OPINION: ‘Solipsism in the raw’

Lord Digby Jones reflects on THAT interview

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.

ONE of the benefits of the privilege of offering a few words for your interest on a monthly basis is that I can reflect on events from the relative, detached calm of a few days’ interval after the maelstrom subsides.

In this case, the maelstrom is the media storm, the divided opinion and the fallout caused by THAT interview. Nearly a week on, I still feel a sense not only of frustration and anger but also sadness and sorrow.

I don’t know what infuriated me more; that the world was watching (and a goodly number of millions actually believing) some amazing statements being put forward as truths or that the interviewer (trousering some £5m. for her efforts) didn’t so much as query any assertion, pin down an issue with a probing supplementary or ask a single ‘difficult’ question.

There was no meaningful challenge to what was being said; it felt as if I was watching a brand marketing, soft-focus promo. Mind you, this fault line has been repeated since then by news outlets and journalists the world over, all of whom would rightly never have allowed any other public figure (and especially a politician) to get away with that.

I thought it was one of the best acting performances I have seen on TV for many a year. Meghan was spot on; she absolutely nailed it. Leaving unchallenged assertions ‘out there’ with a troubled, wide-eyed glance, delivering the moist eyes and misbehaving mascara right on cue, dishing out unproven assertions (‘her truths’, as she called them) she led her gullible audience down precisely the path she intended, with just the right amount of vulnerability that even the iciest of hearts could start to melt.

La Winfrey joined in.

‘Were you silent or were you silenced?’ bore all the hallmarks of a prepared leading question, aching to take its place in the pantheon of interview out-takes. But pulling down that sort of fee demands a factual accuracy which was infuriatingly lacking: Canada is not ‘a Commonwealth of Britain’! No self-respecting Canadian would want that. Canada belongs to The Commonwealth – the British nomenclature was dropped a long time ago. But then the fact-checker had gone AWOL.

What on earth has the fiction of The Crown got to do with anything when you are interrogating facts about the Royal Family?

Did the couple really get married three days before ‘the wedding’? What? In a ceremony with just the Archbishop of Canterbury present? (Meghan uses the words ‘just the three of us’ in the interview) No witnesses? Or does Meghan believe she’s above needing all that legality stuff? And it’s OK to con the public a few days later, is it? Or was that just a multi-million pound Great Performance for a worldwide TV audience, which was a building block in the enhancement and burnishing of Brand Sussex or (with apologies, your Dukeship) Brand Meghan? After all, why ask America’s most famous chat show host to your wedding when you have hardly met her unless you have a branded ‘made in America’ promotional future in mind?

Harry said, ‘I was never able to go on bike rides as a child’. Funny then that I am right now looking at photographs of his Mum and Dad with him and his brother doing precisely that.

If he meant those seemingly endless days of childhood adventure on two wheels with your mates, without parents or security, I feel genuinely sorry for him. And if all this is partly about a rebellion against a system that he feels robbed him of normal growing-up, it is so sad that he dealt with it by pressing the nuclear button.

The Sussexes made a big issue out of the removal of their security.

The UK Government (and the Canadian one for that matter) did not just ‘remove their security’ and certainly not without notice. It all came down to money. It was a function of who should pay for it. The distressed couple’s bleating missed the point, possibly intentionally. The taxpayer and the Royal Family have an unspoken deal in many areas. ‘You do your duty and we pay for your security’ is part of it. So please run this one past me again, Harry: you and the missus do a runner, you give up your part of the deal, that troublesome ‘duty’ thing, you rock up in another country and yet you, a multi-millionaire in your own right through the fortune your mother left you, expect the Great British taxpayer to pay to keep you safe just because of who you are and what you were born into, indeed the very things you were running away from.

Great-grandchildren of the monarch do not automatically become princes or princesses. Zara and Peter Philips and their children seem to get along without such titles quite nicely thank you; but then I reckon The Princess Royal could teach Meghan (and Harry, come to that) a thing or two about loyalty and non-self-serving duty.

She epitomises the British Royal Family fulfilling its part of the unwritten contract contained within the unwritten constitution of the nation and also with the Commonwealth.

Meghan wrongly saw it all as just another Hollywood-style Sleb Group with her at its core. Well, that was always going to deliver only one winner – and it ain’t you, m’lady.

Meghan obviously thought that the Royal Family was just another showbiz entity, just another group of stars, similar to what she was used to in LA. She obviously saw it all, in advance, through American eyes.

Did no one put her right?

She said she hadn’t bothered to research what she was joining (we are expected to emote ‘you poor thing’ at this point). Shame on Harry if he didn’t strongly prepare her for just what her life was about to become. She actually said to camera ‘it was unlike what you see in the movies’.

Surely Harry could have had palace support in providing the essential training so that the bride-to-be could realise before it was too late that the Royal Family is unique and certainly not ‘what you see in the movies’.

Maybe they did; it is frustrating that Oprah never found out for us.

A royal aide is quoted as saying at the time problems began to emerge: ‘She has no idea about the institution she has married into ... she thinks she should be on a level playing field with the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge, that the world revolves around her ... what she doesn’t understand or accept at all is the pecking order’.

She clearly couldn’t come to terms with ‘the rigidity of the hierarchy’ and found herself quite ‘a long way down the list in protocol terms’.

I saw in Meghan’s performance a cloaking of frustration, acute disappointment and anger with the self-serving balm of vulnerability and unanswered need. She will never come to terms with marrying the spare. She clearly could never accept the heir syndrome. That grouping of her father-in-law, brother-in-law (and his future queen) and nephew did not include her – and she, with hard-earned status in LA royalty achieved through single-minded, uncompromising ambition and obvious acting talent, just didn’t get it, couldn’t stand it and decided to leave, taking her doting prince with her.

She said she had been ‘judged on the perception but you’re living the reality’, and for some unfathomable reason, she thinks that won’t be the case in Tinseltown? Get real, Meghan.

THAT interview was solipsism in the raw. On display was not one saving grace. They both had so many opportunities, especially given the fawning nature of her interviewer’s questioning technique, to create goodwill and reach out across the many divides their conduct and attitude have created. Their obsessive need to settle scores and somehow ‘get even’ left everyone diminished (except for the interviewer) as the golden opportunity to go into golden exile with animosity-free goodwill was missed.

They were aware that Harry’s grandfather had been taken into hospital (Meghan referred to it when doing her ‘authentic’ bit with the chickens) yet they neither referred to him in the interview nor had its transmission postponed.

They ignited the incendiary bomb surrounding the colour of yet-to-be-born Archie’s skin by making unproven allegations about senior members of the Royal Family without removing the smear from the many by naming the individual whom they allege made such remarks.

Were these words the natural speculation all families use in loving interest when the colour of skin or hair of an impending arrival is concerned (I’d be amazed if the couple themselves didn’t wonder aloud about it now and again) or were they remarks loaded with disgraceful racism which warrants at least a private investigation and action? We were clearly led to believe the latter by the successful and clever ploy of leaving a remark ‘out there’ and letting the interviewer and the viewing public and media do the rest.

As was said in Buckingham Palace’s response, ‘some recollections may vary’. I guess we all understand palacespeak.

The passing of a few days since transmission has seen growing in me a sense of not anger (which I expected) but sadness. To watch a prince of the British Royal Family effectively trash his father, the heir to the throne, in front of millions of people around the world, to recount in public the aspects of a father and son quarrel (‘he didn’t take my calls’) felt tawdry and frankly beneath him.

To listen to them both basically making the case for privacy on their own terms seemed to be a denial of how the world works, especially the world they now happily embrace.

To listen to them attempt to justify taking the millions of dollars through trading on titles and trappings they effect to dismiss and say are unimportant, to hear Meghan wistfully say she has lost so much when millions have really lost so much, indeed life itself, during the pandemic, made me feel anger that they, the privileged, used their celebrity to say such things but also I felt sorry for the millions of others from different countries and all walks of life whom they insulted by making it ‘all about us’.

If the titles don’t matter and if they have clearly turned their backs on Britain and their involvement in its way of life (as they have every right so to do) then they should do the decent thing and give up their titles and renounce their place in the line of succession to the throne. Or do they really, deeply believe they can have their cake of British trappings and then eat it in the monied, Californian sunshine?

YouGov polling in midweek found that only 9% of the over-65s supported the couple. Over 60% of the under-24s did. THAT interview has caused division far beyond the family the couple were aiming at. There will clearly be many who disagree with my reaction to it all. Welcome to a free world. But surely the divided public is entitled to hear the various assertions being tested, to hear the other side of the story. But that will never happen. Buckingham Palace will deal with everything in private and life will go on. Stability and ‘as you were’ are the hallmarks of the British Monarchy and that will endure. Indeed, the only long-term loser in all of this may well be Harry himself, and that would be a tragedy.

Harry and Meghan had every right to leave family, duty and what they saw as a claustrophobic future behind and start a new private life an ocean and continent away. Fleeing unacceptable harassment and attitudes is totally acceptable. But they should be very careful they don’t end up having just swapped one prison for another. Another that is unforgivingly based on the shifting sands of money and a ratings-based media-currency.

They (and especially he) might one day hanker for the life they have so publicly not just rejected but napalmed; it has many imperfections, but closing ranks is a speciality. The warmth of the LA sun might well feel pretty chilly in the void of wealthy emptiness.

Harry ended the interview with the observation that he is ‘proud of us’. Really Harry? On what objective analysis do you measure that pride?

Meghan said that it was ‘greater than any fairytale you’ve ever read’.

The self-centred, ‘me me me’ attitude is stupefying. I don’t think that view will be shared by the millions around the world who confront and face down mind-boggling personal, health and financial challenges every day.

As 78 year-old Stephen Hobson from Newcastle was quoted in The Times as saying: ‘They’re millionaires and the one who was interviewing them is a billionaire and I don’t know what they’re moaning about’.

They have evidently now said that the interview has made them feel free at last. Well, that’s all right then.

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