Not Happy Then, Not Happy Now: In 2018, on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, from left, Queen … [+]
Given the intensity of the ongoing public-relations artillery exchanges across the Atlantic over what we know Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have said to Oprah Winfrey, and what has been intimated that they will have possibly said to Ms. Winfrey for her now-suddenly-expanded two-hour broadcast on March 7, it’s hard to remember that their interview with America’s high priestess of televised confessionals hasn’t happened yet. It’s axiomatic that, when the going gets as rocky as this in advance of an event, it becomes hard to distinguish what will count more, the fight around the broadcast, or the broadcast itself.
Taking a note from Wimbledon, we can say something of their playing styles. Buckingham Palace plays the long, deliberate game. The Windsor-Markles of California are all about the blistering serve.
The larger war between the wayward couple and Prince Harry’s family — or perhaps more accurately, between Meghan Markle and her in-laws — had been simmering back on the petulant-but-still-barely-civil burner. With the exception of a few lightly-but-deftly poisoned barbs tossed here and there, both sides had managed to maintain the facade of an equable, if gritty, truce for the better part of a year, since the couple’s rather spectacular overnight move from Vancouver to Los Angeles in March 2020.
That is, the shaky truce had been nursed along until last month, when CBS announced that the couple would be appearing with Oprah in a special broadcast following “60 Minutes,” and Buckingham Palace swiftly called a halt, forced Harry to relinquish his remaining military titles and patronages well in advance of his scheduled “review period” of his and his wife’s status, scheduled to have taken place this month. As ever with a blistering serve from Los Angeles, Buckingham Palace was caught more or less unawares.
Bluntly put, faced with the prospects of the unfettered Prince Harry and Meghan Markle waxing loquacious on their — according to them — constricted, angst-filled lives as full-time royals, the Queen and Charles had no choice but to decide there would be no way back into the fold. Game, set, match.
But there is some nuance here, and, in theory, perhaps a millimeter of wiggle room. Harry was raised in royal service and had been a winning, rather fabulously natural at it. The question would be, what happened in the 18 months following his marriage to change that. For her part, Meghan Markle demonstrated with blinding clarity in her forceful shutting-down of her ties to England and her willed, extensive distancing herself from it that she did not like much about royal life. The blindingly fast year-and-a-half on the road for the Queen between May 2018 wedding and the couple’s retreat to Canada in November 2019 — from which they essentially never returned — was absolutely all that Meghan Markle could take.
It is rather a difficult, rigorous life, that of service, as the Queen demonstrates every single day. Meghan Markle couldn’t stand up to that or to any of its features, very much including the complex, yet oddly measured, relationship that most working Royals manage to have with the British press. We’ll be hearing about that extensively on Sunday night.
The long, bloody game between the Windsor/Markles and the British press took a complex turn with London Times publication, at 10 p.m. on March 2, of detailed allegations of Meghan Markle’s own bullying and subsequent alienation of two of her personal assistants in her brief tour of duty as a working royal. Buckingham Palace swiftly announced a probe into the matter. The timing of the Times article landing 48 hours after the CBS trailers on February 28 and five days before the actual Oprah/CBS interview bomb drops on March 7 could be felicitous happenstance, but no: To the Times, palace staff said they came forward precisely because of the onrushing Oprah confess-a-thon.
From the Times:
The sources approached The Times because they felt that only a partial version had emerged of Meghan’s two years as a working member of the royal family and they wished to tell their side, concerned about how such matters are handled by the palace. The complaint claimed that she drove two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member.
This impressive joust was immediately refuted by Meghan Markle’s lawyer as having been orchestrated by the Palace itself in order to blunt the surely massive blow that Oprah, Harry, and Ms. Markle will land on the monarchy this Sunday evening. However admirable or misguided that bit of lawyerly swordsmanship turns out to be, in his thrust the lawyer conveniently forgot the fact that the Palace, itself, takes the hit in the Times piece as having been “unresponsive” to the allegation of a senior royal’s bullying — an enormous global corporate no-no in this day and age, and especially so for such a publicly accountable entity as Buckingham Palace.
Here is the swift-but-measured Buckingham Palace spokesman’s March 3 response to the Times article in full:
“We are clearly very concerned about allegations in the Times following claims made by former staff of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Accordingly our HR team will look into the circumstances outlined in the article. Members of staff involved at the time, including those who have left the Household, will be invited to participate to see if lessons can be learned. The Royal Household has had a Dignity at Work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace.”
It’s difficult to imagine the Queen’s senior courtiers orchestrating a Times piece with this level of negative import for the Palace, actually causing an investigation into its own human resources reporting structure, just to “get at” Meghan Markle from the back. In fact the article implies that it was Ms. Markle’s rank and role as a principal royal that insulated her from any blowback for her alleged intramural management style and/or her actions with underlings — the diametric opposite of the “Palace-hung-me-out-to-dry” refrain that we are highly likely to hear from Ms. Markle on Sunday.
Put differently, in addition to Buckingham Palace, there will be a second, most insidious character in Sunday’s dialogue, and it will be “the press.” By this the Windsor/Markles will mean the very enterprising British press, and most pointedly, though not exclusively, the big London tabloids of Fleet Street and their battalions of bloodhounds on the royal beat. This very much includes Associated Newspapers’ Mail on Sunday, whose owners Meghan Markle is suing, along with the handful of others that the couple continues to “boycott.” The bumptious story of Ms. Markle’s brief 18-month stint as a working royal goes deeper than the salvos fired by any side in advance of the Oprah broadcast, and when it does, some of the British monarchy’s substance, namely, its day-to-day machinery that we do not often see, heaves into view.
Time is a different commodity in the strange territory that we can call American Television-Land, as the Queen, Prince Charles and their media managers have understood this week from CBS’s jousts in the form of trailers from this Sunday’s broadcast. Sensing a groundswell of Oprah-driven public opinion (in America) in their favor and beaucoup viewers in the offing since the February 28 release of the two trailers, CBS has extended the broadcast from one-and-a-half hours to two.
That is an enormous amount of extremely expensive time in TV Land, especially in the tenderloin of “60 Minutes'” exclusive chunk of Sunday night, and especially with Ms. Winfrey and her celebrated interview subjects on offer. Let’s call it what it is, in America at least: It’s a big old-fashioned broadcast network bet that lots of good American product and good American viewers would like to get next to that crackling bonfire of content, and in an industrial way, given the advent of all-powerful streaming, it’s an oddly welcome revivification of the old broadcast platform. It’s like watching somebody fire up an old Ford plant to turn out a row of pristine Model Ts.
It is, however, also a blue-chip choice as a method of communication. As we know, the CBS/Oprah broadcast is a stratagem unquestionably authored by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in the larger war for control of the “Meghan Markle” narrative of her time as a royal. But. No less a courtier than the formidable Jason Knauf, former PR czar for the Princes William and Harry when their households were together and who now works for Prince William, had reportedly taken close notes on Meghan Markle’s behavior toward the allegedly bullied staffers in question, and officially routed his queries about Ms. Markle, and the situation, up to the head of Palace human resources. That’s a big deal, and we’ll just have to wait for the cards to be dealt on out, but it’s a sideshow compared to the deeper issues within the couple’s most ungainly bolt from royal life that will be explored by Oprah Winfrey on Sunday.
Harry’s motive for getting out is known. His tremendous charm and his great disadvantage is that the still-young prince does wear his heart on his sleeve. As he succinctly, poignantly and most tellingly put it in the CBS/Oprah teaser broadcast on February 28, his biggest fear was that history would repeat itself. He meant, that harm would come to his young family, as it did to his mother.
Nothing’s impossible, especially with the number of limousines and drivers in whose hands Prince Harry and Meghan Markle find themselves, but the fact is that Princess Diana was killed as a result of “grossly negligent” actions by the Hotel Ritz deputy security chief, who should never have been behind the wheel in what was determined by the inquest to have been an inebriated state, nor should he, in that or any condition, have dared to lead the paparazzi on a wholly reckless car chase through the Pont d’Alba tunnel. But such were the decisions of the day, meaning, that of moving from the Ritz at all, likely made by Diana’s then-boyfriend Dodi Fayed, son of then-Ritz owner Mohammed Fayed.
Suffice it to say that the likelihood of Prince Harry or Meghan Markle finding themselves in anything like the position of Diana in the hands of an inebriated hotel security man is remote, but tragic fact is that his mother died when Harry was all of twelve. He carries it with him.
In Hollywood, the process of the re-Americanization of Meghan Markle is not a big mystery: A couple of juicy deals, little production house partly named for her kid, a foundation, and bang, she’s back in action. One strong motor and motivator of and within Hollywood is this process of re-invention. Not a small part of that tool kit is the obligatory talk-show booking to announce that you’re back. The appearance comes bolted up with a measure of penitence. If what you’re telling has enough narrative meat, then, according to the Hollywood rules, you slide right onto the market.
The “market” in the form of the entertainment industry is a market that Meghan Markle was born into, hanging around the sets of the soap operas lit by her now-estranged lighting-director father, Thomas. Arguably, the steamy night-time soap Suits, upon which she found moderate, if smouldering, acting success, is pretty much the learning template for however she understands that world now. In other words, she was a featured actress on the show, with all of the attendant perks. She does certainly know how to milk it, as evidenced by the Disney voiceover, the production deals, and, presumably, the eventual Netflix “documentary” on her life. The point is that all the flogging, mincing and prancing about that this takes comes naturally to Meghan Markle. She’s an actress, and a fairly good one.
It was possible to watch her use her prodigious adaptive powers in her contested 18 months as a working royal, and as the odyssey wore on, the British press began to pick up on the tell-tale signs of insecurity, and hound her about them. Their narrative of her 18 months in-country is, largely, what she hopes to fight with the dreadnought of Oprah and CBS.
For the next four days, whatever is said in the highly advanced skirmishing by the combatants about the broadcast, the main event will be what is actually said over the two hours to Ms. Winfrey. To mangle Shakespeare in a different forboding circumstance, Birnam Wood has not yet come to Dunsinane, but from the CBS trailers we can say that Sunday night does not, immediately, bode well for Buckingham Palace. The private British television network ITV has bought the English broadcasting rights from CBS, and will air the Winfrey special in full on Monday, 8 March.
But. However many incendiary devices Meghan Markle and her headlong, still-royal-by-birth husband manage to ignite during Sunday’s show, under whatever chairs they then roll the bombs, it’s important to remember that Meghan Markle has no problems now. Come Sunday, she’s on television, and by definition back home.
Back in the Pleistocene, at military school in the South, some of my dorm-mates and I started a mimeographed—remember mimeographs?—broadside called the Trusty