Meghan-Harry: Firm Attack on the Royal Gambit

Meghan-Harry: Firm Attack on the Royal Gambit

A confessional duchess, a rescued prince, allegations against the Firm and a television money-spinner. The classic script of an archaic, disjointed family and its branding lessons 

Despite provocative diversity in casting and versatility of content, very little of current television programming frames the times we live in, in just one episode. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with the queen of talk shows Oprah Winfrey that was first telecast in the US on March 7, raising a transnational storm of opinions did just that. It came studded with a range of issues not to mention the timing of its telecast. On the eve of International Women’s Day when the world was discussing the resilience or fragility of women across the globe and news television buzzed with stories of women reclaiming lost liberties and standing up to power.

Provocatively teased many times over in the former week to drive curiosity and raise the value of telecast negotiations, the interview is a first person confessional of a biracial former actor, now a royal daughter-in-law who has chosen to step back from her official duties. That itself is a stack of descriptors. Add to that a rescued Prince, her husband, a ponderous and prematurely balding young man with ginger hair in a dull grey suit. He joins her in a strategically later entry and owns up to sadness and a rift with his father. The father happens to be the future king of England. Thirty years back, he has been through a previous episode of his personal life discussed threadbare in a damning television talk show by his ex-wife, the late Princess Diana. That one occasion when the world watched a prince turn into a frog capsizing the fairy tale.

Old is New. So What Is New?

Now, the Duchess of Sussex, the new protagonist of this opposition against “The Firm” is a modern woman in control of her narrative. Yet what she reveals involves two grave symptoms of our times as well of the times gone by. One is the viscerally embedded problem of race, the distress it wreaks in the lives of those outside privileged, predominantly white communities and classes. The other is her admission of isolation that led her to contemplate suicide—“I did not wish to be alive anymore.” With this, she resonates with the mental health crisis of the global community. To the extent that news broadcaster CNN repeatedly ran a suicide helpline contact, a broadcast guidelines disclaimer every single time it replayed news and opinions about the Meghan-Harry “bombshell” interview with Oprah.


Photo: Misan HARRIMAN / Misan Harriman via Instagram / AFP

An undated image released by photographer Misan Harriman on Instagram of the couple with baby Archie in Markle’s arms.

A divided royal family, brothers at war, alleged tearful fights between sisters-in-law, the archaic institutionalism of the British monarchy is evidence of gross PR failure on both sides. What it also echoes is this century’s tug of war between antiquated ideas and modern rebellion. Between regressive politics mongered by leaders of some countries and woke protests by commoners.

The TV Studio as the Therapist’s Couch

In this particular case, there is a grim if amusing observation about famous warring families who have still not learnt to speak directly to each other. Instead, they use a television studio as the therapist’s couch. That is where they allow accusations of “falsehoods” to spill out instead of at home.

A family more keen to preserve hypocritical facades than the mental health and happiness of its members is nothing new for us Indian spectators of this unravelling. We are raised, after all, on a steady diet of good versus evil stories of palatial families from the Mahabharata. And the replay of that maddening matrix in real and fictional ways in our social environment.



Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in conversation with Oprah Winfrey.

Yet the obvious may be worth repeating about the Meghan-Harry versus the Firm drama. Despite so many press secretaries and royal advisors, reams written on lessons from the monarchy’s colonial past, skeletons from their closets exhumed and re-buried (not just of Lady Diana’s dashed dreams), public avowals of service and compassion (“Compassion in Action” is the tagline of the non-profit, Archewell Foundation founded by Meghan and Harry), what survives is resentful disagreement. The kind that should have long been resolved through old wisdom and new learnings. By the British monarchy and particularly the young generation of royals who can take it upon themselves to alter patterns.

So what is stunning is not just Meghan’s confession that there was a conversation with Harry in the royal family about her son Archie’s skin colour before his birth and if he would be dark. But also the fact that a liberal, educated, modern couple chose a studio setting, a green and luxurious elite home in Montecito, California, as the backdrop to voice their grievances. Even when one part of this couple may have been emotionally singed when his mother, Princess Diana’s Panorama interview about her despairing life inside the British royal family torched the peace of all those involved. Yet the Sussexes go on to choose a page from Harry’s past history to say that he was worried that history could repeat itself. “I feel really let down because he has been through something similar,” he says about his father.


Photo: Paul Grover / POOL / AFP

Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate Middleton watch a military fly-past to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF), on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on July 10, 2018.

What is confusing and complex is that Meghan who recently won a privacy case against The Daily Mail chooses the media, a famous television talk show, to speak about racial discrimination and personal injustice.

Divided opinion in England about the royal family (which has still to respond) as well as Meghan-Harry apart, what is unique about this interview is its monetary value and as an unusual branding exercise. Winfrey’s company Harpo Productions sold the rights of the interview to US network CBS for more than 5 million pounds according to The Wall Street Journal. The show has also been syndicated around the world with more than 70 countries in negotiations to air it. As commentators on BBC and CNN observed a day after the first airing of the interview, it changes perceptions about Harry and Meghan around the world. It works as an enhanced introduction, like none other, of their brand as a non-conformist couple.

We the People

Even as teaser clips of this interview were going around last week on numerous digital platforms, including Vogue UK, the magazine offered an email sign-up for a new ‘Royal Newsletter’. On Monday, CNN announced one too, promoting it on prime broadcast news. Confession, I have signed up for both. Fictional Netflix drama, The Crown may have seeded the curiosity driving audience traction, but the Meghan-Harry interview has made the royals commercially fruitful entertainment fodder beyond their hashtags, gowns, fascinators, tiaras and tantrums. Our regressive side as consumers of content stands neatly exposed to digital marketers. We may intellectually argue for a befitting end to monarchy—all institutions are up for endgames and new grabs as they say—but nothing like palace intrigue, despairing princesses and warring royals to keep us couched in the past.

Who says only the Firm is archaic.

Banner: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during the chat show. Image courtesy Joe PUGLIESE / HARPO PRODUCTIONS / AFP