Not exactly grace and dignity but turns out that interview was thoroughly Royal
So I watched it. That interview. Like everyone else, apparently. But then I took some time and thought about what it all meant.
First and foremost, I was an avowed monarchist going in and nothing I heard or saw changed that. From that perspective, the interview was profoundly frustrating – more on why in a minute.
But that’s not to say there weren’t things in the interview that I found disturbing. Or interesting. Or pretty damning of either individuals or the institution.
The notion that anything there should be the basis of changing Canada’s – or the UK’s – system of government is overwrought nonsense that belies a deep, deep lack of understanding in terms of who the Sovereign is, their role in government and the different hats the person occupying the title wears at any given time.
With that in mind, let me offer for the following occasionally disjointed thoughts on the interview, the Crown and the Windsor family:
1. First, conflating monarchy and celebrity is doing no one any favours. The Queen has always understood that celebrity is a risk for the monarchy, not a benefit. In fact, I bet if she could do it again Her Majesty would reconsider allowing her coronation to be televised.
That was really the thin edge of the wedge: rather than continuing to treat the institution as quasi-mystic, the presence of cameras in Westminster Abbey almost 70 years ago was intended to both humanize the monarchy and modernize it. Oops.
There was discussion during the interview about the relationship between the Palace and the press as a “virtuous circle”, but there’s not a ton of evidence to support that – especially not from the Sussexes. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail so letting PR people decide at a high level on media strategy is a mistake.
The other thing about the interview and the notion of celebrity that struck me is how people – including the Duchess and Oprah – fundamentally conflate the two. The Duchess said it in a few different ways: she thought the Royals were actors who just put on a show.
At first, that really annoyed me as such an American way of thinking. But on reflection, it is clearly a view shared by lots of folks who live in places where the Crown is an integral part of their form of government. And that’s bad.
2. She doesn’t get it: In addition to not understanding that the Royal Family are not just another group of celebrities, the Duchess demonstrated over and over again that she did not – and arguably still does not – have even the most basic understanding of what the Royal Family is or what they actually do. Comparing herself to the Little Mermaid was probably the most outrageous example of this.
Monarchy is not woke. Monarchy is not democratic. Monarchy is not fair. Monarchy is not a meritocracy.
Those are pretty basic concepts to understand. The Duchess was able to cite the letters patent from George V outlining who gets to be a Prince or HRH but didn’t understand that those Letters Patent are, in fact, the answer to why Archie doesn’t get a title – yet. Not a nefarious plot or even a conscious decision: those are the rules. And nothing matters more to an institution like the Firm than the rules.
Now, it’s not entirely her fault she doesn’t get it: both Prince Harry and the Firm should have educated her. They should have explained these things clearly and early on. They should have helped her understand her role, the roles of her husband and son, and the obligations under which they operate.
In her defence, the Duchess acknowledged she was frustrated at the lack of preparation provided to her. She seemed to feel that Prince Harry had done the best he could for her, but both were clearly angry that others in the Family – and more importantly among the Courtiers and Palace staff – hadn’t done more to help with what anyone would agree would have been a difficult transition.
3. Speaking of staff, there is definitely a problem there – not just in terms of briefing a new member of the Firm who was obviously going to be very high profile, but also in terms demonstrating two absolutely crucial skill sets in all “political” staffers (which are what these folks really are): flexibility and anticipating (and solving) problems.
While the members of the Family are what they are, the staff can be sacked. And from the sounds of them some should be.
No one is going to turn the Royal Family into some woke-ass, avocado-toast-eating, Hollywood hokum just because an American actress has married in, but this was a case of asset management. And the staff clearly failed.
4. Kate is inherently different from Meghan. While both Duchesses and both married to Princes, the Duchess of Cambridge is going to be Queen one day – possibly sooner than later – and Meghan will not. Harry is now 7th in line to the Throne. When his niece and nephews begin to procreate, that number only goes up.
As a result, protecting Kate’s reputation, image and brand are necessarily – and rightly – a higher priority for the firm.
The same extends to the Cambridge’s children when compared to those of the Sussexes – especially the heir and the first spare. They are directly inline to success to the throne.
Prince Harry should understand this from his own experience: not only is it clear that he was allowed to follow a different path than his brother, he and his brother certainly received different treatment throughout their lives compared to their royal cousins – Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, for example, let alone Mark and Zara Phillips.
5. There was no bombshell. It seems clear to the Sussexes that they had gone to great lengths to advise the family – perhaps not the staff – of their intentions for almost two years before the left for Canada.
On reflection, all they were asking for was to be treated like other minor Royals. The most obvious comparisons are the Duke of Kent and his brother Prince Michael of Kent and the Duke of Gloucester.
They are the cousins of the Queen and the children of the previous generations royal spares. They have all had lives on private business or academia and participated in support the Crown on a very part time basis. The example most people will likely recognize is the Duke of Kent: a soldier and business man for most of his life, the public would recognize him as the royal patron who usually hands out the prizes at Wimbledon every year.
What would be wrong with a similar arrangement for the Sussexes?
6. By far, the most disturbing discussions in the interview for me were around mental health and what is clearly an outdated, dangerous view on the subject on the part of the Firm. The Queen and Prince Phillip come from the war generation when everyone was just supposed to suck it up and Carry On. That’s just not ok any more.
What came through from the Sussexes loud, clear and absolutely authentic was that they needed help and no one was prepared to give it to them. The notions of the Palace having an HR department or a union were amusing anecdotes that got lots of press attention, the motivator for Meghan to seek those things out is far more disturbing. She was clearly suicidal. So was Harry. That Harry’s family was either unwilling or unable to understand that or doing anything to help them is pretty common, but immensely disappointing.
7. This gets to the crux what of what was really on display: a deeply divided, deeply broken family. It comes down to the family vs the firm. While Elizabeth II is the Queen, the Sovereign, the head of the House of Windsor, the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, etc., she is also a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother. Harry is hurt – so very, very hurt.
The notion that Prince Charles – the immediate heir to the Throne – would ever get to a point where he was refusing his son’s calls is just so bloody disappointing.
I think a lot of us monarchists/royal watchers genuinely believed Charles had learned his lessons since Princess Diana’s death. That he had changed and that his focus over the last twenty years on preserving British heritage – both architectural and agricultural – on organic farming and the environment and his Prince’s Trust charities had made him a genuinely better human being and more ready to become King.
This interview has seriously shaken that belief.
Now, that doesn’t mean any serious person thinks Charles should simply be skipped on favour of William or that the monarchy as an institution should go away as a result.
But it should absolutely mean that Prince Charles should expect a significantly increased level of scrutiny and skepticism as his reign approaches.
Fundamentally, the interview makes clear that Prince Charles – more than anyone or anything – failed the Sussexes.
As the second most senior royal, he could have intervened to provide for their mental health. He could have paid for their security through the Duchy of Cornwall. He could have insisted they be accommodated in the style of his royal cousins.
For whatever reason – and we’ve only heard one side of the story and the Palace says that “some recollections of events differed” – he did not.
So there it is: the Royals are humans, their family is imperfect and the public got a rare glimpse of that via Oprah.
And with apologies to republicans and Heritage Canada (but I repeat myself), while the glimpse ain’t pretty and really shines an unpleasant light on Prince Charles, none of it in any way diminishes the role or importance of the institution of the Crown.