SARAH VINE: Yes, it’s over-the-top and manipulative. But this show reveals why the Palace now needs to start taking the Harry and Meghan problem very seriously indeed…
Dark clouds, airplane. Slow-mo piano music, poignant departure sign. Heathrow’s Windsor Suite (oh, the irony), March 2020, Harry looking weary. Cut to sunny Vancouver Island, Meghan make-up free, eyes moist, her hair in a towel, laying it on with a trowel. Emotional piano music. ‘Exploitation and bribery within our media’; ‘My duty to uncover’. More sweeping strings.
It’s easy to see how the public – and especially the American public – will be seduced by this. The first episode of H&M’s (as they like to refer to each other) six-part Netflix documentary plays like a Richard Curtis rom-com, Meghan cast as the sassy American career girl charmed by our quaint British ways, Harry the archetypal stuttering Englishman.
Side by side on a sofa, in a replay of Oprah, Meghan dressed in her trademark white, they recount their first date: how he arrived half an hour late, how she thought he would turn out to be one of those arrogant types who like to keep young women waiting, how when he finally got there, all red-faced and sincere, her heart melted.
Prince Harry opens the docu-series from Heathrow as he left the country and frontline royal duties in March 2020
Meghan speaks in the documentary released on Netflix on Thursday about sharing ‘our story’
In the opening scenes, Harry says: ‘We’ve just finished two weeks, out final push, our list stint of royal engagements. ‘It’s really hard to look back on it now and go what on earth happened?’
The first episode, which is 56 minutes long, shared the impact of Harry’s childhood in the public eye and their secret relationship in the early days
Pictured, the couple with their dog in an intimate image shared within the documentary
Meghan cries on her bed in Vancouver as Harry leaves the UK after Megxit
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have opened up about their first date in the first episode of their Netflix docuseries, which was released today
How the next night she invited him to dinner, and it all just fell into place. ‘I had my career, I had my path – and then came H,’ says Meghan. So you see, it was love, actually. Cut to a series of endearing snapshots of the two of them laughing and larking around, as lovers do in the movies.
More adorable anecdotes. More piano music. If the producers could have found footage of a cute snowball fight, they would have put it in. ‘I think this love story’s only just getting started,’ says Harry.
Like I said, it’s easy to get sucked in. It tugs at the heart strings. It’s slick. It’s beguiling. But it’s not all cuddles and cashmere. This film has a purpose.
It’s designed to make us believe that theirs is a Great Love, of the kind that transcends all others, a pure, beautiful, noble form of emotion. And like all Great Loves, it can be used to justify everything. Even the most destructive and spiteful of actions.
As Harry explains here, his decision to marry Meghan sets him apart from other royals, who, he adds disparagingly, are tempted to marry someone ‘who fits the mould’. The difference between making decisions with your head or your heart. Who could he possibly mean?
Doting grandmother: Prince Harry and Meghan shared a snap from their son Archie’s first birthday in their explosive Netflix documentary today, in which Doria was seen celebrating with her grandson
A pregnant Meghan Markle with her son Archie resting on her bump in the new Netflix series released today
The couple said this selfie was a picture of the moment they decided to give their relationship a go, on their second date, at Soho House in London
What arrogance. What gives him – the both of them – the right to judge other people’s relationships in this way? Why, their great and superior love, of course. They can say and do whatever they want because… love. It’s the Matt Hancock defence, only on steroids. That’s why it’s so important that the audience are invested in them as a couple. That is what this documentary aims to do.
But it’s not all insincerity and spin. One thing I don’t doubt: Harry is besotted with Meghan. He’s like a puppy around her, his eyes wide with excitement and adoration.
Whether she is quite so enamoured of him is hard to tell. I wouldn’t normally go there, but they have, so: there is an edge to her, a disingenuous polish that doesn’t quite sit right. But she is 100 per cent his world, and that really goes to the heart of what this whole saga is about: Harry, and his apparent psychology.
Meghan was not the reason Harry turned his back on his family and his role as a royal, she was simply the catalyst. There have been suggestions of this in the past, but that’s what really emerges here, clearer than ever before.
Harry is a very damaged man, scarred by his experiences as a child and clearly devastated by the loss of his mother at such a young age. And it’s this, not all the gloss and guff about their great romance, that really makes me feel for him, the part of this documentary that rings most true.
‘Do I remember a moment when I finally realised that my family was different,’ he asks, spitting the words out through clenched teeth. There is so much anger there, so much unresolved trauma. This is where the destructive stuff comes from, this is the true source of the constant attacks on other royals.
The desire to lash out at his brother – for being OK when he isn’t, for apparently coping so much better than he ever did. The fury at his father, which he can’t bring himself to express openly but which manifests itself in the attacks on the monarchy as an institution.
His latent loathing of his stepmother, the Queen Consort, who supplanted his own mother in his father’s affections. Even perhaps some frustration with the late Queen herself, his grandmother, for putting the institution before the personal.
It is the stuff of Greek tragedy. Add the sheer blind hatred of the press, and in particular of the paparazzi who pursued his mother and then him, and you have a truly toxic mix.
Speaking in the first episode of the new £100 million series today, The Duke of Sussex said his childhood was ‘filled with laughter, filled with happiness and filled with adventure’
The princes needed to grieve in private, Harry said, but were expected to go and share hands with a nation in grief (Pictured in 1997 following their mother’s tragic death)
The opening half an hour of the Netflix series sees Meghan pointing to a picture of Diana on the wall to a baby Archie saying: ‘That’s grandma Diana.’ The cute footage sees Archie, now three, then reach out to the famous image of his late grandmother
And the truth is I am not entirely unsympathetic towards him in this respect. We see footage of a young Harry at Eton, head bowed, banks of photographers tracking his every move. There’s that famous incident with Diana, too, where she and the boys are skiing and she approaches the cameras, asking – begging, really – for a bit of privacy.
Perhaps hardest of all is the bit where he talks about the aftermath of her death, about having to be seen ‘out and about’. I remember at the time thinking how terribly wrong it was to make those two poor boys who had just lost their mother walk behind her coffin, and in effect do a meet-and-greet outside Buckingham Palace. There’s duty and there’s cruelty, and that was just wrong.
And while a lot of Diana’s behaviour, in particular towards the end of her life, was immature and frustrating, and while she herself was no stranger to media manipulation, she did nevertheless have genuine reason to be extremely hurt and upset at the way her marriage to Charles turned out. And little boys tend to feel their mother’s pain most acutely and do everything in their little-boy powers to stop it. Harry was 12 when she died. Part of him will always remain her little soldier.
‘So much of how Meghan is, and what she is, is so similar to my mum,’ he says. ‘She has the same compassion, confidence, warmth.’
Whether that’s true is irrelevant. He believes it.
In Meghan he has found his peace, a version of the mother he lost at such a tender age, his protector, the only person – as he sees it – who ever really understood him. She’s his second chance at happiness, and he’s not going to blow it.
That’s why he will go to the ends of the earth (well, California) for her. That’s why she can do no wrong. That’s why he will always side with her against his family, even if she’s being a total diva. And that is why, as over the top and manipulative as this documentary is, the Palace now needs to start taking the Harry and Meghan problem very seriously indeed.
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