Ah, the banality of the monarchy.
It was, once again, on clear and grating display in a made-for-tabloid TV “interview” of two ex-communicated royals – Harry and Meghan – conducted by their friend and neighbour, Oprah Winfrey.
To describe the agreeable tete-a-tete as an interview would be a lie. It was more of a convivial chat between a famous billionaire and two equally famous multi-millionaires, filmed at a suitably comfortable California mansion near the three amigos’ own comfortable mansions. Oprah tried to give the pretty, orchestrated event the veneer of legitimacy by having Meghan make clear at the outset that she had not been paid, and was not privy to the questions beforehand.
The interview was a celebrity game of T-ball broadcast on television worldwide. As such, the questions were irrelevant. They were simply a vehicle for Meghan to share mostly unflattering and, of course, gossipy anecdotes about her relatively brief stint as a member of “The Firm”. Later, Harry arrived to do largely the same, although his tenure in “The Firm” was decidedly longer. Neither, I suspect, needed any extra cash to do their chattering.
In any event, the couple delivered the requisite headline-grabbing moments – Meghan said that she contemplated suicide while a royal and that there was concern in the palace that their first-born child’s skin would not be pristine white. Otherwise, CBS, the American network that paid $7m to telecast the soap opera, would, no doubt, have been miffed. Still, if viewers were not blinded by those calculated marquee moments, they may have noticed that the couple quietly subverted the myths royalists cling to while defending the monarchy against charges from republicans like me that the whole, vacuous show needs finally to be cancelled – permanently.
“The Firm”, Meghan said, is obsessed with burnishing the perception that the monarchy matters. In this near all-consuming public relations endeavour, The Queen and dysfunctional company rely heavily, she and Harry said, on Britain’s rancid tabloids, spending a lot of royal time and energy coddling influential editors and reporters at grand garden parties on their sprawling estates.
The overarching aim of this alliance between the palace and the gutter (press) is to promote and defend an illusion; that the monarchy, despite its manifest fallacies, follies and foibles, remains an indispensable institution. Meghan said, in effect, that is also a lie. She told Oprah, her family lives an “authentic” life today, not an “unrealistic fairy tale”. She and Harry are free, while “The Firm” remains captive to, and controlled by, a constant fear that the tabloids will turn on them and expose the inconsequential façade and, in so doing, potentially pose an existential threat to the monarchy.
Harry agreed, in part, saying that his father and brother, were “trapped” in the same “system” that imprisoned him. “They don’t get to leave,” he said, sympathetically. It was an extraordinary admission: The heirs to the throne would prefer, apparently, not to occupy the throne but, instead, ditch the glittery pantomime, as well. Beyond these disclosures, the tour Meghan and Harry offered Oprah of life inside Buckingham Palace should disabuse anyone of the silly notion that it is teeming with serious people doing serious work on behalf of the Commonwealth’s titular head of state.
The palace is a toxic, pedestrian nest of pettiness, jealousy, recriminations, vendettas and, allegedly, racism. Prince Charles did not take his son’s calls after Harry said he wanted out of “The Firm”. Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, made Meghan cry on the eve of her wedding, not the other way around. But Meghan forgave Kate, anyway. Harry was cut off from the royal piggy bank in 2020. Meghan was told to shut up, stay home and denied help for her deep depression. And an unnamed royal – not the Queen (who is nice) or Prince Philip (who is sick) – told Harry that s/he was worried that baby Archie might be dark-skinned.
My goodness, the 19th-century British journalist and essayist, Walter Bagehot, who famously wrote that the monarchy represented the “dignified” branch of the English Constitution, would likely have retracted or qualified his kind bauble if he had been able to watch Sunday night’s royal confessional. Now, if the sad two-hour spectacle could not move Bagehot’s ghost, Prince Andrew’s murky, changing stories about his long, intimate relationship with American financier, Jeffrey Epstein – who took his own life in jail to avoid prosecution – would surely have prompted him to reconsider just how “dignified” the monarchy is these days.
A recent Ipsos poll of Canadians – which I am citing in this column because, truth be told, notwithstanding my scepticism about polls and pollsters, it conveniently buttresses my argument – reveals that a majority of my fellow citizens appear to be experiencing a decisive epiphany. They think that the monarchy should die in Canada after the Queen dies. “Six in 10 Canadians agree that the Queen and the royal family should not have any formal role in Canadian society, up two points since 2016. A majority of Canadians in every region agree with this position, ranging from 55 percent in Alberta to 76 percent in Quebec,” a reporter wrote of the poll’s findings.
This is good and welcome news. If Harry and Meghan can leave “The Firm” and build a new and “authentic” life as adults, not compliant subjects of a tired convention that stifles freedom and fulfilment, why can I and millions of other Canadians not do the same? Why should Canadians continue to pledge allegiance to a Queen who is a symbolic relic of Canada’s wretched colonial past? Why can they not leave behind a head of state who reportedly lobbied successive British governments in the early 1970s to change a law to conceal her vast and “embarrassing” private wealth?
I admit that these are rhetorical questions. There are powerful, entrenched forces in Canadian media and politics who eagerly continue to endorse the sentimental grift that the British monarchy stands for some mystical, reassuring constancy that binds Canada to the motherland. Canada, like Meghan and Harry, has matured. Canada, like Meghan and Harry, no longer needs the protection that royal ties once afforded it. “We’ve actually not just survived but are thriving… and this is in some ways just the beginning for us,” Meghan explained to Oprah about what it means to be freed from the whims and dictates of a family who, by virtue of luck, birth and history, are anointed kings and queens.
Oh, how I hope one day Canada will be freed too.