Why would anyone marry into the British royal family?
Especially an outspoken, biracial, successful American actress such as Meghan Markle, now Duchess of Sussex?
The arc is so painfully familiar: The press falls in love with you, can’t get enough of you, covers your lavish wedding lavishly, then starts ripping you apart: You’re too demanding, you want too much privacy, you spend too much money. And your family, hoo boy, what a mess.
I watched the ITV documentary “Harry and Meghan: An African Journey” the other night to see how things have been for Markle since she married Prince Harry in May 2018, and had baby Archie a year later.
Not great, it turns out. The pressure, she said, has been unexpectedly intense.
“Look, any woman, especially when they’re pregnant — you’re really vulnerable, so that was made really challenging,” Markle, 38, told ITV interviewer Tom Bradby in what appeared to be a candid moment. “And then when you have a newborn ... it’s a lot. So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or just trying to be a newlywed. And also thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I am OK.”
I got the feeling she was talking less about the tabloid media than about the royal apparatus responsible for making sure that members of the House of Windsor toe the line.
In that moment, I did feel a little sorry for her. But she soon proved she is not as powerless as she would like to appear.
In a speech to children in the South African township of Nyanga — known as the murder capital of the country — she said, “While I am here with my husband as a member of the royal family, I want you to know that, for me, I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of color and as your sister.” (The line — for which she will be remembered — came to her at the last minute. “It just felt right,” she said later.)
Then, a day before the couple left Africa, Harry, 35, announced that his wife had filed a breach-of-privacy and copyright-infringement claim against the Mail on Sunday tabloid, accusing it of illegally publishing a letter that she wrote to her father and also of publishing “false and deliberately derogatory” stories about the royal couple.
On his ITV special, Bradby shared the news wistfully: “The media thought the couple had gone mad. After such a successful tour, why blow it up like this?”
It did seem misguided. Not Devin-Nunes-mad-cow misguided, mind you, but it’s hard to imagine even if they win damages (which they have vowed to donate to an anti-bullying organization), that the incessant — and negative or made-up — coverage will ever stop.
On the other hand, the anger and the will to change the intrusive coverage are understandable. Harry has been traumatized by bad press behavior in a way few others have been. His mother, Princess Diana, died in a car crash in 1997 at age 36, after paparazzi pursued her in Paris. His fear for his wife’s emotional health is not paranoia.
“Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one,” he wrote in a statement published on the Sussex family website. “Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
Prince Harry also filed his own claims against two other newspapers, alleging they had hacked his phone.
Strictly for professional reasons, I read Markle’s letter to her father.
Thomas Markle said he had no choice but to release the letter after one of his daughter’s friends had publicly mischaracterized it as “loving and conciliatory,” as the Daily Mail put it.
The letter, in fact, is accusatory. It is written in the wounded tone of a daughter who is laying out an item-by-item case against her father.
“Your actions have broken my heart into a million pieces,” it says, “not simply because you have manufactured such unnecessary and unwarranted pain, but by making the choice to not tell the truth as you are puppeteered in this.”
It reads like a giant kiss-off.
The Sussexes are reportedly coming to Los Angeles next month to celebrate Thanksgiving with Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland.
I can think of one new grandpa who probably won’t be invited over for pumpkin pie.