Has the tide started to turn on Prince Harry and Megan Markle because of their Netflix Documentary? When the couple first began to reveal the reality of their experience in the monarchy, it felt very black and white. But now people are accusing them of hypocrisy. By trying to set the record straight and elicit some sympathy, have they damaged what people liked about them in the first place?
Ever since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle consciously uncoupled themselves from The Royal Family, it’s felt like the world has been #TeamHarryAndMeghan — but after the release of their Netflix series, has the tide started to turn?
When the couple first began to reveal the reality of their experience in the monarchy, it felt very black and white. Meghan was subject to hideous, racist harassment. Neither her nor Harry were supported by the family in dealing with this.
But now people are accusing them of hypocrisy. Complaining about the press attention they’ve received, whilst at the same time courting attention by becoming Netflix’s biggest documentary release yet. A poll from the Express found that 92% of its readers didn’t improve their opinion of the couple after the documentary, with another from YouGov finding that support for the couple fell by 14%. So, by trying to set the record straight and elicit some sympathy, it seems they may have damaged what people liked about them in the first place…and rather than making things more clear cut, the tension and debate feels at its highest.
Here’s our take on the ever-evolving saga of Harry and Meghan, and whether the narrative they’re spinning for themselves is working for them or against them – and if the public is buying their side of the story.
In trying to set themselves apart from the royal family, Harry and Meghan have lent into the image of themselves as a typical millennial love story. But when your lives are so privileged, can you ever really attempt to seem relatable?
In comparison to Kate and Will, whose romance feels contrived, there is an ordinariness to the Harry and Meghan story that they’re trying to present – even calling each other by their nicknames – H and M. But this presentation of themselves as “normal people” often jars with the reality that’s presented to us. It’s difficult for the audience to forget for too long that, during this courtship, Harry was still a prince and Meghan a TV star. They describe their relationship as beginning on social media, with each stalking the others’ instagram profile for information.
Prince Harry: “Meghan and I met over Instagram… It was like a snapchat, with dog ears.”
Meghan Markle: “That’s what he saw of me.” - Harry & Meghan
But watching the story unfold – seeing Meghan fawn over Harry’s charity work photos – seems to ignore the fact that his profile was likely highly stage-managed, rather than being an authentic portrayal of the person he really was. And, lest we forget that Meghan was only in London because she was having a summer of adventures in between her acting work. So, behind the rosy tint of the series – this “everyday love story” is really just a case of two elites meeting each other.
For Meghan – there’s also a recurring attempt at relatability through her ignorance of the royal family. The story of their relationship includes countless moments of Meghan being a fish out of water when she had to directly engage with the pomp and formality of the monarchy. One of the first clips to go viral from the show was her seemingly making fun of curtsying. And while this does expose a lot of that pageantry for how ridiculous it actually is – it also comes across as a little naive – forcing the public to wonder, “did she really not know what she was getting into?”
Meghan Markle: “I needed to learn a lot, including the national anthem.” -Harry & Meghan
Similarly, the series hones in on the criticism Meghan received for the baby shower she had. Again this is played off as simply something that all friends do, and not worthy of comment. But this minimizes the fact that the celebration was lavish and opulent, rather than the ordinary baby shower most people would have. Meghan’s argument that it wasn’t paid for with taxpayer’s money is intended as a justification, but instead it further positions her and her friends as elite members of society. That’s before we take into account the fact that some of Meghan’s friends referred to in the show are also hugely famous superstars, like Serena Williams and Beyonce. These moments feel like the couple are trying to have their cake and eat it too. Showing themselves to be relatable and ordinary, but quite obviously not being relatable and ordinary.
And Harry – the more privileged and elite of the pair – is very much not off the hook in this regard either. Even in his self-reflexivity about the monarchy’s history of colonialism, and his own checkered past, it still seems like something’s not quite clicking. He talks about how Meghan could have helped modernize the monarchy, and how the family missed a huge opportunity in that regard but how can you ever modernize a family that believes in ruling through an inherited bloodline? And as the docu-series seeks to remind us – the monarchy was built upon slavery – and still technically rules over many of the colonies it looted from. So, in saying that he wanted to – but failed to – have Meghan be a part of the royal family, Harry seems to contradict himself.
These are the tensions present in their narrative. Who they want to be, versus how their money and privilege and status define them. But maybe we’re just getting better at spotting where storytelling becomes self-mythologization, and noticing why these attempts at authenticity don’t seem so authentic anymore.
In the past few years, there’s been an increase in celebrity documentaries that present their subjects not through an objective, journalistic lens, but instead come across more like carefully managed PR exercises. This trend almost feels like a necessity in order for celebrities to reclaim some agency over their own narratives. As the press becomes more invasive and thousands of social media takedowns can appear in a matter of seconds – the need to “shape the story” feels more urgent than ever for public figures. As Emily Gulla of Cosmopolitan notes, “carefully curated life-story documentaries can be a powerful chance for stars to rewrite their own stories, something that feels quite reassuring in today’s so-called age of disinformation and fake news.”
And these self-spun narratives are fed to us on a daily basis through social media. As Dale David states, “Tabloids and paparazzi were once the gatekeepers and storytellers of celebrities’ lives—but social media has enabled them to speak and spread their truth in a few taps.” While it allows celebrities to reclaim their agency – the presence of their carefully curated profiles has also allowed the public to get really good at being able to spot when things seem a little too stage-managed. And when they do, that goes against the idea of extreme authenticity that social media was meant to allow for.
Given everything that’s gone on with Harry and Meghan in the past few years, it’s hard not to see this series in the same light. It feels like a continuation of their establishment of a production company, which gave us Meghan’s Archetypes podcast; and the explosive Oprah Winfrey interview, which first shone a light on some of the themes that are revisited in this series. It also comes on the eve of Harry’s own memoir, Spare, the publication of which caused genuine concern amongst the royals when it was announced in 2022. All of it feels like a very careful, deliberate attempt to curate their public image.
Meghan Markle: “He and his brother’s communications secretary Jason called him to let him know that the story was scooped by a tabloid, he said, ‘well, if it’s going to come out tomorrow, let’s go and have fun tonight’.” -Harry & Meghan
At the same time, with everything we know about the sometimes ruthless British press; and the fact that anything directly from the royal family is through formal announcements written by professional secretaries – we’re left to wonder, if they didn’t tell their side of the story in their own words, who would?
One of the key takeaways from the Harry and Meghan series is how close the relationship between the Monarchy and the Press is. The official line seems to be that it’s intended as a mutually beneficial relationship, albeit one in which the power is firmly in the hands of the press. And one of the consequences of that relationship is that the truth of certain situations or certain events falls by the wayside, in favor of what the best story is. Or rather, it is always the press who are allowed to define what the truth is. With this in mind, it becomes harder to blame Harry and Meghan for rejecting this golden handshake.
For Prince Harry, we get the feeling that he has always been in opposition of the press – and that it’s only gotten more fraught with time. His relationship with them is inextricably defined by how they treated his mother. The behind the scenes footage we get from Harry’s childhood paints an uncomfortable picture, where the intrusion of the press was pushed against, and where the environment of knowing you were going to have cameras on you at all time was frightening.
Princess Diana: “As a parent, can I ask you to respect my children’s space?” -Harry & Meghan
What’s perhaps most damning is that this treatment didn’t really change in the aftermath of Diana’s death. The main parallel the series tries to draw — which also emerged from the Oprah interview — was that Harry feared what happened to Diana would also happen to Meghan. What’s perhaps more outrageous is the fact it feels like there’s very little accountability for the press. The fact they behave aggressively, or twist the truth to suit a narrative, doesn’t impact them with regard to their royal access.
And what’s happened since the documentary aired has only further justified Harry and Meghan’s narrative. An exclusive Christmas lunch hosted by the new Queen Consort, Camilla Parker Bowles, counted both Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson amongst its attendees. Meanwhile, Piers has been one of Meghan’s most outspoken attackers over the past few years, going as far as to minimize her talk of mental health struggles, and call her honesty into question.
Piers Morgan: “I don’t believe a word she says, Meghan Markle, I wouldn’t believe her if she read me a weather report.” -Good Morning Britain
Jeremy Clarkson’s name may be less well known globally, but his reaction to the Meghan and Harry documentary in his column for UK tabloid The Sun — one of the papers on the Royal Rota — was to say “I hate her on a cellular level,” and to talk about how he dreams of the day she is paraded naked through the streets while crowds chant “shame!” and “throw lumps of excrement at her.” That these people are cozied up to by the monarchy despite this does give a lot of credence to the couple’s complaints that they weren’t supported by the system.
The fact that people have turned away from Harry and Meghan is perhaps the best illustration of all that the power still lies in the hands of the press. That their behavior can be so aggressive, and so transparent, but they’re still the ones who are able to position Harry and Meghan as this attention seeking couple who seek to undermine the strength of the Royal Family.
In response to the docuseries’ backlash, Harry has fiercely defended the couple’s decision to tell their story publicly. In an interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, he said that despite their best efforts, they’ve been unable to address their problems privately, stating.
Prince Harry: “Every single time I’ve tried to do it privately there have been briefings and leakings and planting of stories against me and my wife.” -60 Minutes
It’s undeniable that for their own happiness, and maybe their own survival, Harry and Meghan had to get out of the Monarchy and forge their own path. And, it seems, it was necessary to tell their side of the story to give the public the full picture.
But in doing so, the public was inevitably encouraged to pick a side, and right now, it’s feeling like a lose-lose. Harry and Meghan opened more eyes to the inner workings of the monarchy, and the painful impact that a life with the press’ lens focused upon you can have – but doing so came at the expense of their likability.
It seems that we can’t trust the press to tell a celebrity’s story, but at the same time, telling their own story feels like self-propaganda. The pendulum has certainly swung too far in one direction – we know more about the lives of celebrities than ever before. And the antidote may be to return to a time when they were shrouded in more mystery – when we didn’t know everything they did behind closed doors. It feels like the best thing Harry and Meghan could do right now – for their own reputation, and wellbeing – is to lay low, and see how the rest of the story unfurls from afar.