In 2018, Prince Harry Windsor married Ms Meghan Markle, a divorced, African-American actress, in a moving and colourful ceremony with every member of the British royal family in attendance. Prior to the wedding, the British and international media had of course gone into a frenzy of speculation over the ‘unusual choice’ for a royal bride, which is code for saying no one expected that a senior member of the royal family would go for a black, American divorcee. Being an actress (deemed an unsavoury occupation for a royal bride), American (too brash and uncultured) and black/mixed race (too exotic) should have all been stand-alone strikes against Meghan Markle. Yet, her Prince Charming declared her his Cinderella and there was nothing anyone could do about it. In all this, it was also apparent that the senior members of the royal family knew that times were changing. If they wanted to remain relevant and acceptable to a new generation, they needed to at least put up an appearance of inclusivity. And so, they made what I consider to be thoughtful and bold changes. They allowed the new couple to organise a wedding service that reflected the background of the bride. The bride fell out with her father shortly before the wedding, so her father-in-law, Prince Charles, the then Prince of Wales, took the totally unprecedented step of walking her down the aisle. The wedding was watched by millions around the world and hundreds of thousands excitedly lined the streets of Windsor and beyond to catch a glimpse of the new couple. There was a sense of genuine goodwill and happiness for the couple. For the generations who watched two heartbroken little boys walking stoically behind their mother’s casket on September 6 1997, sandwiched between their father, paternal grandfather and maternal uncle, seeing them reach major happy milestones as adults was joyful. Of course, there were rumours of untoward things behind the scenes before and after the wedding, but they were just that, rumours.
Then, in February 2020 Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, announced that they were leaving full-time duties as members of the royal family. They declared a desire to have more privacy and to be able to be ‘financially independent’. Apparently, this decision was taken in disregard of the Queen’s wishes for a more private and mutually agreeable strategy. The result was the beginning of a whole lot of drama back and forth, with most of the accusations coming from one side and the other side remaining mostly silent at least in words if not in their body language.
When I bought Prince Harry’s book ‘Spare’ I was curious, because I wanted more context to what was flying around. In March 2021, I watched the interview the couple granted to Oprah Winfrey, during which they accused the royal family of racism, and I watched the six-part Netflix documentary they released in December 2022. I also watched most of Harry’s interviews promoting his latest book. I have drawn the following lessons from what I have read and learnt so far:
- Struggles with mental health can last a lifetime
Prince Harry was a troubled and traumatized young boy who lost his mother when he needed her the most, and grew up to be a troubled and traumatized man. He has been very open about his struggles with mental health and the coping mechanisms he has used to deal with his grief, but he does not seem to have experienced much by way of healing, in spite of his insistence that he is ‘happy now’. Even with the catharsis of recording every hurt and slight, both real and imagined, he still seems to be in pain. The choices he has made to deal with these issues have also not helped, drugs and excessive alcohol only serve to aggravate emotional turmoil and have implications for informed decision-making. Prince Harry seems to have a long way to go and needs to focus on his healing more.
- It is difficult to understand privilege when you have it
It is very difficult for those who live lives of privilege to fully understand the expectations that come with such a life. Reading and listening to Prince Harry, I found myself shaking my head at the lack of empathy and nuance one would expect of someone who has been blessed with so much from birth. For a 38-year-old white man with a high school education, only a brief but heavily guarded stint in the army, no work experience, no entrepreneurship track record, but a title and heritage that opens a thousand doors, Prince Harry should learn a thing or two about the hypocrisy of the 1% of the world whining for the sympathy of the 99%.
- Blood is thicker than water – till money is on the table
Prince Harry had the good fortune of unloading his thoughts for approximately U$100m on television (the amount Netflix purportedly paid) and sharing his life lessons via print (for U$20m) all from the comfort of his U$15m home in California. Throughout the book ‘Spare,’ Prince Harry goes to great lengths to point out that he does not consider his brother Prince William a friend. He cites examples of what one could write off as the usual squabbles between siblings, but in Harry’s eyes, they are life and death situations which make his brother something of an enemy. I don’t think Diana would have appreciated this and is probably turning in her grave at the prospect of her sons having this kind of strained relationship.
When publishers pay writers a lot of money for their memoirs, or when producers are putting a series together, they want a product that will sell. Even if the story is well known, audiences will respond to tidbits that are not in the public domain, salacious, even shocking details, anything that frames the information being provided as worthy of commercial attention. Prince Harry understood the assignment and he delivered rigorously by throwing all bodies available under the bus – his brother, father, sister-in-law, stepmother, grandparents, old acquaintances. There was nothing too tawdry or cringeworthy to throw in, ranging from losing his virginity in a field behind the pub at 17 to an anonymous ‘older woman’, the ‘attacks’ from his brother, which left him, a war veteran, cowering over a broken dog’s bowl after his brother dumped him there, to the DIY treatment of his ‘dodger’ that had frostbite and was out of commission for a while. No one should begrudge Harry the right to earn money, but selling out his close family should not be his only commercial enterprise.
- The universality of family values
There are some things that are universal, regardless of age, race, class or geography. I was having a conversation with some friends a while ago and the issue of Meghan and Harry came up. I asked the group (all mothers of adult children) if they would ever allow any of their children to marry someone whose parents they had never met? They all said unanimously, ‘of course not!’. Yet, that is what Prince Harry did and the late Queen Elizabeth, her late husband Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh and the now King Charles all allowed Prince Harry to marry a woman whose living father NONE of them had met. The royal family did not want to be accused of asking difficult questions in case they were accused of racism, though the Queen is believed to have encouraged Meghan to try and make amends with her father. Till today, almost five years after the wedding and two grandchildren, Prince Harry has never met Mr. Thomas Markle, the father of his wife in person. One of the many grievances Prince Harry has against his brother Prince William, is that he asked him if he was sure that he was making the right decision, since he had not met Meghan for that long before proposing. On the wedding day, it looked extremely odd to see Meghan’s mother sitting alone, the only family member Meghan had in attendance, yet there were many Hollywood friends and acquaintances. Forget being black, American, British or Nigerian. A bride or groom is meant to unify families, not isolate people or feed on existing divisions.
- The race card can not be played all the time
The main narrative that Prince Harry and Meghan have put out, especially in the United States, is that Meghan was a victim of racism and the royal family is guilty of ‘unconscious bias’. Maybe. The royal family is a traditional and deeply parochial institution. They are suspicious of whoever they perceive to be an ‘outsider’ and race is just one of many considerations. White Anglo-Saxon males (Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria and Prince Phillip, consort of Queen Elizabeth 11) white royal females (Queen Mary, mother of Queen Elizabeth 11, Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth) and white royal brides from the aristocracy or gentry (Princess Diana, Fergie, ex-wife of Prince Andrew and Camilla the Queen Consort, Katherine, the Princess of Wales) are all known to have faced difficulties with the ‘institution’ and then the media, for one reason or the other. All the above had their antecedents, motives and values questioned. Meghan Markle would have been just one more on the list, and as Queen Camilla tried to explain to her, albeit unsuccessfully, they would eventually get tired of the baiting and move on to someone/something else.
I watched with my mouth open as Meghan did a parody of the courtesy she had to do when she met her grandmother-in-Law, the Queen for the first time. In the documentary she said it was like ‘something out of medieval times’. She also described when her future brother-in-law Prince William dropped by with his wife to visit, Harry also mentions this in his book. Meghan was surprised that Prince Wiliam and his wife were formally dressed and she received them barefoot wearing a pair of tattered jeans. Going by what Meghan said with her own mouth (not what people say about her) she comes across as a self-absorbed person with rather poor manners and a convenient victim mentality.
With all the complaints and accusations, there is nowhere either Harry or Meghan take responsibility for their own behaviour, and they are certainly not blameless. It is a shame that Harry grew up feeling that he was dispensable and therefore not worthy of the same attention and perks as his brother. Perhaps parents need to be mindful of how they send certain messages to their children. Also, no matter how much pressure we are under due to globalisation, we should resist the urge to treat close family members as if they don’t matter. I know no child of mine will invite me to a wedding where the father or mother of the bride or groom is absent without a very reasonable explanation. Last but not least, three words in any language or culture are known to solve almost all problems, it doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong. ‘I love you’ and ‘I am sorry’. Whether we are from the House of Windsor or House of Africana, it all works the same way.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com