This could be a 21st century Disney version of the British royal romance. The commoner rescues the prince from his castle. Traumatised by childhood memories, the prince is vulnerable. His street-smart commoner wife is no virginal violet. She is from American showbiz, older, divorced, has a black mother, is opinionated and independent, with millions in the bank. Tormented by goblins and monsters, palace intrigues and stifling rules, the couple run away from their kingdom, seeking more fame and fortune in distant Canada.
Driving them mad and away is the modern wicked stepmother—the British tabloid press. Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have declared war against the “false, derogatory and malicious”British tabloids, which they accuse are “destroying”their lives. Tabloids skewer all royals, but Meghan was roasted relentlessly as a “fame-hungry social climber”. Many say the vitriol is racist.
But Meghan, often described as “difficult”, also became tabloid prey owing to her dysfunctional family, private jet trips and £2.4 million taxpayer-funded home improvement. Anti-Meghan journalist Piers Morgan tweeted: “People say I am too critical of Meghan Markle. But she ditched her family, ditched her dad, ditched most of her old friends, split Harry from William & has now split him from the royal family. I rest my case.”
Harry and Meghan fought back valiantly—he rebuked, she sued the tabloids. But the evil tabloid stepmother continued to lie, distort and mock. Harry remembers that the tabloid demonisation of Princess Diana turned to lionisation only with her death in a paparazzi chase. Said Harry, who has openly discussed his mental health issues, “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces. I cannot be a silent witness to her private suffering. I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum.”
To save their fairy tale wedding from turning into a nightmare marriage, the couple will “step back”from royal duties, live part-time in North America and implement a new media policy. Traditionally, the tabloids enjoy privileged access to the royals. But off with their heads, say Harry and Meghan, banishing the “misreporting”tabloids from their Camelot circle. Instead, they will include grassroots journalists, “credible”media and social media. The couple can run, but can they hide from the tabloids’ long claws and fangs?
Spurning an outdated media system is one thing, but no royal couple has attempted a part-time, half-in, half-out relationship. Harry and Meghan wish to remain within the royal family, but seek financial independence. This involves lucrative commercial deals, including personal branding and monetising celebrity, which Meghan excels in. But disentangling philanthropic royal identity from profitable private business is treacherously tricky. Which is why Queen Elizabeth’s reaction to the couple’s decision was identical to Meryl Streep’s celluloid comment on human entanglements: “It’s complicated”.
Did the Queen anticipate this separation? In her Christmas message, there were no photographs of Harry’s family on her desk. Royal courtiers say she was merely signalling the line of succession, from her to her son Prince Charles, grandson William and great-grandson George. Sixth in line, Harry’s succession prospects are dim. Now it is airbrushed out. Perhaps Harry and Meghan fled the castle on their terms, pre-empting exile on the royal institution’s conditions. The couple’s parting jab is that they shall carve a “progressive role”for themselves. That role may be easier in reel than real life. Given his lineage and her acting background, Harry and Meghan are ideally suited to play themselves in a sassy new Disney romance.
Pratap is an author and journalist.