Bon Voyage

Bon Voyage

Everyone wants to be liked, Americans, I think, more than most people, and English husbands of American wives want their wives to be liked, princes as much as the average fellow.

Now I don’t live in the UK and I haven’t read any of the stories that ran in their tabloids. If I had, perhaps I might have a better sense of the relentless nastiness that has been directed at Meghan since before she arrived on British shores. Perhaps I would understand both her and Harry’s dismay. But as a person who curates her own sources of information very carefully, I know you can be aware but essentially ignore what you know is lies and crap. Meghan and Harry couldn’t do this? They couldn’t just tune it all out?

Am I dismissing their media ordeal too lightly? Am I being unfeeling and unfair? After all, the lies and crap I choose to ignore aren’t about me and I don’t have an army of paparazzi shouting stupid questions whenever I step out my door, but I also don’t have a high-end security detail to whisk me away in a black SUV and a rather lovely “cottage” I can disappear into on one of the Queen’s estates.

I confess I was a little surprised when Meghan Markle teared up in the interview she and Harry gave back in the fall, saying it had been hard to be a mother with all the negativity in the press. Okay, all right, everyone knows that mothers-to-be are sensitive, but did she really have nothing better to focus on? Could Harry not have laughed and told her it didn’t matter? Harry, of course, had problems with the tabloid press long before Meghan came along. By his own admission, he blames them for his mother’s death. Certainly, on the day of Diana’s death the press were complicit, but was it them who poured her driver all those drinks? As painful as it might be for Harry and his brother to admit, Diana wasn’t a total media victim. She took a lot of incoming, but she was also pretty savvy about using the press when she wanted to, against her ex-husband, for example, to devastating effect.

I think what offended the troglodytes of the British tabloid press about Meghan, possibly more than her race, was that she had her own opinions.  She had been an actress, a blogger, and remained an activist on women’s issues, climate change and more. She was always going to present an easier target than a 19-year-old Diana emerging from aristocratic obscurity, or a 28-year-old Kate whose one controversial act had been her participation in a fashion show wearing a see-through shift over a bikini. Meghan couldn’t have been naïve. She must have understood the absurdities and cruelties of the tabloid press. Though she did say she thought the English would be kinder. Harry did too. They were disappointed.

The tabloids were nicer to Kate, weren’t they? Not totally, not completely. They weren’t racist, but back in the beginning, they wrote a lot of junk about her as well. It went away eventually, after years of great outfits, uncontroversial behavior, and dedicated child-bearing. Though there was always Camilla to talk to, if Meghan wanted to commiserate with someone who had been skewered in the press. Camilla was blasted for years as a shameless home-wrecker, but the English public eventually came around to her as well. Patience and silence. When you are a royal, it’s necessary to play the long game.

This, it would appear, is a game neither Meghan nor Harry has any interest in playing. Harry clearly feels he’s been on the field long enough. Meghan gave it a go and didn’t like it. They both want out and though I can understand their wanting out, it’s hard not to feel it is something of a shame. Their royal union was fresh and original and their desire for change necessary and welcome. If Meghan bothered some people for the wrong reasons, there were plenty of others for whom her presence was profound and inspirational. Where is that inspiration now? Gone to Canada with Harry soon to follow. Forgive me, but all this leaving makes me nervous. I think they should have stayed.

The greatest tragedy in all this, it seems to me, is what appears to have happened between the brothers. Here were two boys from a famously unhappy marriage, growing up under relentless media scrutiny, who then had to bear divorce followed by their mother’s early death. It was always rather astonishing to me to see how normal they turned out. They weren’t drunks or ne’er-do-wells. They went to school, they served.

More importantly, they seemed to care for one another deeply. They did things together. When William married, the relationship didn’t seem to suffer. The three of them, Kate, Harry and William were often seen about town.

I am not a proponent of the theory that Meghan ruined the harmony of this trio, but since Harry’s marriage, the dynamic certainly does seem to have shifted. As Harry has chafed more and more under the demands of his royal duties, William appears to have accepted them. He also appears to have made his peace with the media, a media that when he was younger, he hated just as much as his brother.

While William must understand his brother’s wish to go, I think he probably can’t help but be feeling a bit annoyed. With Harry and Meghan bowing out, there will be that much more work for him and Kate. While for the moment, Harry and Meghan’s decision has totally eclipsed every other royal story out there. On the day the Sussex’s news broke, there was a piece in the press about an international competition for innovative ideas on climate change. Willliam and Kate’s foundation had just launched it. In the days following the Sussex announcement, all mention of this worthy initiative was buried under the avalanche of stories on Harry and Meghan’s new address.

The question remains, will the Sussex’s plans to move improve their situation? Though farther away, the London media will not be kinder. Initially, the stories will only get worse. Perhaps Harry and Meghan hope that with time and distance, the British press will move on to other things and leave them in peace. But there will always be the question what might have happened if the Sussex’s had stayed, what influence they might have had, what good they might have done. The British public itself is torn over their departure. Paradoxically, most Brexit Leavers seem to think Meghan and Harry should stay while Remainers support their decision to go.

The one individual who definitely benefits from this is their son Archie, a tyke who might now have something approximating a semi-normal life. This, in the end, was almost certainly the main reason for the Sussex’s decision to call it quits. Harry looked back over his childhood and shook his head. Meghan looked forward and shook hers. Let’s hope the Sussex’s can do it, bring up their child in peace and tranquility. Let’s hope the laid-back Canadian style provides them what they hope it will.