Meghan’s five-day Queen take-down

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have managed to unleash a staggering amount of Palace mayhem – and things are only going to get worse.

A lot can happen in five days in the royal family – a whole, befuddling, bewildering and life-changing lot. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Queen.

The last week has seen the royal family deal with courtroom drama; a historic birth (shout out to Princess Eugenie and the first York grandchild); a rom-com-esque photo shoot and pregnancy announcement; the revelation of a once-in-a-generation, potentially devastating “intimate” and “wide-ranging” TV interview in the offing; the looming final Megxit “divorce” deal and lastly, a nerve-jangling hospital admission.

Suffering from a minor case of whiplash? Tired? In dire need of a piece of Fortnum & Mason shortbread and a nice long lie down on your damask divan? You’re not alone.

(Not to mention the Palace’s release of their very own recipe to mark Pancake Day. That moment was well and truly lost in the feverish media maelstrom.)

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The drama began on Friday February 12 when Meghan Markle was granted a summary judgment and a London judge ruled that the Daily Mail had breached her privacy after they published a letter she had sent her estranged father Thomas in 2018.

The now Californian-based Duchess, having finally found some blessed vindication, promptly put out a statement, the tone of which felt a bit daytime Emmy win meets undergraduate debating camp, saying: “We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency, and when companies create their business model to profit from people’s pain.

“But, for today, with this comprehensive win on both privacy and copyright, we have all won.”

Never one to rest on their PR laurels, by the time Monday rolled around (in Australia anyway), the world had been treated to the eye-popping first pregnancy reveal photo shoot in royal history.

The shot, a black and white number, all sophomoric forced whimsy, saw Prince Harry, posing in a garden, his white shirt and barefoot look something of an unwitting sartorial nod to Michael Bolton in his heyday, alongside wife Meghan and her bump.

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No matter the fact that the couple had decided to share the good news with the world via a Kardashian-esque media ploy, it was a moment of real joy and collective goodwill for Harry and Meghan. In December last year the Duchess shared her devastation over a pregnancy loss, saying: “I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child that I was losing my second.

“Hours later, I lay in a hospital bed, holding my husband’s hand. I felt the clamminess of his palm and kissed his knuckles, wet from both our tears. Staring at the cold white walls, my eyes glazed over. I tried to imagine how we’d heal.”

With this week’s lovely baby announcement, here at last for the couple, was some warm and fuzzy good news.

But then (let me know if you need me to pause while you grab another shortbread) came the events of Tuesday which saw us learn that the couple have agreed to a 90-minute TV interview with Oprah Winfrey, undoubtedly the media coup of the century.

There was a certain inevitability to this development given that Oprah was a guest at their 2018 wedding despite the fact she had only ever met the bride once before. The Times reported the sit-down was “the fruition of a three-year courtship by the chat show host”.

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Here’s the thing: The royal family often jumps at the chance to do a TV interview. Always has. Any opportunity to bang on about their charity work or to paint themselves in a hardworking albeit tweedy light to the mouth-breathing masses is generally seen as a necessary evil, up there with paying taxes and inviting Princess Michael of Kent to family functions.

However there is a staggering, tectonic fault line of a difference between the BBC dutifully turning out some prime time puff piece about a member of the house of Windsor, the voiceover breathlessly recounting their lifelong commitment to opening suburban rec centres, and two of the royal house’s most sensational exiles sitting down for a lengthy, warts and all tete-a-tete.

In the wake of the news breaking, Oprah’s BFF Gayle King revealed that “nothing is off limits” – just the sort of casual revelation that would have sent a shiver of trepidation through the draughty, deserted halls of Buckingham Palace. (Her Majesty has lived inside what has been cheerfully dubbed HMS Bubble, surrounded by ‘only’ a coterie of a dozen or so trusted staff and mostly based at Windsor Castle, since the COVID pandemic began.)

Not since Diana, Princess of Wales settled down in her Kensington Palace drawing room in 1995 to well and truly dish to the BBC’s Panorama program on her noxious marriage to Prince Charles has any TV outing posed such a potential threat to the palace.

After the Oprah press release went out, the Times reported that the palace was “bracing” itself for whatever the Sussexes will reveal while the cameras roll. While the interview has yet to be filmed (though it is thought that it will happen in the next week) based on previous comments both the Duke and Duchess have made, and their willingness to obliquely air grievances in the public realm, it seems unlikely we are in for an hour-and-a-half of Meghan talking about how much fun Prince Philip is during Christmas-time charades and what an enthusiastic hugger Princess Anne is.

A 2018 documentary meant to be all about highlighting Harry and Meghan’s blinder of a South African tour, was lost in the wake after the couple opened up to journalist Tom Bradby, with him seemingly confirming the long-rumoured rift with his brother Prince William while the Duchess told the world: “It’s not enough to just survive something … You’ve got to thrive.”

Given all this, the prospect of the couple well and truly dishing on the 20 tumultuous, drama-packed months between their glittering wedding and their sensational exit, is very, very real.

Gird one’s loins appropriately.

While, according to the Guardian, “The couple are said to have the greatest respect and love for the Queen and will not say anything to undermine that,” it will surely be a highwire act to balance that lofty ambition while also giving their side of why they quit royal life. They didn’t just want out of the institution because they kept getting picked last for family Scattergories games at Sandringham.

Also, let’s not forget that historically, royal TV confessionals don’t end well – consider not only Diana’s Panorama disclosures but Charles’ head scratching decision in 1994 to tell the world he had cheated. (“He is not the first royal to be unfaithful,” the Daily Mirror said at the time, “but he is the first to appear before 25 million of his subjects to confess.”) And then there was Prince Andrew’s disastrous 2019 outing which triggered his humiliating demise and exit from public life.

It’s hardly a cockle-warming, edifying track record if you happen to be the Queen, is it?

The Oprah news “isn’t going over well” with Netflix bosses, according to OK.

“No one knows what’s going on inside Netflix with regard to Meghan and Harry. The couple reached a major multi-year, multimillion deal, and their first TV project is going to air on CBS. None of this makes any sense,” a source told the magazine.

“The biggest question is nothing Oprah is going to ask, but rather, will this CBS special cost Harry and Meghan their $100 million deal with Netflix?” a “top TV source” has said. “No one, not even princes, are paid $100 million to do nothing. And certainly not to be betrayed.”

Likewise, it’s hard to see Harry and Meghan’s Spotify lords and masters, who will reportedly pay them $54 million to create podcasts for them, would have been particularly chuffed to learn this world first had gone to another media platform.

Around the same time that the Oprah news was making waves, it was reported that the couple, after weeks of Buckingham Palace discussion, will be stripped of their remaining official roles when the 12-month Megxit review process comes to an end soon.

While no official announcement has been made, it has been widely reported that Harry’s military roles – he is Captain General of the Royal Marines, Honorary Air Commandant of RAF Honington and Commodore-in-Chief, Small Ships and Diving, Royal Naval Command – along with his patronages with the Rugby Football Union, Rugby Football League and the London Marathon, and the Duchess’ role with the National Theatre are on the chopping block.

If this does come to pass, it would be more likely for them to also lose their positions with the Association of Commonwealth Universities and the Queen’s Commonwealth.

While, according to the Telegraph, “a source close to the Sussexes suggested that the couple knew they would be unable to retain such titles” after Megxit, does the fact they knew this was coming lessen the pain of it?

This is especially the case for Harry and his enduring and proud commitment to the armed services and veterans. As a friend of his has previously said, “His military work is one of the most important things to him. Of course he wants to keep them.”(Also, the Marines role is a particularly significant one given that it has only ever previously been held by Kings or Prince Philip, the husband of the sovereign.)

This turn of events, which might have been both inevitable and necessary, is still tragic. Harry demonstrated his rigorous, iron-willed dedication to the military when he sued the Daily Mail last year after they published a report claiming he had “turned his back” on the Royal Marines.

A lawyer for the Prince called the claims “baseless, false and defamatory” and earlier this month Harry won “substantial damages” and an apology from the newspaper over the report.

Finally, on Thursday came news that Prince Philip, a spry 99-years-old, had been admitted to a central London hospital “as a precautionary measure”. While both he and the Queen have received their COVID vaccinations, given his advanced age, this is a worrisome development.

In June this year the indefatigable Prince, who gave up his beloved naval career to dutifully walk several paces behind his wife and to regularly offer up eye-poppingly dubious quips, is set to turn 100 with a family celebration already in the works to mark the milestone. (Though think less champagne tower, cancan girls and his favourite Dizzy Gillespie tunes on the gramophone and more quiet family lunch at Windsor with perhaps a private church service thrown in.)

Since the age of only 21, the Greek-born royal has been loyally and doggedly by the Queen’s side, her constant helpmate and supporter. In 1997 during the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary she famously gave an unusually moving, personal speech telling the world that her husband “has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years”.

While even HRHs are not immortal, though they might seem to be at times, Philip’s hospitalisation this week has been a heart-tugging reminder that the bedrock of British royalty will be shaken in the years to come by loss. (Who needs a Shakespearean memento mori when you have very, very old HRHs right?)

Taken together – the legal win, the Oprah news, the baby reveal picture – and to quote Meghan circa her famous 2019 interview, “It’s a lot.”

During the same interview she also said, “Not many people have asked if I’m OK, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.” One can’t help but wonder if, ironically, that is exactly how the Queen must be feeling right about now.

Maybe now is the time that someone should ask the sovereign if she is OK.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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