Like Diana, Meghan didn’t know what she was getting into when she joined ‘The Firm’

Sean O'Grady
·5-min read
Meghan y Harry se casaron en 2018 (Getty Images)
Meghan y Harry se casaron en 2018 (Getty Images)

Oh dear. Horrific stuff. Really horrific. I’m not sure anyone even suspected that Meghan’s misery went as far as suicidal thoughts - and that she had no one useful to turn to for help. The Palace might not respond in kind, but there will be counter-accusations that leak out, and the other side (or sides) of the story will emerge in due course.

The dignified silence that might be the best way for everyone to move on isn’t going to last, and we already have the story out there that Meghan supposedly “bullied” her staff. The briefing war will continue, just as it did when Charles and Diana split in the 1990s.

Even for those who’ve better things to do, find the story of princely brothers estranged, a family broken and its members “trapped” is irresistible. Like the semi-fictional The Crown, it is compelling, not least because it starts to ask questions about the nature and function of a hereditary institution. Why, you have to wonder, do the British insist on their constitution having this circus at the top of it?

Apart from the suicidal thoughts and the race bombshell - astonishing and disturbing revelations, and genuinely shocking - the most striking thing that Meghan said was that she, an actor by trade, didn’t do her research about the “role” she was taking on.

It confirms, sadly, the pattern that has established itself since the marriage of the Queen’s sister to Tony Armstrong-Jones back in 1960, or even when Prince Philip joined “The Firm” when he married Princess Elizabeth in 1947, which is that no one really knows what they’re getting into when they “join up” for royal service.

It was all too true of Harry’s mother and Prince Charles, first wife, Diana, and many others. That, in turn, inevitably leads to unwelcome surprises, tensions, misunderstandings, stifling control by the Palace, the malevolent intrusion of the press, and the stress and misery that all that entails. Meghan herself confessed: “I went into it naively. I didn’t grow up knowing much about the royal family. It wasn’t a part of the conversation at home. It wasn’t something that we followed.

“I didn’t do any research. I’ve never looked up my husband. I just didn’t feel the need to”. She didn’t properly comprehend what this peculiar expression “working royal” actually meant.

Well, you could say that was a bit negligent. A bit of Googling would have helped. But the truth is that no one, not even the best-connected types, understands what the atmosphere behind the velvet and ermine curtain is like before they try to breathe it. Not even, most famously, Lady Diana Spencer, an aristocratic woman who’d known Charles slightly since she was a little girl and was as familiar as with the British monarchy.

In Diana’s case, she didn’t anticipate or accept that she had to put up with the Prince of Wales carrying on an affair, just because he wanted to and that was the way it had always been. The legend goes that when Camilla first met Charles when they were in their early twenties she said to him “Your great-great-grandmother was the mistress of my great-great-grandfather. How about it?”

Maybe that’s apocryphal, but they both knew full well that their respective ancestors, King Edward VII and Mrs Alice Keppel had indeed conducted a famous affair, and his wife, the Queen, had to tolerate it. It was how things were in those days, and how things were going to be forever.

There is an abiding feeling of loss in all this, for all sides

Some of the recruits take to the hypocrisies and the pretences comparatively well, some get used to it, some shuffle away from the limelight as much as they can, and some have to get the hell out. That applies to those born into it as well as those who marry into it. Harry and Megan were part of this institution by accident of birth and through love, not choice.

What should have happened is that the Palace and the family ought to have made clearer to the pair of them what was going to happen after they wed, and how awful some of it would be. Maybe they did try, and maybe, as the rumours say, Prince William and Prince Charles advised Harry and Meghan to take their time over their romance, for just that reason.

Even if there’d been a longer courtship, though, the preparations could never be complete and the reality was bound to come as a shock. Harry witnessed what had happened to his mother, who had also self-harmed and was persecuted by the press, and he and Meghan decided it was not for them.

Looking at things as charitably as one can, there is an abiding feeling of loss in all this, for all sides. Meghan was a tremendous modernising asset for the monarchy, someone who could help the institution reflect better the nation and the Commonwealth it purports to serve. For the Sussexes, they should have been able to enjoy a modicum of privacy and control over their own lives as they brought something different to the job. After the Oprah interview, all that has gone. Gone with the Windsors.

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