Well that was explosive. Even more than had been expected. In their two-hour sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, Harry and Meghan drove a long knife into the monarchy. They implied that it’s a cold, cut-off, racist institution that is so bereft of basic human feeling that it drove a young-ish sensitive woman – Ms Markle – to contemplate suicide. It was Diana’s chat with Martin Bashir on steroids. A clash of royal houses worthy of a George RR Martin story. It was also a grotesque spectacle – emotionally manipulative, self-obsessed, and a clear attempt by Harry and Meghan to position themselves as the king and queen of victim politics.
The set-up bordered on nauseating. Here was a duke and duchess in the unimaginably luxurious surrounds of a Californian mansion talking about how difficult their lives have been. In a country where 40million people lost their jobs as a result of lockdowns, this pair who get paid millions for making naff podcasts moaned to billionaire Oprah Winfrey about their oppression by the establishment. Meghan was wearing a $4,500 dress. She’ll probably never wear it again. That’s more than twice the amount that desperate Americans will get in their stimulus cheques to keep them afloat in the next few months. It’s perverse.
Then there’s the hypocrisy on the privacy question. Harry and Meghan detest the invasive media – they referred to it as a ‘monster machine’ – and insist they just want a private life. Yet they’re constantly revealing all. They’ve given us minute details about the miscarriage Meghan suffered. In the Oprah chat Meghan opened up about her suicidal thoughts while ‘trapped’ in the royal family. Nobody invades Meghan Markle’s privacy as much as Meghan Markle does. The problem isn’t us, the grubby, tabloid-reading public, pestering Harry and Meghan for info about their lives; the problem is them forever foisting their most intimate experiences down our throats. How about you leave us alone?
But there’s something else going on, too, something that goes far beyond Harry falling out with his dad or Meghan vs Kate. More fundamentally we’re witnessing a culture clash. A conflict between the contemporary cults of victimhood and identity politics, as now keenly represented by Harry and Meghan, and the older ideals of duty, self-sacrifice, stoicism and keeping your shit together, as embodied by the queen, and as aspired to by most Brits in recent decades. This internecine clash between the Sussexes and the Palace is really an unspoken civil war between post-Diana New Britain and Old Britain. Last night’s interview, facilitated by that doyen of the new elites, Oprah, was essentially a power grab by Harry and Meghan – their attempt to seize the throne of the victim industry and consolidate their cultural power in the post-traditional world.
There is no question that the Oprah interview represents a serious blow to the monarchy. It will badly damage the monarchy’s international reputation, which had held up pretty well even during the divorces, scandals and anni horribiles of recent decades. The interview will contribute to the chipping away of the monarchy’s sense of mystery. The monarchy’s great power traditionally lay in its ability to insulate itself from the external world, to depict itself as being above the flotsam and jetsam of changeable daily life. But that has unravelled in recent decades. The pressures of mass media, social media and, more importantly, the now dominant culture of revelation, of always signalling one’s virtue and advertising one’s wounds, have slowly pushed at the doors of the once mysterious palace.