Female British Lawmakers Stand with Meghan Markle in Her Fight Against Tabloids
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex arrives to attend a roundtable discussion on gender equality with The Queens Commonwealth Trust (QCT) and One Young World at Windsor Castle on October 25, 2019. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn / POOL / AFP)
This week, seventy-two women in the U.K. Parliament expressed their support for the Duchess of Sussex in an open letter, led by MP Holly Lynch of the Labour Party.
The show of solidarity follows the release of the new documentary Harry and Meghan: An African Journey, which had its North American viewing on Oct. 23. In the film, the royal newlyweds opened up about their difficulties dealing with life in the public eye, under the all too unforgiving scrutiny of the tabloid press. “I never thought it would be easy, but I thought it would be fair,” Meghan said of the barrage of negative media coverage. “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.”
Towards the end of the Africa tour, Prince Harry, in a fiery statement comparing the press coverage of his wife to that of his mother Diana’s treatment at the hands of the tabloids, announced that Meghan would be suing the Mail on Sunday for publishing a private letter she had written to her father. Prince Harry subsequently filed two more lawsuits against other British tabloids linked to phone hacking and invasion of privacy.
In a moving moment in the documentary Meghan says she’s rarely asked how she’s doing, but it turns out she has support from this unexpected source.
“Women MPs from all political parties have put aside our differences to stand in solidarity with the Duchess of Sussex today and are sending her this open letter,” Lynch wrote on Twitter.
Given the rules of the British Constitutional Monarchy, royals typically stay out of politics. And part of the criticism targeted at Meghan has been around her involvement in issues quaintly considered inflammatory. Perhaps one of the reasons the women took this stand was because she continues to call herself a feminist. While on the South Africa tour, she placed a tribute at the commemorative site of a young murder victim to take a stand against gender-based violence. In contrast, in 2018, the BAFTAs – the British equivalent of the Academy Awards – asked all attendees to wear black to show solidity with the #MeToo movement. Kate Middleton, who attended with Prince William, its patron, shied away from the dress code, wearing dark green with her camp letting it be known that royals don’t like to make political statements.
In Harry’s announcement, he also pointed out that Meghan has been subject to harassment and racist abuse, and this was also referred to in the letter of support from Parliament.
“On occasions, stories and headlines have represented an invasion of your privacy and have sought to cast aspersions about your character, without any good reason,” it says. “Even more concerning still, we are calling out what can only be described as outdated, colonial undertones to some of these stories.
“As women Members of Parliament from all backgrounds, we stand with you in saying it cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.”
The letter concludes with the MPs stating their “solidarity” with Meghan and a promise to “use the means at our disposal to ensure that our press accept your right to privacy and show respect, and that their stories reflect the truth.”
Lynch’s tweet, shared an image of the letter, along with the signatures of other MP’s.
And today, according to People, the Duchess called Lynch to thank her personally. “She was calling to thank myself and other women MPs for standing with her, sending the open letter to say we as women in public office absolutely understand what she’s going through, although in very different public roles.”
Harry and Meghan Reveal Anguish With Press in Documentary That Addresses PTSD Over Diana
Five-month-old Archie’s royal-duty debut, when Harry and Meghan introduced him to legendary civil rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, was a high point of the young family’s ambitious 10-day tour of southern Africa in September, something his Mom said is “not lost on us, what a huge and significant moment this is.”
That cheerful soundbite comes from the documentary Harry and Meghan: An African Journey, which had its North American viewing on Wednesday (Oct. 23) at 10 p.m EST on ABC. But the upbeat moment is fleeting: the documentary’s real message is just how unhappy the newlyweds are behind the scenes.
The film, made in collaboration with Harry’s long-time friend Tom Bradby of ITV network, has been stirring up as many headlines as the Brexit mess since it aired Sunday night in the U.K. The couple speak directly to the cameras for the first time, so grab the hankies because they get real about the silent suffering they’ve endured at the hands of “certain segments” of Britain’s rapacious tabloid media.
The first teaser clips were dropped last Friday — incidentally upending coverage of the final day of William and Kate’s Royal tour of Pakistan — and shows Meghan on the verge of tears, saying “not many people have asked if I’m okay, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.” It is impossible not to feel for the new mother, who has been swallowed whole, chewed up and spit back out. She said she tried to “adopt that British sensibility of stiff upper lip” in the face of a barrage of negative press coverage, but concluded “what that does is probably really damaging.” The hashtag #WeLoveYouMeghan began to trend, and Hollywood stars were quick to vocalize their support for the American-born princess.
Watch a portion of her ITV interview below
And right there, a generational divide opens in the Royal family. Harry and Meghan have effectively gone rogue, ignoring the Queen’s unofficial motto “Never complain, never explain,” a stoic stance that has worked well for Harry’s brother, heir-to-the-throne William, and his wife Kate, who had eight years of dating to wrap her head around her choice to join the monarchy on its terms.
The documentary also features a “fireside chat” in the bush with Harry, where Bradby asks him if Diana’s death still haunts him, and the prince agrees it is “a wound that festers.” The interview helps explain the scathing letter Harry wrote Oct. 1 to accompany the news that Meghan had launched a lawsuit against Associated Newspapers over the publication of a private letter the Duchess wrote to her wayward father after the wedding. The letter, said to be a surprise to the palace, cited the press’s “ruthless campaign” against his new wife. And its awkward timing stripped the paint off their African tour, souring the tone.
The word that pops up most in the documentary, from both Harry and Meghan is “authentic.” Of course, that has become a marketing-speak buzzword about millennial values. But here the couple seems to use it to mean that they firmly intend to “be themselves,” to “be real:” to wit, to talk openly about their feelings, but also to control their own narrative. They seem to want to create a new way of being royal, but it very much mirrors how Harry’s mother Diana tried to live following her divorce from Prince Charles, when she was released from the palace’s constricting rules.
Meghan Markle was used to the spotlight in her career as a television actress. But in the documentary, she admits that being a newlywed, going through a pregnancy and adjusting to life with a new baby has been hard to do under a microscope. She calls the royal press pack “a different beast.”
“I never thought it would be easy, but I thought it would be fair,” she says to Bradby. “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.”
To that end, after the documentary aired, it was perhaps wisely announced the couple would take six weeks off to collect themselves. They are likely to spend American Thanksgiving in Los Angeles with Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, before returning to the royal fold to celebrate a traditional Christmas with the Queen and the extended royal family at her Sandringham retreat.
Watch Prince Harry’s “fireside” chat below
Meanwhile, Meghan was back on duty earlier this week, attending the One Young World Summit at Royal Albert Hall. Commentators noted she carefully “re-wore” a thrifty purple Aritzia dress, and had her long, wavy hair arranged protectively around her face. I’m sure it must have been hard to venture out alone after the couple detonated this emotional bomb.
And with the North American airing of the documentary tonight, a fresh wave of analysis — a mix of support and criticism, if the British pattern is replicated — will ensue. The narrative in England thus far has included references to Princess Diana’s Panorama interview, which is widely considered to have been a mistake on Diana’s part. Speaking with Martin Bashir in 1995, at the height of what was known as “the War of the Wales,” Diana, also tearful, dropped her own bomb on the monarchy when she said “there were three of us” in her marriage to Charles. The Queen intervened after the interview, insisting Diana and Charles divorce.
The fact is both Diana and Charles were, in those years of high emotion, often complicit with the press; both collaborated with favourites, “leaking” strategic details to make one look good and the other bad. It has not escaped the tabloids that, in Harry and Meghan’s case, they too are attempting to have their cake and eat it, suing some outlets while granting more amenable correspondents access. Royal reporter Tom Sykes of The Daily Beast had this pointed comment to make about the journalistic credentials of Bradby, who “brings to the art of cross-examination the ferocity of a pet sheep.”
Many royals before have suffered the slings and arrows of the tabloid press. Meghan and Harry do have a couple of big points, though. The coverage of Meghan has featured some truly nasty racist and sexist undertones. Beyond the appalling “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton,” headline from the early days of their romance, which brought about Harry’s first letter decrying the coverage, a narrative about Meghan being “difficult” tracks with a between-the-lines dog whistle about a woman of colour. The summer’s stories about the couple’s hypocrisy and privilege — airplanes and home renos on the public dime — were mashed up with the young couple’s demands for privacy. And then there were rumours of catfights between Kate and Meghan, which are, quite baldly, sexist reflexes.
American career-woman Meghan’s candour in the documentary is less surprising perhaps than Harry’s, in particular his response to a question about the much-speculated feud with his brother.
William did apparently suggest to Harry early on that perhaps he was moving quickly in this romance. Meghan, who was 35 when she met Harry, did indeed have a short-ish runway of fertility that likely abridged the process. And the tabloid narrative is that Harry took umbrage at his brother’s words.
In the documentary, Harry wades into the sibling rivalry. When asked if the rumours of rifts with William were true, he said: “Part of this role, part of this job, this family, being under the pressure which it’s under, inevitably stuff happens. But we are brothers. We will always be brothers.
“We are certainly on different paths at the moment, but I will always be there for him, and as I know he will always be there for me. We don’t see each other as much as we used to as we are so busy. But I love him dearly and you know the majority of the stuff is probably — well, the majority of the stuff is created out of nothing. But as brothers, you have good days and you have bad days.”
But following up on old feuds is to miss the larger point. Harry is clearly unable to handle the media pressure, and when Meghan suffers from it, his protective instincts go into overdrive. Unlike Meghan, and Kate before her, Harry did not choose to join the Royal family. He was only 12 when he was made to walk behind Diana’s coffin, with the heartbreaking “Mummy” card on it. The real meat of the documentary is when he talks about his PTSD, and how the clicks and flashes of cameras bring him straight back to memories of that fateful day in a Paris underpass when Diana and Dodi Fayed, pursued by the paparazzi, died in a car crash.
In a BBC Radio 4 podcast called Beyond Today that aired last week, royal correspondent and presenter Jonny Dymond went deep on Harry’s revulsion for the press. “He can’t bear the media, he blames them for his mother’s death. He blames them for the end of a couple of previous relationships… All the time doing public events looking over his shoulder and seeing the cameramen and the people with notebooks and he hates us. You see it. He scowls at us.”
Dymond says the screed Harry released with Meghan’s lawsuit was not a surprise to the press pack that follows him. “It is a statement of his state of mind… He is incredibly sensitive and just cannot get over it, almost as if it is now built into his character.” He is, says Dymond, standing up to his enemy, “as if it is some sort of validation.”
This just can’t be healthy, for the Sussexes, for the public and certainly not for the future of the monarchy. Because the more it appears Harry and Meghan are taking no one’s advice but their own — the more isolated they make themselves from the systems and buffers of the palace machine — the more headlines they will create. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. The lawsuits require court appearances if they don’t settle, and that means rehashing the same warmed-over rumours and ugliness they are trying to “stand up” to. I’m sure the lawsuits make them feel like they are doing something by fighting back. Ditto their attempts to cut out the press completely by trying to funnel all their good works through the @sussexroyal Instagram account. But the truth is, and this is what William and Kate have learned, a stiff upper lip and a warm relationship with the press wins the long game.
Meghan is a creature of Hollywood, where publicists and handlers and spin doctors craft a reputational buffer. The taxpaying British public, on whose favour the monarchy relies, can sniff out what is “authentic” in the end. The backlash against the documentary was ramped up two days ago when CNN quoted a source close to the royal couple saying “they were single-handedly modernizing the monarchy” and the royal institutions were full of people “afraid of and inexperienced at how to best help harness and deploy the value of the royal couple.” Even Tatler, the British society magazine, weighed in with a new December cover featuring Markle with the line: The Meghan Issue: Does She Conquer or Divide?” Just nine months ago in March, Tatler came for Markle, publishing a takedown titled “One Year of Meghanomania,” where they said staff at Kensington Palace were calling her “Me-gain,” which cemented one negative narrative that she is a grasping arriviste.
But pomp, circumstance and tradition — big hats and arcane rituals — are better in the long run than spin doctors to keep the public on the Royals’ side. Can Harry and Meghan ever find peace with the fact that, as working members of the Royal family, they will always be subject to the pressures of press and public scrutiny? They would do well to remember that Kate and the Middletons were mercilessly hazed for being “common,” while Camilla was savaged as the “rottweiler” who ruined the fairytale love story of the century. They now enjoy, if not positive, then neutral press coverage. It’s a reminder to Meghan and Harry to keep calm and carry on, and remember that most important of aphorisms: This too, shall pass.