In the weird, histrionic world of the Daily Mail, people are always “braced” for stuff, whether we’re talking heavy snow, property prices or royal revelations. So when I first heard about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, I was glad to have done so many pilates squats in lockdown: bracing-wise, I’d be up there with the best of them. Only then the big day dawned, and the world went bonkers. In the 24 hours between its first outing in the US, and its screening in the UK, no moment of this extended chat evaded the hysteria (I mean analysis). By the time I settled down to watch it, a body that was formerly made of Lego appeared to be comprised entirely of Play-Doh. It was all I could do not to roll myself into little balls and hurl them at the telly.
The Mail aside (as I write, it is running 497 stories about Meghan), some journalists would do well not to be so credulous about Winfrey’s giant, long-planned scoop – and who knows, by the time you read this, maybe Meghan’s tone-deaf likening of her loneliness in the royal compound to the lives of everyone else under lockdown will have brought them to their senses.
Meghan is an actor, Winfrey is a billionaire, this was show business. People can be both sinned against and sinning. Sorting out painful relationships with those you love is probably best done by talking to them, not Winfrey, however good her reaction shots. Still, whichever camp you’re in – and Piers Morgan is getting camper every day – there is an upside. The main function of all this has surely been temporarily to distract us from our own problems. That snide thing your husband said about the pasta the other night. At least your passport hasn’t been confiscated! At least you didn’t have to learn how to curtsey from Fergie!
Anyway, Winfrey. She was the star. Some subjects – Meghan’s family, for instance – seemed to be strangely off limits. I was dying for her to ask whether, given her own estrangements, Meghan isn’t made anxious by Harry’s distance from his father: it’s the silted-up family stuff I’m really interested in. Then again, I had to hand it to her. What a hack she is. At moments of revelation, her loud indignation and syrupy fellow feeling could not fully hide her sheer glee at having landed another news line. Even she couldn’t get over Harry’s insistence that until Meghan came along, he was a prisoner. “Please explain how you… raised in a palace and a life of privilege, literally a prince… were trapped,” she said, a statement that not only encapsulated his lack of awareness, but also his present attenuation (there was, I think, amazement in her use of the past tense). Sitting beside his beautiful, articulate wife, pink-cheeked in the California sunshine, he looked so… redundant.
Harry and Meghan’s biggest problem – one unacknowledged on their part – is that his royal status is the only reason anyone is interested in them. “This is… the beginning of us,” asserted Meghan. But what does “us” mean? Where is it going? Where will it end up? (Sorry, I sound like Kierkegaard – or Gwyneth Paltrow.) And did I mishear, or is Archie’s favourite word “hydrate”?
But the main event was surely the haunting, Sondheim-esque chicken coop scene. M&H have rescued some battery farm chickens – Meg “loves rescue”, just as she loves story-telling and (weasel word) sharing – and they live in a hut called Archie’s Chick Inn. Winfrey thought this was cute, but I wasn’t so sure: it sounds like a kebab shop on an arterial road near Croydon. Inside the coop, Meghan talked of the “pre-wedding” she and Harry had enjoyed alone with the Archbishop of Canterbury, while Harry stared into the distance, so sad and husk-like I was worried the chickens might peck at him with their little Santa Barbara beaks. Back in the room – I mean the coop – he then mumbled a variation on Bill Withers (“Just the three of us,” he semi-sang). No one joined in, which really killed me.
Look, some of Meghan’s accusations are, if true, horrific. I understand, up to a point, her desire to live (see also Kierkegaard) “authentically”. But her prince looks to me to be very unhappy and isolated, and all the fresh eggs in the world won’t fix that.
This article appears in the 10 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Grief nation