Part of Meghan’s problem, it turned out, was her naïveté about the workings of the Royal Family, which she had assumed would be similar to the workings of celebrity culture. What was she, Meghan Markle, a simple girl from Los Angeles, to have understood about such an institution as the British? How was she to know that Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith was in any way different from the Lady of Gaga? One wonders whether her study of foreign service and international relations, her internship at the American embassy in Argentina, and her work with the UN might have clued her in to the fact that a whole world exists beyond the Jamba Juice on La Brea and the set of Deal or No Deal, on which she had once been one of the beautiful “suitcase girls.” Apparently, they had not.
She told Oprah that she had never even Googled her future husband’s name—a remark that united the viewing world in hilarity, time zone by time zone. It was an assertion that strained credulity, but it was necessary to her contention that she’d had no idea that the Windsors had not, as we now say, “done the work” when it came to exploring their own racial biases. Had she herself done some work by punching her beloved’s name into a search engine, she would have understood that she was not marrying the most racially conscious person on the planet. She would have seen pictures of him dressed as a Nazi at a costume party (his great-granduncle—briefly Edward VIII—had palled around with Adolf Hitler) and a videotape of him introducing a fellow cadet as “our little Paki friend.” The Palace said that “Prince Harry used the term without any malice and as a nickname about a highly popular member of his platoon.” But the palace had no good explanation for why Harry introduced another cadet in the video by saying, “It’s Dan the Man. Fuck me, you look like a raghead.”
But it was markle’s piety regarding the British Commonwealth and her possible relationship to it that revealed the essential incoherence of her case against the monarchy. For some reason she seemed to think that representing the British monarchy to the countries it had colonized was valorous. This group of countries, she told Oprah, is “60, 70 percent … people of color.” Absolutely true. But what force brought these nations together? And why is this institution, composed of 54 countries, headed by—of all people—the Queen of England?
The English relationship to the “commonwealth” is a natural (or unnatural) connection to the British empire. Overwhelmingly, these are the countries that were colonized, exploited, and subjected to ruinous campaigns of violence and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the British in the name not merely of country, but of the specific family Meghan chose to join. And her desire had been to become a special emissary to this confederation of countries as a representative of the Crown, as a standard bearer of a foreign power historically responsible for many of the specific miseries that exist in these places to this very day. Britain’s eager participation in the notorious “Scramble for Africa” is directly responsible for the exploitation of natural resources in many parts of that continent. And that’s the team she wanted to represent? Meghan Markle: defender of the Queen’s “realms and territories.”
The best thing the Royal Family could do for the former colonies would be to send money and stay away.
This matter had been left unaddressed by the time Harry arrived under the pergola—a bit flushed, obviously pained, and by no means as comfortable with the complicated new narrative as was his wife—and started answering questions. He revealed that he is estranged from his father, who at some point stopped taking his calls; that he loves his brother to bits, but that this relationship is also strained; that his adored grandmother had disinvited him and Meghan to lunch; and that when Netflix approached the couple with a deal, it was a stroke of luck, because “we hadn’t thought about it.” When they arrived in Los Angeles, cut off financially and stranded with only the funds left to Harry by his mother (and Meghan’s money from her television work), they had been forced to huddle like refugees in Tyler Perry’s mansion, allowing the superstar to pay for their security.
But more than any of this—more than Diana’s sad life and tragic death, more than Meghan’s disappointment at discovering that the Windsors aren’t devotees of critical race theory, more than the rescue chickens and the Spotify deal and even the Montecito mansion—the main takeaway from Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry was that it was spectacular television. Minute-for-minute excellent television. Oprah is one of the most famous people in the world; Meghan is an enormous celebrity. They both looked beautiful, and the setting was a garden of such exquisiteness that most of us will never lay eyes on its likeness outside of television or the movies. But what they were doing was talking about something most women have talked about with other women: in-law problems. They were on the grounds of an estate, but they could have been on the sidelines of a T-ball game or at a girls’ night out, or waiting for the subway. The father-in-law was a prick; the brother’s wife was a real pain and hadn’t done anything to reduce bridal anxieties before the wedding; the grandmother was a doll, but too easily exploited by the nursing-home staff. They were loaded, but they had cut off a favored son when he’d most needed the money. Meghan had, in fact, realized the highest aspiration of many married people: She had convinced her spouse that his entire family was a bunch of losers. (Harry, on life before meeting Meghan: “I was trapped, but I didn’t know I was trapped.”) She had plucked him out of its bosom and made herself and their child his only true family. She was—depending on your point of view—either a virago or an icon.
Nothing is as galvanizing and unifying as an episode of appointment television in which a hugely famous female broadcaster delivers an exclusive interview with another hugely famous celebrity who is in the midst of what is essentially a personal drama.
I was reminded of Diane Sawyer’s 1995 interview with Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson soon after the pair’s marriage, an event that had closely followed accusations that he was a child molester. Had she been worried about the charges? Asked him about the charges before marrying him?
“I’ve seen these children. They don’t let him go to the bathroom without running in there with him.”
And of Barbara Walters’s 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky. Why had she flashed her thong at Bill Clinton?
“It was saying, ‘I’m interested, too. I’ll play.’”
And Emily Maitlis’s 2020 interview with Prince Andrew. Why had he stayed in Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion after Epstein had been implicated in a massive sex-trafficking scheme?
“My judgment was probably colored by my tendency to be too honorable.”
These were questions about marriage and crimes against women and sex between powerful men and impressionable young women. They were conversations among famous people, but they were also conversations among all of us: the world’s women. They took the most elemental and baleful female conditions—sex and marriage, motherhood, and the ever-present threat of sexual danger—and transformed them into glossy television events. They gave us the kinds of details in which women—even the most intellectual and high-minded women—take an enduring interest, and they gave us an instant way to talk about them with one another.
I had an unpleasant medical procedure a few days after the Oprah special, but I was so focused on my nurse’s opinion of the show (surprisingly anti-Meghan) that I hardly noticed the pain. I had forced my sons and husband to watch the interview with me, and when Oprah reminded Meghan that when you marry a person, you are also marrying that person’s family, I cried out, “That’s right!” The things women care about will always be with us, and the way women work through them is not to drop ordnance on Afghanistan. It’s to find one another, put on the kettle or open the wine, and talk.
At the end of the interview, Harry sat beside Meghan, still looking a bit stunned, a bit unsure what was happening to him in this new life. Looking, in fact, a bit like a rescue chicken. Oprah asked him if Meghan had “saved him.”
“Yeah, she did,” he said. “Without question, she saved me.”
Meghan reached out her hand and touched his arm, stopping him from going on.
“I would … I would …” she said, trying to locate the right note, trying perhaps to avoid the impression that her husband was one more chicken in her coop. She hadn’t done the rescuing, she said—Harry had. It was Harry who had “certainly saved my life and saved all of us.”
And Harry sat there beside her, 7,000 miles from home, in the land of rich Californians and Meyer lemons and eucalyptus trees trailing Spanish moss. He had plighted his troth to this unexpected and very beautiful woman; he had hurt his grandmother, and alienated his father and his only brother. He had thought that having Bishop Michael Bruce Curry deliver the homily at his wedding would reverse a thousand years of English racial attitudes, but he had been wrong about that.* He was a combat veteran, a prince, the grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson of English monarchs, and now he was going to have to think up some podcasts.