“What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.” It was allegedly what Prince Harry yelled at palace staffers ahead of the couple’s 2018 wedding. (What the former “Suits” star is purported to have “wanted” in this scenario was the Queen Mary diamond bandeau tiara, which the Queen was lending her, to be made available for a hair trial.)
Such a relatively petty ruckus seems nearly quaint in the harsh light of today as the world continues to reel from the aftershocks of couple’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.
On Monday, during a sit-down with the talk show queen, they accused the royal family and household of cruelly ignoring her pleas for help when she was suffering from suicidal thoughts and of an unnamed Windsor raising “concerns” over the skin colour of their then unborn son.
Based on what we now know, what Harry should have (allegedly) been bellowing up and down the halls of Kensington Palace in those heady days before their fairytale union was: “What Meghan needs, Meghan gets.”
Rewind to 2018, when arguments were (allegedly) being had in the palace about whether Meghan’s preferred air freshener should be spritzed about Windsor Castle’s St George’s Chapel to make it less “musty” (493-year-old buildings famously not exactly smelling pine fresh), what all the key participants seemed to have overlooked is what the LA-native might actually have required in that moment. (Well, aside from a family therapist on 24/7 call and an enormous drink.)
Because as preparations were being made for the wedding, what seems to have slipped a disconcerting number of minds was that when Meghan walked up the chapel’s the black and white checked aisle she was embarking on an unthinkable interplanetary journey from civilian life to royalty.
This week, Meghan told Oprah that going into palace life, “I didn’t fully understand what the job was,” and that “there was no way to understand what the day to day was going to be like”. She also told the TV supremo that she “didn’t do any research” into the monarchy before marrying her royal husband, a surprising admission given that knowingly obtuse is rarely a good look.
And this brings us to a very awkward, uncomfortable question: Is all of this Harry’s fault?
In not properly briefing Meghan, in not sitting her down on a Nottingham Cottage sofa in 2018 and making her painfully cognisant of what she was getting herself into, did a lovestruck Harry unwittingly fail his wife?
Before Kate Middleton traded a life of dodging the press on the mean streets of Chelsea as she assiduously added to her vast collection of inoffensive Zara tops to become a perma-smiling Windsor WAG, she had nine long years. In that better part of a decade, she was eased into the rigours and arcane customs of royalty such that when William finally whipped out his mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring, the former part-time accessories buyer knew what she was getting herself into.
“Forewarned is forearmed” or so the saying goes, and it happens to be as applicable on the battlefield as it is on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
When Kate said “yes”, she knew she wasn’t just agreeing to marry a balding man with a big job but agreeing to a life which would be entirely and utterly given over to a 1000-year-old institution. (Oh, and one day she’d get to have her face on some lovely stamps.)
Meghan had none of that gradual immersion into royal life. It took a scant 18 months for the Sussexes to go from their London first date to the day the duo, mile-wide smiles plastered on their faces, appeared in front of the press and announced their engagement.
And even for that year and a bit when Harry and Meghan were dating, they zipped backwards and forwards across the Atlantic racking up a staggering number of frequent flyer points, the then-“Suits” star never actually having lived in London. It was only in early November that she permanently relocated to the drizzly magic of the UK (albeit straight into Kensington Palace) and a scant handful of weeks later that their engagement was made official.
The whole thing happened at head spinning, full-tilt speed that Meghan had probably barely worked out the palace Wi-Fi password and unpacked all of her Gianvitto Rossi heels when she signed on for lifelong duchess-dom.
No wonder Meghan, who was at this point probably enjoying the heady rush of being in love and the magic of landing a real-life prince, had no inkling of what lay ahead.
The same cannot be said for Harry.
This might have been a wholly bizarre world that his fiance was about to be parachuted into, one governed by a litany of rules at every turn and welded onto a rigid hierarchy, but this was the life Harry has known since birth. Therefore, gird one’s loins here, but did the burden fall squarely on his shoulders when it came to ensuring Meghan was painfully aware of what she was in for?
To be fair, he clearly thought he had done so. During their engagement interview in 2017 Harry said that from “day one” he had a “sense of responsibility” and that they had “some pretty frank conversations” about what Meghan was ‘letting herself in for,’ admitting “it’s a big and it’s not easy for anybody”.
In marrying into the house of Windsor, Meghan wasn’t just acquiring a bewildering array of relatives, at least one of whom has horrible taste in racist jewellery, but a lifelong, often very dull, job.
You are expected to, day after day, turn up to suburban leisure centres and make polite small talk with Lord Lieutenants and sweating local mayors who have been squeezed into their best suits, all the while never letting your perfect smile slip for a nanosecond. You can never let the world see how bored or tired or in desperate need of a wee you might be.
Furthermore, look beyond the tiaras, look beyond the pageantry and the 21 gun salutes and the majesty and pomp of the whole shebang and the royal job is not only a deeply tedious and repetitive one but it is entirely thankless.
As Diana, Princess of Wales learned the hard way, do a smashing job – charm schoolchildren, pensioners and regional bureaucrats galore – and still there will never be gold stars and pats on the back waiting for you when you zoom back through palace gates.
Added to which, Meghan, in retrospect, could also have done with a speedy lesson in the fact that the royal houses, for all the monogrammed note paper and the gilt-edged trappings, is just like any other office, replete with petty jealousies, rivalries and competitive factions.
According to last year’s “Finding Freedom”, one of the biggest cracks in Prince William and Harry’s relationship was when the elder brother cautioned his younger sibling: “Don’t feel you need to rush this. Take as much time as you need to get to know this girl.”
According to the book’s authors, Harry took serious umbrage with William’s use of “this girl” and the rest is miserable history.
However, as royal biographer Katie Nicholl recently pointed out, William’s words take on something of a new and surprisingly sagacious light today.
Perhaps his comments weren’t rooted in snobbishness but very sensible concern about the consequences of Harry and Meghan’s relationship moving at breakneck speed.
And gadzooks: Even if Harry was lost in a haze of pheromones and infatuation, where were the wise courtiers and aides who knew, painfully all too well, just how badly things could spiral out of control with an ill-prepared, naive Windsor wife illiterate to what would be demanded of her? Why weren’t they pulling Meghan aside and having a few serious and frank conversations about what lay ahead?
All things said though, this doesn’t wholly absolve Meghan of any responsibility here. She was 36 when she said “yes” to Harry, a successful actress, entrepreneur and activist, a far cry from babe-in-the-woods territory.
Towards the end of the Sussexes’ Oprah interview, Meghan recounted sitting in the couple’s then Kensington Palace home, Nottingham Cottage and chancing upon The Little Mermaid on the TV.
There is more than a touch of pathos about a grown woman who, cloistered behind palace gates, spent hours watching a fairytale about a girl’s self-sacrificing romance with a prince.
Both Meghan and Ariel, in the early days, had no idea what they were getting themselves. But then again, Ariel didn’t have Google.
What’s the Windsors’ – all of ’em – excuse?
If only so many things had been done differently – and if only someone had given Meghan Kensington Palace’s Wi-Fi password. She clearly needed it, badly.
• 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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