Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has a house daubed in clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.
Beyond this, it’s the stuff of children’s stories. Having a queen as head of state is like having a pirate or a mermaid or Ewok as head of state. What’s the logic? Bees have queens, but the queen bee lays all of the eggs in the hive. The queen of the Britons has laid just four British eggs, and one of those is the sweatless creep Prince Andrew, so it’s hardly deserving of applause.
The contemporary royals have no real power. They serve entirely to enshrine classism in the British nonconstitution. They live in high luxury and low autonomy, cosplaying as their ancestors, and are the subject of constant psychosocial projection from people mourning the loss of empire. They’re basically a Rorschach test that the tabloids hold up in order to gauge what level of hysterical batshittery their readers are capable of at any moment in time.
The most recent internecine struggle is between the royal family and a newly disentangled Prince Harry and his wife, the former actor Meghan Markle. Traditionally, us peasants would be nervously picking a side and retrieving our pikes from the thatch. Luckily, these days the pitched battles happen in television interviews.
Oprah, her second name now obsolete, appears wearing roundy Harry Potter glasses and pastel colours radiating calm. She distantly air-hugs a pregnant Meghan, who is wearing a black dress with white patterns, and they both then sit between two pillars looking out on a Californian garden. This is clearly Oprah’s temple. (It’s actually, we are told, a “friend’s” house.) The cameras drift smoothly around and, occasionally, above them, with the tact of well-trained servants. We cut sporadically to the couple’s own property, where Oprah and the pair wander in hoodies, jeans and anoraks among rescue dogs and chickens, as if to say, “We’re just regular rich folk, Oprah, no different from you or Tom Hanks or Jeff Bezos.” Arch-royalists will of course, claim these dogs and chickens are crisis actors.
Oprah makes it clear from the start that the questions have not been vetted – though she reveals her cards when they start discussing the royal wedding: “Thanks for inviting me, by the way.” Oprah describes their wedding as being akin to a fairy tale. Meghan says that it was an out-of-body experience and, in fact, that they had a small private ceremony a few days earlier.
Meghan admits she was a bit naive about what being a royal would mean. She was unaware that she would have to, for example, curtsy to Queen Elizabeth even behind closed doors. She bats away tabloid accusations based on recent leaks.
Did she bully staff? Well, no. (Also, isn’t bullying staff part of what being a royal has traditionally been about?)
Did Meghan make Kate Middleton cry about bridesmaids’ dresses? She counters that Kate actually made her cry, though she adds, in case we were reaching for our pikes, “If you love me you don’t have to hate her, and if you love her you don’t need to hate me.” If she’s really worried about that she should have answered: “Who cares?” (I’m pretty sure I made lots of people cry in the run-up to my wedding.)
She does, however, go on to paint a dismal picture of being silenced and unsupported by the institution as racist commentators took aim at her. The royals never defended her. They allowed lies to go unchallenged and misled the press themselves when it suited them. She calls them by the old nickname of the Firm, which makes them sound like a gang of London gangsters, which I suppose they are. At her worse, she says, she felt suicidal. She rather movingly points to a photograph at a royal engagement when she was at her lowest, noting how tightly a worried Harry is holding her hand.
The reason this isn’t a mere royal nonstory is because it’s ultimately about race and gender and touches on a number of very real contemporary anxieties around fairness, equality and institutional bigotry. (If I were to pick a pike from the thatch I’d be lining up for Meghan here.) There was talk within the institution of downgrading the royal status of the couple’s son. Most shockingly, if you can be shocked by that shower, Meghan reveals that an unnamed member of the royal family fretted about what colour their children’s skin might be.
Harry turns up for the second half of the interview. He credits his wife with educating him about unconscious racial bias, institutional bigotry and how deeply weird the royal environs actually are. He likens it to a trap, one in which his father and brother are still caught. His relationships with both, as he depicts them here, are strained, though Meghan and Harry claim to still have a good relationship with the queen.
Harry also evokes the experience of his own mother and says he’s wary of history repeating itself. And this reminds me that the only time I’ve ever been moved by anything to do with the British royals was seeing him as a small boy walking in his mother’s funeral procession. He talks about the unspoken deal the royals have struck with the tabloids to give them access in return for favourable coverage. As it is for soap operas and reality television, benign tabloid coverage is an existential issue for the royals. He suggests, ultimately, that he and Meghan were in the crossfire of that.
He also reveals that they didn’t so much abandon their royal duties as be edged out by lack of support. They were told they wouldn’t be afforded state security, which is what led to their need to do media deals. “Did you blindside the queen?” asks Oprah, conjuring up an image of Harry sucker-punching her with a karate chop. As if that would be possible. I picture the wily nonagenarian counterpunching with the royal dagger between her teeth. They did not, for the record, blindside the queen.
Over the course of the interview Harry and Meghan, who are charming, clever and good at being celebrities, make the monarchy look like an archaic and endemically racist institution that has no place in the modern world. Well duh. And despite all the outrage you might read in the UK tabloids right now, they also did something else that renders everything else irrelevant: they officially launched themselves in the United States.
Harry revealed their next child’s gender – it’s a girl – in this interview, but Harry and Meghan are also pregnant with a nascent media empire and lucrative Spotify and Netflix contracts. Of course, their critics accuse them of being money-hungry careerists for this, but that’s hilarious coming from sycophants to hereditary tax-suckling grifters. Arranging a Netflix deal that the couple actually have to work for is pretty benign royal behaviour when you compare it with conquest and general parasitism.
Harry and Meghan are ultimately going to win. Despite the tabloid frenzy, this was never the story of an ungrateful pauper being elevated by the monarchy. This was about the potential union of two great houses, the Windsors and Californian Celebrity. Only one of those things has a future, and it’s the one with the Netflix deal.