It’s all about the narrative.
It always has been.
More specifically, it’s about who is in control?
According to Prince Harry in the six part Netflix docuseries ‘Harry and Meghan,’ it’s the tabloid press, aided and abetted by the Royal household.
The tabloids, he argues, expect their pound of flesh from public figures – especially those funded by the taxpayer.
According to the UK media.. well, they know they’re calling the shots.
Their coverage of the docuseries has been less about who’s in control and more about how the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have once again poked the Royal Family in the eyes.
The bulk of them see the Sussexes as petty, determined to undermine the Monarchy and in the most shrill corners, downright treacherous.
Liz Garbus’ docuseries on the rebel Royals has been much hyped but what is its central premise?
Despite what the tabloids claim, the docuseries stresses Harry and Meghan are deeply in love and have been from the start of their relationship.
‘Harry and Meghan’ also argues Meghan was a breath of fresh air for the Royal Family when she married Prince Harry – a woman of colour, she struck a chord with people of colour in the UK and across the Commonwealth.
An opportunity to reinvent the Monarchy, however, was wasted.
Like Harry’s mother Princess Diana, Meghan was ill prepared for the conventions she was expected to follow as a Royal, shocked by the petty jealousies that could surface and naive about the tabloids’ fixation with shaping and monetising public perceptions of the Royal Family.
Garbus’ docuseries argues the insatiable demand of editors for soap opera style stories of behind the scenes rows at the Palace and hissy fits and their clamour for intrusive paparazzi photographs have pushed the couple’s sanity to the brink.
Harry and Meghan’s sense of paranoia, they argue, was well founded with members of the Royal household actively briefing against Meghan in a bid to distract journalists from negative publicity around other Royals.
Faced with this intolerable situation, the couple had little choice but to leave their Royal duties and carve out a life of their own, independent of the taxpayer.
Whether you believe all this is immaterial – many viewers in the UK will have already made their minds up about the couple.
The programme is simply about the Sussexes telling their side of the story on their terms.
Whether you agree with it or not, the couple have found a platform that enables them to challenge the predominant British media narrative.
The show, however, is bloated and, at times, it’s a bit cringey.
Over six episodes, Garbus stitches together a docuseries that is simply too long, with many scenes feeling like padding.
It is also a bit of a mixed bag.
The series’ depiction of the couple’s romance in the early episodes feels a bit too Mills and Boon to be taken seriously.
At times, the couple also naively show behind the scenes footage or make comments to the camera that just seem ripe for parody.
Revealing they got a text of support from Beyonce following the Oprah Winfrey interview seems like an unwise move, giving further ammunition to the Harry and Meghan haters who think their heads have been turned by their celebrity status.
Comments that their first dwelling at the taxpayers’ expense Nottingham Cottage “was so small.. As far as people were concerned we were living in a palace and we were in a cottage” also smacks a little too much of entitlement when many viewers are struggling with the harsh reality of a global recession.
But where ‘Harry and Meghan’ scores is its depiction of the tabloid feeding frenzy around the Royal Family and its destructiveness.
With mobile phone footage of paparazzi photographers on scooters pursuing Royal cars, drones circling the couple’s home and fences being cut, viewers get to really understand what it’s like to be in the eye of a tabloid storm and the lengths to which some people in the industry will go for a money shot.
‘Harry and Meghan’ makes uncomfortable viewing for supporters of the Royal household, illustrating how it has often colluded with the press by feeding negative stories about the couple and by also slavishly serving the publicity machine.
From the off, it is evident Harry has been deeply traumatised not just by the death of his mother in Paris while being pursued by paparazzi but by his and Meghan’s experiences at the hands of the media and his fellow Royals.
And that is why his argument that he has moved his family to North America to protect them rings true.
Footage of a photocall, when he and Prince William were children on a skiing trip with their cousins, hammers home just how much the Monarchy has over the years placated the media’s need for content.
What’s more striking, though, is the pettiness and the hectoring nature of much of the media coverage of Meghan, particularly as relationships within the Royal Family have frayed.
From members of her father’s family exploiting her fame to members of the Royal household actively briefing that she is pushy, manipulative and was insensitive towards the Queen, it is easy to see how a picture has been constructed in the tabloids with the intention of turning Meghan into a public punchbag.
The Duchess of Sussex does a very effective job explaining the devastating impact the tabloid appetite for stories has had on her family, straining her relationship with her father because of his attempts to cash in on her fame.
It also resulted in her half sister’s daughter, Ashleigh Hale being penalised for other family members’ actions by being denied the chance to attend the Royal wedding in Windsor even though she had become close to Meghan.
Meghan’s half sister Samantha Markle is portrayed as a villain who has exploited the tabloid feeding frenzy by generating questionable stories.
Tyler Perry, last seen teaming up as Medea with Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs Brown in a Netflix comedy, emerges as an unlikely hero, helping the couple secretly move from Canada to California before the COVID lockdown.
Garbus does a good job illustrating the double standards of the Daily Mail, Express, Sun and other newspapers by contrasting their bitchiness towards Meghan and her pregnancy with their fawning over the Duchess of Cambridge for doing exactly the same things.
There’s an underlying sense of tragedy too around the rift that has opened up in the Royal Family over Harry’s refusal to play their game – particularly the souring of his relationship with Prince William.
If ‘Harry and Meghan’ gets one thing right, it is the way it exposes the parasitic and ultimately unhealthy nature of the tabloids’ relationship with the Royals and the levels of collusion with it.
Will making ‘Harry and Meghan,’ though, enable the couple to seize control of the narrative around everything they do?
Maybe to a small degree around the world but probably not in Britain where the odds are heavily stacked against them.
Will the docuseries reignite the debate in Britain around press regulation?
The death of Princess Diana, the phone hacking scandal and the hounding of celebrities like Caroline Flack should have been a wake up call but little has been done to curb the excesses of those in the UK media who profit off gossip and promote easy clickbait.
We live in a world where tabloids and gossip websites exploit showbiz failings and feuds and where loudmouth newspaper columnists and their editors think it is okay to publish in the Sun an article which talks about hating Meghan Markle to the extent of fantasising that she might be paraded naked around British cities while excrement is thrown at her.
Watching ‘Harry and Meghan,’ you wonder has British society learned nothing from the tragedy of Princess Diana’s life?
You also wonder how low can the tabloid loudmouths go?
Apparently, really low and it may possibly sink even lower.
(‘Harry and Meghan’ was released in two volumes for streaming on Netflix on December 8 and 15, 2022)