiming that a line “had been crossed” and citing the “racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls,” a royal wedding, continued harassment and a downward spiral until finally the camel's back was broken.
Buckingham Palace had failed to protect them, they’d had enough. It simply wasn’t worth it – and certainly not for a man who had watched his mother similarly hounded.Finding Freedom describes Harry reading a tabloid article one day and being “disgusted” by how the paper had portrayed him. The book describes the duchess’ despondence on their final day, telling staff “it didn’t have to be this way,” as she said her goodbyes.
Did it have to be this way? It wasn’t this way for Prince Andrew. He managed to cling on to his royal income and philanthropic pursuits years after being photographed with his friend, convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Why was there no Palace-approved Meghan and Harry interview where they had the chance to tell their story? When Prince Andrew was given royal approval to sit in Buckingham Palace and talk about enjoying doughballs and being sweat-free, as he denied claims he raped then 17-year old Virginia Guthrie who alleges she was part of a sex trafficking ring run by Epstein. Prince Andrew has denied all accusations against him.
The Duke of York stepped down from his duties following that car crash 2019 interview with Emily Maitlis during which I didn’t see a scrap of empathy for the women who were trafficked at the hands of Epstein while saying that he had no regrets for their friendship because of the “very useful” connections he was able to make off the back of it, but it felt it was done with a heavy heart, with hesitance.
I believe his arrogance and untouchability were in stark contrast to Meghan’s constant attempts to ingratiate herself with the royals and involve in philanthropic pursuits, but being continually hounded by the elements of the press for opening her own car door, exposing shoulder flesh, wanting to keep her son away from the glare of the limelight or daring to have a difficult family life. That combined with the picture we have been provided of what life was like inside the Royal Family, it is no wonder things ended up the way they did.
Why did Buckingham Palace, the book asks, not work harder to break free from their “no comment” approach to dismiss the numerous unfounded rumours surrounding her? It is all so sour compared to those joyous pictures of the Sussexes wedding day.
Both Megan and Harry have Prince Andrew have faced slowly being removed from their royal roles – but the difference is striking. Andrew is facing the possibility of questions relating to an open US-based police investigation involving Epstein, wheres the Sussexes were looking to live their own life. That doesn’t seem fair to me.