Racism and The Firm
Arguably the royal family is facing the most serious crisis since the death of Diana Spencer, writes Eddie Ford
Without doubt, the Harry and Meghan interview with Oprah Winfrey far exceeded expectations - it had a devastating effect.
The reaction of the newspapers says it all. Some have the same headline, “Palace in crisis”, while others talk about the “palace in turmoil”, “palace left reeling”, “palace in crisis talks”, “royal rift”, “incendiary claims” - even the “worst royal crisis in 85 years”. As an ardent defender of the monarchy and everything it stands for, the Daily Mail wailed: “What have they done?” - referring to the Sussexes, not the Windsors (or The Firm).
Of course, the uproar came from Meghan Markle’s comment that, while she was pregnant with her son, Archie Mountbatten, an unnamed member of the royal household raised with Harry “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when born” - leaving Winfrey visibly shocked, along with very many of those watching the show. We are obviously talking about a senior royal here, as the billionaire chat show host quickly issued a clarification after the interview - Meghan was talking not about Elizabeth or Philip Windsor. Phew, thank heavens for that.
Therefore, it is only reasonable to deduce that we must be talking about someone with the status of Charles, William, Edward, maybe Camilla - the very top of The Firm, not a minor royal or faceless functionary. Meghan’s revelation generated an endless online deluge of jokes, memes, cartoons and videos about ‘who is the mystery royal racist?’ - the hunt is on, place your bets.1 As Meghan is due to have a baby girl in the summer, our mystery royal racist (if that is what the comment implied) must be worrying already about yet another Sussex with ‘too brown’ a skin colour. Thank god they are way over there in America.
More seriously still, there are concerns within the cabinet about how this story might play out - which has plenty of legs. The influential online political magazine, London Playbook - which is extremely well connected - spoke to two senior ministers who both expressed fears that the racism accusations would ultimately be levelled at one of those in the front line of succession to the throne, causing untold damage to the institution of monarchy for a long time to come.
They are right to be worried, as, in the words of royal biographer Penny Junor, the couple had “lobbed a hand grenade into the family” and there could be “no coming back” unless the allegations of racism are confronted honestly and also with sensitivity - not exactly something that The Firm has a great track record in. So far, the only response from the palace has been a short statement saying they are taking the claims made in the interview “very seriously” and were “saddened” to learn how “challenging” the recent years have been for the couple. But, the statement continues, “recollections may vary” and the issues raised will be “addressed by the family privately”.
Perhaps Meghan got it wrong or Harry misheard what was said to him by the concerned family member. This sounds like a form of denial to me and is obviously inadequate. Something more will need to be said, otherwise it could blow up in their faces. Not that we republicans would be saddened by such a turn of events. Quite the reverse, actually!
In fact, incredibly inadvisably, the royals started a briefing war just days before the interview - saying they were investigating bullying allegations made against Meghan. The timing of this ‘investigation’ immediately raises suspicions, reminiscent in some ways of the Scottish National Party searching around for witnesses against Alex Salmond - any accusation will do. Unsurprisingly, lawyers for the Sussexes told the newspapers that the Palace was orchestrating a “calculated smear campaign” against the couple - trying to “peddle a wholly false narrative”. I know who I believe.
Making the whole matter so toxic for the establishment, the issue of race suffused the entire two-hour Winfrey interview - with Meghan concluding: “I realised it was all happening just because I was breathing” - her skin pigmentation and heritage were against her. She and her children would never be fully accepted by The Firm - they just do not look the part. In this context, Meghan suggested that, because Archie was mixed-race, that meant he was being denied the title of prince - maybe only white people qualify for such a role.
Now, the protocols surrounding this question are quite arcane, and do change over time - they are not fixed forever. By normal convention, as the grandchild of a sovereign, Archie would automatically become a prince when his grandfather, Charles, acceded to the throne. But the Sussexes indicated they had been told those rules would be changed in line with Charles’s plan for a ‘slimmed-down’ monarchy, leaving Archie without his birthright title or - perhaps more importantly - the security protection that goes with it.
Yet, when it came to the children of William, Duke of Cambridge, the titles of ‘princess’ and ‘prince’ were bestowed on Charlotte and Louis of Cambridge at birth. “It’s not their right to take it away” from Archie, claimed Meghan. Strangely enough, prince Andrew still retains all his titles, including the military ones - despite his close friendship association with the convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, and his refusal to cooperate with the FBI investigation into Epstein. Harry, of course, has been stripped of all his military titles.
Indeed, Harry said in the interview that racism was “a large part” of why the couple left Britain. He argued that, though the UK as a whole was not racist, the UK press - specifically the tabloids - certainly was. It is near impossible to deny that the British press has treated Meghan in a hostile manner in all sorts of ways, whether it is the Daily Mail devoting an entire article to how Harry’s “new girl” comes from the “gang-scarred” area of LA - detailing at inordinate length all the various feuding gangs in her area.2 Or Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris, wittering on idiotically in the same publication about Meghan Markle’s “rich and exotic DNA” and how her mother is a “dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks”. Not forgetting the widely reported story that Meghan reduced Kate Middleton to tears in a pre-wedding spat over the flower girls’ dresses, when she claims it was the other way round.
Meghan managed to joke about the press in the interview - when the saintly Kate eats an avocado, it is a “morning sickness cure”; but, when Meghan does the same, it is “linked to human rights abuse and drought, millennial shame” - the act of a humourless, woke princess. Then there are the persistent stories, with a distinct whiff of misogyny, that Harry is a helpless captive in the relationship - we are led to believe that “what Meghan wants, Meghan gets”. It did not seem like that from watching the Winfrey interview.
The great irony, as noted before in this publication, was that Harry and Meghan’s wedding was a great PR triumph for The Firm - it enabled the monarchy, and the nation a whole, to look liberal, modern, progressive and, of course, anti-racist. It was similar, in that way, to the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, where Britain very successfully projected to the world an image of itself as relaxed, confident and supremely at ease with multiculturalism - its ancient institutions adapting to changing times.
But it has all gone disastrously for the Firm, which now appears unable to live up to that image. Instead, it has defaulted to type - narrow, insular, bigoted, willing to sacrifice anybody and anything if they think it will preserve the monarchy. In reality, their foolish war against the Sussexes is only acting to discredit them.
Maybe it is an exaggeration to say, like the Mirror, that the monarchy is facing “the worst royal crisis in 85 years” - obviously a reference to the Wallis Simpson affair, when the would-be Nazi king, Edward VIII, gave up the throne in 1936 to marry the twice-divorced American. But it is definitely the most serious crisis since Diana Spencer’s 1995 Panorama interview, where she famously talked about there being “three of us in this marriage” - and then her untimely death two years later in a Paris tunnel.
Undeniably, the ghost of Diana hangs over Meghan Markle - another woman pushed out into the cold by The Firm. Another woman who actively contemplated suicide, as we later found out about Diana. “I just didn’t want to be alive any more”, Meghan reported, and that was a “real and frightening, constant thought”, but when she asked the palace for help, we were told, she was denied it. There was nothing they could do to protect her because she was not a paid employee of The Firm. They also discouraged her from leaving the house for months on end: a form of lockdown - or torture - which must have done her mental health a lot of good.
As it happens, this brings up the subject of that professional Meghan-hater, the obnoxious, Trump-loving Piers Morgan. He agreed to resign as co-host of ITV’s breakfast show, Good morning Britain, after blurting out that that he did not “believe a word” Meghan said about feeling suicidal - “I wouldn’t believe it if she read me a weather report”. By the same evening, Ofcom had received more than 41,000 complaints about Morgan, sealing his fate. Good riddance to bad rubbish, but this gives you just a little taste of what Meghan Markle has had to endure at the hands of some sections of the media - especially when you recall that six months after the wedding Morgan wrote in the Daily Mail that Meghan is “a ruthless, social climbing actress, who has landed the role of her life and is determined to milk it for all she can”. A sentiment not uncommon in the British press.
Other revelations from the Winfrey interview include the fact that Meghan had been “silenced” - rather than simply “silent” - from the moment she started dating Harry Windsor, and that Prince Charles had stopped taking phone calls from his son after the couple announced their plan to step aside from royal duties. This left Harry feeling “a lot of hurt” and “really let down”, given that Charles “knows what pain feels like”. This only provides yet more evidence that we are dealing with a highly dysfunctional family - hardly a ‘role model for the nation’. We also discovered that Harry had been “cut off financially” from the first quarter of 2020 - he claimed that the need to pay for his own security costs was part of the motivation behind the couple’s deals with companies like Netflix and Spotify. The only other money left, according to Harry, is what was left to him by his mother. It is worth mentioning that the couple did not get paid for the Winfrey interview, contrary to what I suggested in a previous article.
This makes you wonder how they are going to prevent their income stream from drying up - the Hollywood lifestyle does not come cheap. Harry also said, which is surely true, that his father and brother (presumably meaning William) are “trapped within the system” - they “don’t get to leave” or check out. As this publication has argued many times, the introduction of a democratic republic would actually be good for members of the royal household, freeing them from the alienating trappings of The Firm, and allowing them to become normal, fully-rounded, human beings.
One other aspect quickly worth mentioning is Harry’s comment about “how scared” his family is “of the tabloids turning on them”. This is undoubtedly a legitimate fear, especially given how the royals are behaving at the moment, but it serves to highlight the “invisible contract” - as some apparently call it within The Firm - whereby the monarchy depends upon the press for its very survival. This is a perverse relationship, which amounts to an acknowledgement by the monarchy of how fragile it really is and how utterly reliant on the tabloid press’s control of public perceptions of the institution. This is clearly an extremely unenviable position to find yourself in and also unviable in the long term, at least in its present form - leaving you constantly vulnerable.
In an interesting development regarding the press, an internal civil war has broken out within the Society of Editors. Its executive director, Ian Murray, issued a statement on March 9 saying that the couple’s claims that parts of the media were racist was “not acceptable” and made without “supporting evidence” - he insisted that the UK media “has a proud record of calling out racism”.3 Please step forward the Daily Mail, Sun, Express, etc. The SoE is a media industry body that recruits its members from nearly 400 national and regional outlets. But 168 journalists and editors, drawn heavily from The Guardian, Financial Times and HuffPost, angrily described Murray’s statement as “laughable” proof of “an institution and an industry in denial”.
There are now discussions underway over the publication of a new statement intended to address these concerns, but it seems the SoE’s board is split over the wording of that statement, with a dispute over the phrasing of a possible apology and some urgently demanding a “clear change in tone”.
Lord Zac Goldsmith, the slightly mad minister of state for the Pacific and the environment, accused Harry Windsor/Sussex of “blowing up his family” - to which communists can only reply, ‘Keep up the good work!’ If the Winfrey interview helps to hasten the demise of the monarchy, that could only be a good thing - any help is appreciated. But it is extraordinarily difficult to have a serious conversation about the monarchy, including its dynamics and contradictions, in Britain.
Unfortunately, however, this philistinism has infected most of the left - which never wants to discuss the issue except for the occasional cheap slogan. I cannot recall Jeremy Corbyn mentioning it once when he was Labour Party leader, preferring to stick to safe issues like the NHS, austerity, low wages, and so on. At the very best, his republicanism was Platonic - never real. In fact, he was never a real democrat, period.