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8 December 2022

Netflix’s Harry & Meghan can’t disguise how much of this story doesn’t add up

The show is a Seventies Timotei ad meets The Crown with some light top notes of the Ladybird book of the Royal Family. I live in dread of Volume II.

By Rachel Cooke

In the Meghan and Harry documentary, the revelations come thick and fast: so thick and fast, in fact, that I struggled to write them all down in my (Souvenir of Kensington Palace) notebook. At their engagement party they both wore penguin onesies. Kate is not much of a hugger. Someone said that a hat Meghan wore to church at Sandringham looked like the poo emoji. Harry’s Instagram feed includes many “environmental shots”. Meghan still knows a poem she wrote as a child by heart. Harry lit – or should that be switched on? – 15 electric candles before he proposed. When the two of them went off to stay in a tent in Botswana together in 2016 they’d only met twice before, and the first thing Harry did was to… No, not that! In fact, he handed her a chicken sandwich. 

I know I sound muddled. But what kind of state would you be in after three hours of Meg and Harry before breakfast? This thing is going to take time to settle. I feel about it as I did when I first read Saturday by Ian McEwan. While I was turning its pages, I was gripped, enthralled. Only later did questions begin to sprout in my mind. Liz Garbus, the series’ director, has done a brilliant, Ian McEwan-like job. The telling of the story is so artful and lavish and generally enticing that only afterwards do you wonder about what is not being said, the fact that some things definitely do not add up. 

Among the several mini-scoops it offers, for instance, is an interview with Meghan’s niece, Ashleigh, the daughter of her banished half-sister, Samantha, aka the wicked witch of the west. Ashleigh was brought up by her grandparents, and refers to Samantha as her “biological mother”, and at some point, she and Meghan became as close as sisters, emailing all the time and holidaying together in New Orleans. But Ashleigh was not, it seems, at Windsor for Meghan’s wedding in 2018. When things got sticky with the tabloids over the guest list – Thomas Markle, Meghan’s father, was about to pull his disappearing act – the Palace advised Meghan not to invite Ashleigh, and she, apparently, acquiesced. Recalling the conversation in which she learned that she did not, after all, need to head to Nordstrom in search of a giant hat, Ashleigh began to cry. 

Can this really be true? Did the Palace really alight on poor, sweet Ashleigh, and tell Meghan to give her the heave-ho? And if it did, why did Meghan go along with this? Couldn’t she have stamped her foot? Couldn’t Harry? Was Oprah Winfrey, another guest, really more important to her than her beloved niece? Before Ashleigh appeared on screen, we heard so much about Meghan’s pre-Harry independence: her job, her house, her ability to run to a nearby flower stall; her cleverness, which she says is the bigger part of her identity. I think she could have made a stand, and if Meghan and Harry don’t think this is any of my business, well, they should have thought of this before they signed their deal with Netflix

Harry wasn’t willing, in the first moments of what Netflix is calling “Volume I” of its series – dear God, it’s as if it’s Edward Gibbons or Thackeray or something! – to reveal what was on his list when it came to prospective wives (though he will admit the list did exist). But about pretty much everything else, he is all too willing to talk, and I think the result, which is basically a Seventies Timotei ad meets The Crown with some light top notes of the Ladybird book of the Royal Family and the Usborne book of the British Empire thrown in for the benefit of American viewers, could go either way for him and his wife. Maybe interest in them will fizzle completely now, they having bored us into submission. Or perhaps the accusations of hypocrisy people will level at them, not entirely without justification, will make their situation even worse. Still, whatever happens, it is unnerving and not a little creepy to see how long ago they began filming clandestine material for this documentary. 

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The accusations of racism against the royal family, if they’re going to be made, are obviously for Volume II, which drops next week. For the moment, it is the media and – I find this slightly more uncomfortable – the British public who are the racists; the director has deployed Brexit very cleverly, but also extremely disingenuously, as a “toxic” historical moment in which Meghan could never have hoped to thrive. Meghan, however, seems to think the fact that she was an actress was initially more of a problem in royal circles than the fact that she is mixed race, while Harry seems to think his family’s surprise at his new girlfriend had mostly to do with the fact that “a ginger” had pulled such a “beautiful and intelligent woman”. Harry! You talk so eloquently about unconscious bias. I think it’s time, now, to deal with your own internalised ism. 

Piers Morgan won’t like any of it, of course. Or Sarah Vine. But Meghan comes out of this quite well, even if you find, as I do, the stage-managed return to her old neighbourhood a bit vomit emoji, and her insistence that she knew nothing at all about his family when she met Harry somewhat unconvincing. She is smart and puckish and stylish, her friends appear to be relatively sane – even if one of them is called Silver Tree – and her mother, Doria, is delightful and loyal and everything Meghan would want her to be. Certainly, Meghan talks a lot less drivel here than she does in her stupid podcast (again, plaudits to Garbus).

No, it’s poor, suggestible, mother-less Harry who’s on a hair trigger. You can see it all the time, even when he’s not talking about the monstrous things that happened to him as a child (they tuck you up, your mum and dad – and the rest). The isolated cul de sac into which he has reversed himself now has a portcullis at its end. An awful lot is going on here, and I live in dread of Volume II. But for now, let me just say that I think Harry may have mistaken a certain kind of American warmth for sincerity, and a certain kind of British stiffness for coldness, and that the best life – the happiest life – may lie in finding an accommodation between the two, if it’s not already too late. 

[See also: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle show the monarchy needs to modernise]

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