In a totally unanticipated public statement Wednesday, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex mutinied against the monarchical institution, confronted vicious media outlets and common disparagers, and chose a little more freedom for themselves and their baby boy.
Horrified traditionalists blame the uppity, black American wife. Harry was their darling, Officer Prince till the hussy got under his skin and into his head and heart. The best-selling English novelist Sir Philip Pullman named and shamed their racism in a tweet and concluded: “What a foul country this is.” So why should they not escape from it?
When Harry wed Meghan in 2018, the sun shone, birds sang, crowds cheerfully waved their wee Union flags. The whole world loves performative British royal weddings, but this one came loaded with symbolism. Idealistic white people and minorities whipped up fantasies about a post-racial and post-colonial nirvana. For biracial Bernardine Evaristo, co-winner with Margaret Atwood of the Booker Prize, the marriage was as significant as Barack Obama winning the U.S. presidency: “It’s a sign of how far we have come as a nation.” Not quite, not at all.
We realists were wary of the mass buoyancy and delusions. As I wrote in Newsweek in May 2018, “The family and country [Markle] is joining are not what they appear to be.” Most Americans don’t know the U.K.’s true history, its politics and society. To them, this is a fun kingdom of crowns and grand houses, quaint traditions, country pubs, Richard Curtis movies and, also, great pop music and counterculture rebels. I assume this is what the lovely and talented Meghan thought she was coming into.
The couple met in July 2016, just a month after the June Brexit referendum, which split the nation irrevocably. Overt hostility against immigrants and Britons of color leached out from those cracks. Brexiters declared a culture war on diversity, equality and liberal values. The public space, which had got more civil over the decades, turned nasty, felt unsafe for those of us who had roots elsewhere. Meghan, black, modern, feminist, was a loadstone for seething xenophobes, macho men and some hateful women too.
During the buildup to the wedding, prejudiced journalists opined that she was more mistress than wife material or that she was from the “wrong side of the tracks.” One male commentator told me he believed voodoo had been used by the “sorceress.” Harry objected to the unfair treatment of his fiancée. That only encouraged the brutes. Meanwhile, palace enforcers started pulling feathers from her wings: She was to quit social media, learn to not be herself, to be a royal. I felt for her and wanted her to fly off then.
After the wedding, there was a brief lull, and then the hounds began barking and nipping again. Everything she did was wrong. Meghan likes avocado on toast, so a newspaper accuses her of encouraging murder and droughts; she wears jeans to Wimbledon, so offends turgid All England Club members; as guest editor of one issue of Vogue, she celebrates inspirational women for the cover, but not the queen, scream crazed monarchists, and so it goes on. Social media attacks have been even more toxic. Conservative courtiers too recoil from this Duchess, who is demanding and knows her own mind.
This woman turned Harry from a wild, partying young man to a responsible and sensitive adult who talks about his mental health and his beloved mum. He, for his part, just wants to protect his wife from the dark powers that crushed his mother. Diana was a naïve, damaged, trusting young woman picked to breed by Charles and his then-mistress, Camilla. She would be alive today if she had refused the arranged marriage. (She did try to get out in the days before the wedding but was pushed to go ahead.) Meghan is no Diana, but there are similarities, mainly openness, inclusivity and vulnerability. Such women have no place in our undemocratic royal family, which is often arrogant, greedy, self-serving and cold.
In December’s issue of the Tatler magazine, I speculated that 2020 would be crunch time for Britain, as well as Harry and Meghan. After we leave Europe at the end of January, I predict more racism and white nationalism on these isles. The Sussexes will escape all that for half the year. Good first decision. Diana left her boys money. Next, they should liberate themselves from all royal trappings and live happily ever after. Good luck, guys. May the force be with you.
Published in Newsweek 10/01/2020