‘Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don't think so.’ Back in 2017, when Meghan Markle was 'girlfriend' and not yet 'Duchess of Sussex,' Prince Harry was already expressing doubts about his future role. In a lengthy interview with US magazine Newsweek Harry explained, ‘I sometimes still feel I am living in a goldfish bowl,’ and described longing to be 'something other than Prince Harry.’
Since the announcement of their resignation from the royal firm, much attention has focused on Meghan. To some (well, perhaps just Eamonn Holmes) she’s ‘weak, manipulative and spoilt’. To others, she’s the perfect role model for young women everywhere. Meghan may be villain or victim but Harry is rarely portrayed as anything other than her puppet. Either he’s being manipulated into making sure ‘what Meghan wants, Meghan gets,’ or he’s bravely suffering on her behalf. In reality, as his 2017 interview shows, Harry’s scepticism about his royal role is nothing new.
Harry has changed his mind about one thing. Two years ago he moaned about being a Prince but was quick to add: ‘we will carry out our duties at the right time.’ Resigning as a senior royal, or, more accurately, going part time, means opting out of the ‘duties’. So, why the change of heart?
For the woke commentariat, the answer is blindingly obvious. According to the Guardian, ‘abuse and neglect’ meted out by ‘the rightwing press’ has driven Harry and Meghan away. Afua Hirsch, writing in the New York Times, claims that many among Britain’s 'communities of colour' are ‘also thinking about moving.’ We’re given the impression that tabloid hacks regularly churn out racist diatribes for a nation swept up in a tide of Brexit-backed xenophobia.
But even Hirsch’s attempt to frame their treatment as all about racism, only really manages to uncover a dodgy headline and a bizarre reference in the Mail to Meghan's ‘exotic DNA’. Hirsch mainly falls back upon ‘double standards’ to prove her point. Apparently, when other royals guest edit or appear on the front cover of magazines they are ‘quietly praised’ whereas Meghan was taken to task for her involvement with Vogue. And that’s before we even start on Prince Andrew. Count the column inches, urge Meghan’s champions. They demand to know why so much more attention is given to Harry and Meghan than Prince Andrew, who was friends with a convicted paedophile.
Certainly Harry and Meghan have received plenty of press attention. But press attention is fairly normal for the royals. Even before he became the rather pathetic figure he is today, Prince Andrew received his fair share. He was dubbed ‘Airmiles Andy’ because of his penchant for frequent and expensive business trips, preferably in a private jet or helicopter. This came after ‘Randy Andy’, the ‘playboy prince’ whose partying, drinking and presumed sexual conquests made for page after page of royal titillation. His relationship with Sarah Ferguson was subject to far more scrutiny, lurid headlines and long range paparazzi shots in one week than Harry and Meghan have experienced in a year.
Harry and Meghan have not had an easy ride from the press but it’s hard to prove they have been subjected to a racist double standard. What they have received is criticism. They have been criticised for preaching about environmentalism while flying around the world in private jets. They’ve been criticised for extravagance; £50,000 engagement dresses are beyond the reach of most of us. They’ve been criticised for complaining that no one asked if they were okay while travelling around some of the poorest countries on earth. They’ve been criticised for taking public money – £2.4 million for home improvements – while not giving the public a glimpse of baby Archie’s christening.
Harry and Meghan may not like it but these are valid criticisms. But we live in strange times. Today, erstwhile republicans fawn over the royal couple, and those who would once have championed a free press now demand royal coverage is pre-approved and carefully curated by a Duke and Duchess that are beyond reproach.
This narrative has taught Harry it’s acceptable for him to ditch the tiresome commitment he once had to fulfilling his duty, and allows the pair to see stepping back from the responsibilities of public life as an act of bravery. Harry and Meghan want to drop boring duties and avoid pesky royal correspondents, but keep access to Charles’s wallet, inherited wealth and the status of royalty. What they really seem to want is immunity from criticism – and no public figure, no matter their titles or source of income – has a right to that.