Joanna Williams Joanna Williams

Harry and Meghan have played a blinder

(Getty images)

If bouquets and Bollinger were winging their way to Montecito last night they were well deserved. When Harry and Meghan met Oprah, the trio turned in the performance of their lives. From dramatic pauses, wiping away tears, hand-holding, Diana-reminiscent eye make-up, the English country garden-style backdrop interspersed with scenes from the chicken coop and shots of little Archie running along a Californian beach, to accusations and big reveals – everything was performed with absolute perfection. The build-up was justified. This did not disappoint.

For Harry and Meghan, no doubt poring over press coverage, the success of their interview will be measured not in advertising revenue, or in viewing figures, but in public sympathy. In this, they’ve played a blinder. 

The most explosive revelations – that Meghan had suicidal thoughts and that racism influenced discussion of Archie’s future status – garner sympathy by the bucketload. Mental health and racism are the biggest preoccupations of millennials everywhere. In tapping into these two big issues, Meghan puts the Royal Family in an impossible position. Her claims simply cannot be challenged. No one other than Meghan can know the full extent of her mental trauma; this is ‘her truth’ and any attempt at contesting it can only appear heartless. 

It’s enough to make this lifelong republican feel sorry for the Queen

Likewise with the charge of racism: if no rebuttal comes from Buckingham Palace then it may appear as if they are admitting guilt; but challenging the accusation will be a demonstration of white fragility – and a racist denial of Meghan’s lived experience. It’s enough to make this lifelong republican feel sorry for the Queen.

Few other families have their dirty laundry aired in quite such a spectacularly public manner. Everyone has elderly relatives who are not up to speed with the latest woke lingo: mainly we forgive their indiscretions for the sake of family harmony. Not Harry it seems, who rushes to inform his wife. The privacy loving former-Prince told Oprah all about his difficult relationship with his father, Prince Charles, who at one point stopped returning his calls. The litigious Meghan claimed that far from having made the Duchess of Cambridge cry, the exact opposite happened and she was the one left in tears before her wedding.

The wedding! Like millions of others from all around the world, I tuned in to the televised ceremony, and raised a glass of Prosecco to the newly-weds and the wonderful spectacle of all things traditionally British merging so seamlessly with the more modern, multi-cultural nation we had become. Only now it seems we didn’t witness a wedding at all. Harry and Meghan wed in a secret ceremony held three days beforehand. Like so much associated with the Sussexes, we had been treated to a carefully crafted performance. We are left feeling cheated.

The Queen realised decades ago that the secret to the success of the monarchy is what people do not know. Reveal too much and you take the shine off. Better to say nothing and sustain the fantasy than expose the truth of ordinariness. One of the more bizarre moments of the Oprah interview is when Meghan compares herself to the Little Mermaid – a fairy tale character who marries a prince then loses her voice, but finally emerges victorious and regains the power of speech. But the Disneyesque-fantasy for us mere viewers is destroyed. Meghan pulls back the curtain too far and reveals too much.

Fairy tale comparisons aside, it is hard to fathom Meghan’s apparently limited understanding of what she was undertaking by marrying into royalty. News that she would have to curtsy before the Queen – even in private – seems to have come as a shock, as does all notion of having to fit into a carefully curated hierarchy. Meghan told Oprah she had gone into her relationship with Harry ‘blindly’, had little knowledge of the Royal family and had never so much as looked up her husband-to-be online. If this is true it suggests a quite incredible level of naivety.

But perhaps we should not be cynical. After all, both Harry and Meghan demonstrate astonishing naivety elsewhere. They claim to want complete privacy and yet give a two-hour-long spill-all prime time television interview. They wanted to be part of the royal family – but without the formality and standing on ceremony. They wanted the titles and lifestyle but also complete freedom. Meghan seems most devastated by the fact she was unable to decide for herself whether to appear on Oprah while still a working royal – as if there was no monarchy and only her own desires to satisfy.

Ultimately, for those now however reluctantly on Team Royal, Harry and Meghan emerge from their encounter with Oprah less ingenue and more just entitled. In their world, other members of the royal family were jealous of Meghan’s popularity and her ability to ‘connect’ while Harry has been dreadfully wronged by being ‘cut off’ financially. They now sit among chickens and talk of ‘living authentically’ with wealth beyond the imaginings of mere civilians.

Harry and Meghan seem to find it hard to know where real life stops and fantasy begins – and where the Royal family stops and The Crown begins. Meghan is carving out a role for herself as successor to the people’s princess, where being the queen of people’s hearts means presenting yourself as the biggest victim around. It is clearly a role she was born to play.