So is this book about Harry and Meghan a big deal or what?
Philip, by email
The royals are the embodiment of the Tinkerbell effect: they are only a big deal if we think they are a big deal. If people stopped looking at them and the papers stopped writing about them, they would ostensibly cease to exist, something Harry and Meghan may discover for themselves if they really think they can control all that’s written about them. We may be their subjects, but their actual role is to be our objects.
The bizarre edifice that the British public and media have constructed to maintain this deranged pretence about the relevance of the royals was in full view this weekend when the papers published extracts of Finding Freedom, a book about Nelson Mandela’s time on Robben Island. Wait, I’m sorry – I mean the time Harry and Meghan escaped the prison of subsidised luxury to live in Tyler Perry’s mansion in Los Angeles.
Now, I’ve written about Harry and Meghan a fair amount by this point, because I have an incredibly low brow and I think it’s interesting that this heretofore little-known actor inspires such insanity from some British columnists. Plus, her family is an absolute trip, with a father who makes even the Windsors look like novices when it comes to inflicting emotional abuse on your own children, and they’ve been practicing the art for generations. I also – I admit it! – enjoyed how before the wedding, some commentators complained that Meghan was only marrying Harry to be in the royal family, and then afterwards complained she only married him to destroy it. Social climber or destructor? Who knows?
But at no point did I think people believed Harry and Meghan matter in the great scheme of things. I – foolishly, I now see – assumed we all understood they do not, any more than Prince Andrew ever did or does, except to various members of international law enforcement, to whom he possibly matters quite a lot.
Well, last weekend’s headlines put paid to my delusion, with half the press regurgitating whatever was in the book, and the other half regurgitating whatever counter-narrative the royals are putting out. Fair enough – it’s not as if there’s any news on at the minute. Whether Harry and Meghan had any involvement in the book is a topic I’ll leave to those who care. Yet it was hard not to suspect this much-touted “bombshell” may be lacking in any bombs, or even shells, if the biggest headline the papers could lead on was that William “behaved like a snob” to Meghan.
Confirming that a member of the royal family is a snob is like getting excited about the pope’s Catholicism or, perhaps more aptly, bears’ woods-based activities. If William was not a snob, he would throw up all over himself every time he introduced himself. There would be no way he could possibly justify his existence to himself if he was not an absolute raging snob, and the same goes for every stupid member of his stupid family. Just in case anyone might be banking on Prince Edward’s proletarian tendencies.
Perhaps the funniest thing about the book extracts is that it’s impossible to tell who is actually being taken down. Finding Freedom, the story goes, is about getting Harry and Meghan’s point across, and yet, repeatedly, they seem to be arguing the opposite of what we are told they’re arguing. Harry, the book gasps, was upset that his brother told him: “Don’t feel you need to rush this. Take as much time as you need to get to know this girl.” Now, I am no William stan, but that seems … fine? Even kind? Senior royals allegedly referred to Meghan as coming “with baggage”, which was both literally and metaphorically true (see Markle family, above) and referred to her as a “showgirl”, which rather overinflates the entertainment value of Suits, but is otherwise not entirely untrue.
Look, many things can be true at once, as true as they are obvious. Are the Windsors awful, riddled with snobbery, sexism and racism? Yes! Were they unfriendly to Meghan? Undoubtedly. Did Harry and Meghan have a ludicrously cushy deal in the UK? Yes. Do they now? Yes. And do they seem to not really appreciate that? Well …
Contrary to what fairy tales might have taught us, people – even princes – don’t have to be either all good or all bad. What we have here is a big pile of flawed humans. That’s all they are. And if they ever thought they were more than that, the fault lies with us for believing that, too.