In defence of Meghan, the demonised duchess

The unfair demonisation of a duchess

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

13 March 2021

9:00 AM

The words pouring on Meghan’s head are written for a witch, because that is the natural progress of the story. The royal family are our national myth and sacrifice: our small flesh gods, without whom we would have to have a serious political system requiring serious engagement, instead of which we have this. Interlopers are sanctified if they comply and demonised if they don’t. It is a sort of trial by ordeal, it’s-a-royal-knockout — how much can you take? All interlopers get it — Prince Philip was once considered a dangerous moderniser — but the women have it worse. Sir Timothy Laurence might wonder where his made-up feud with his brother-in-law is. I have worked on a tabloid and I can tell you: he isn’t pretty enough.

Harry is called ungrateful for the interview with Oprah, but not much worse. His small personal failings — teenage drug use, Nazi uniforms — are not dwelled on because he’s one of us. The woman is the true cause of evil, and she must be punished: this witch who stole our prince. This narrative is repulsive because it assumes ownership of a person. Weren’t we there for him when his mother died? Oh yes, and how he wished we hadn’t been. Even so, pretending to be Harry’s mum while really being a middle-aged female journalist for the purposes of chiding him is an evergreen, and gruesome, genre. Now they have Meghan to feast on, and the generic complaint was always: she looks very pleased with herself, the woman who stole our prince! That a professional soldier with access to the loveliest possible women is unlikely to be kidnapped by a former actress and sometimes calligrapher — what, did she drug him? — has escaped them.

We know now that she wasn’t pleased with herself. She was so unhappy she became ill. It’s not normal to accuse women who say they are suicidal of lying, unless they are a royal duchess. It is not normal to accuse a biracial woman who says she was the victim of racism of lying, unless they are a royal duchess. Royalty is a dehumanising state. They are supposed to revel in it, as if it is not a grotesque intrusion but a lifelong Ferrero Rocher advert that the viewer, when minded, can throw chips at.

The specific objections to Meghan are all stylistic. What can appear desperately insincere to British people is, in America, good manners. Meghan is the middle-class only daughter of a marriage between a lighting director and a former make-up artist. It is insinuated that she is self-seeking, when she is merely ambitious — and why not? Her charm and her striving brought her a long way until they crashed into the impossible demands of British royalty and their mad acolytes. Middle-class Americans tell each other they look beautiful when they don’t. When they are being polite, they sound like they work in hotel management. If they seem too groomed for British eyes that, again, is good manners. For the British, it is trying too hard, a nauseating convention that protects aristocratic power.

I would not wear earrings from the king of Saudi Arabia and call myself a feminist, but he would not give them to me. I would not wear a $200,000 dress, but I am a hack, and I don’t need one.

There is no woman in Harry’s intimate circle, or family, who does not have access to such things. Last week it was reported that the Queen has accepted gifts of horses from the ruler of Dubai, currently busy imprisoning his own daughters, whom he had abducted and has now drugged, and I hear barely a ripple on that. Tiara-gate and flower-girl-gate received substantially more press, like war crimes.

The response to the interview has proved Meghan’s point for her. Life in the royal family was intolerable. She flipped a finger at our shabby fairytale and abandoned us. We behave like children in return.

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