At the core of the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry saga lies a debt of unfinished business and a dormant volcano that was bound to erupt at some point: the unresolved struggles and aspirations of Princess Diana. Suspended after her death, they lay buried for many years. But today’s zeitgeist of cancel culture has proved opportune for Harry and Meghan to revive and attempt to rectify Diana’s grievances, while achieving their own objectives.
It was inevitable that a descendant of Diana’s would take on her battle with the Royal House, and in the recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, it became abundantly clear that Prince Harry was embracing her conflicts.
Only sixth in line to the British throne and free of the associated constraints, Harry could take an independent road. Whatever their self-proclaimed motivations for embarking on the Oprah interview, Harry and Meghan’s explosive conversation was a public airing of grievances concerning alleged racism in the House of Windsor, purported denial of mental health assistance for Meghan, and termination of Harry’s security payments, forcing the couple to seek finance through deals with Netflix and Spotify.
Harry is known for his dedication to continuing Princess Diana’s work with HIV and Aids patients, particularly through his charity Sentebale that supports young people affected by HIV in Lesotho and Botswana. In this work, he exhibits the same instinctive empathy and social skills that made Diana an icon for altruism, compassion and benevolence. At the same time, Princess Diana remained a thorn in the side of the royal family. Harry likely identifies with his late mother, not only in his commitment to similar charitable work and her reported wish to have had a home in the United States, but also as a dissident royal and self-professed victim, who became estranged from ‘the Firm’.
In Meghan, Harry had a willing partner, who could well identify with Diana and avenge her grievances. Hostile publicity from the UK tabloids felt so unbearable that Meghan demanded protection from the Palace, and the Firm’s indifference infuriated her. Diana had also suffered from intrusive media and was killed during a chase by the paparazzi.
Harry acknowledged that Meghan offered him the revelation that he was trapped in the institution of the Royal House and he came to realise the same encumbrance stifled his father and brother as well. Like Diana, Meghan felt trapped by the system. She experienced symptoms of depression and was driven to thoughts of suicide. In time, her grievances would also lead her to reject the unwritten royal rule of ‘Don’t Complain. Don’t Explain’. Indeed, Harry compared Meghan’s predicament to that of Princess Diana’s when he bemoaned the isolation his mother must have suffered, and how he feared ‘history repeating itself’.
According to Harry, the royal rift started when the couple returned from their Australian tour in 2018, intimating that Meghan’s outstanding talent for interpersonal communication was, ironically, to blame. ‘I just wish that we would all learn from the past,’ he lamented, probably referencing his mother’s exceptional gift for connecting with ordinary people and overshadowing her husband, Prince Charles, who reportedly, could not accept his wife’s charisma and fame. Harry felt Meghan’s credentials as a woman of colour would have made her an ideal ambassador for the Commonwealth, home to 2.4 billion people, mostly black and brown.
By presenting himself as a spouse who eschewed jealousy and took pleasure in his wife’s popularity, Harry challenged his father for ill-treating Diana and was able to emerge the more honourable.
Harry’s grievance about the unexpected severance of his security costs might seem peevish considering his sizeable inheritance from the estates of Diana and the Queen Mother. Crying poor, however, doesn’t rate highly for censure in cancel culture, where allegations of racism top the list of worst accusations, with denial of mental health support not far behind.
Princess Diana could not have asked for a better disciple than Meghan to threaten the royal establishment. Together, Harry and Meghan aimed a straight and powerful arrow, and a sop to the cancel culturati, who would be pleased to dispense with the House of Windsor.
Like Diana, Harry would cast prudence aside for the desire to confront the Firm with his grievances, even if the impulse might undermine the foundations of the institution and jeopardise the future of his own family. In the United Kingdom, a royal crisis is not only a family matter but a blow to a precious national asset, with potential damage to trade, tourism, charities and relationships with the Commonwealth, notwithstanding international prestige. These cultural traditions and economic considerations were risked by Harry and Meghan in the interview with Oprah.
At the same time, the Sussex arrow aimed for maximum publicity and appeal in the US. The White House praised the pair’s courage for sharing their story, particularly Meghan’s serious mental health problems, and Hillary Clinton expressed her distress about the plight of ‘this incredibly accomplished woman’, who was so cruelly pursued by the British tabloid press. Most US commentators have taken Meghan’s side. Her disclosure of suicidal thoughts was praised and the alleged pretence and callousness of the Firm condemned, while Black Lives Matter co-founder, Opal Tometi, demanded blacklisting the royal family.
In the US, where historical antipathy to the monarchy still lingers, Princess Diana was favoured in her clash with Prince Charles and the Royal House and she still commands obsessive interest. With the appearance of Meghan as a Wallis Simpson lookalike and the story of Prince Harry abdicating his role in the royal family, the Oprah interview was bound to generate a perfect storm.
The relationship of King Edward Vlll and American divorcee, Wallis, led to a constitutional crisis and the King’s abdication in 1936. At the time, public opinion in Britain was against Wallis, who was touted as a manipulative exploiter, whereas the American public and media championed her marriage to Edward. That historic calamity for the royal family did not cancel the Crown but the current meltdown thanks to Harry and Meghan could be a nail in the royal coffin for today’s cancel culture warriors.
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