Opinion: If they want to change the world, Harry and Meghan are on the right track.
When Harry and Meghan announced they were “stepping back” from their positions as senior royals in January 2020, there was a clear narrative to their decision. They wanted to reclaim their privacy and live a life away from the increasingly salacious headlines.
“Like every member of society, they also value privacy as individuals and as a family,” their website said.
Although their decision was divisive, in hindsight, it wasn’t a total surprise. It appeared to be a natural progression of their actions over the previous few months, where they had launched several libel cases against the press, all referencing privacy.
Although many derided the Sussexes for their decision, an equal amount defended them; why wouldn’t a young couple raising a family want to slope off overseas, shelter away from press intrusions and live a quiet life away from the cameras? So far, so understandable.
For much of the last year they’ve laid relatively low. They were spotted delivering food parcels during the pandemic, and were seen going on a hike together. They released a charity video of Meghan reading to Archie, but not much more. All in all, they appeared to be relishing the quiet life.
Then, things started to change. There was news they had signed a deal with Netflix. And Spotify. They released a photo announcing they were expecting their second baby. And then they sat down with Oprah to reveal their take on what really happened behind Palace doors.
Suddenly, their privacy didn’t seem quite as important. And there was uproar. “If privacy is so vital to Harry and Meghan, why don’t they stay schtum?” wrote one British columnist.
“This contrast between the wish for privacy and having just fought a massive privacy case [against the Mail on Sunday for publishing letters Meghan wrote to her father] then doing the big baby announcement and then, particularly, signing up for the Oprah show, has sparked some conversations,” pointed out royal expert Ann Gripper on the Pod Save the Queen Podcast.
Their interview with Oprah seemed to clarify that privacy was not the big issue we’d originally been led to believe it was.
Although they mentioned the ‘untrue’ stories that had been published, we learned that it was the ingrained racism within the institution, and Meghan not being able to receive help when she was struggling with her mental health, that ultimately led to the couple moving overseas.
In extra footage from the interview, that was shown separately, Meghan said: “They’ve created a false narrative. I’ve never talked about privacy.”
Now they’ve cleared that up, the Sussexes are free to drop any pretence of wanting to maintain their privacy. The couple are openly using the press to put forward their side of the story, with Gayle King telling CBS: “I called them to see how they were feeling. Harry has talked to his brother, and to his father too. The word I was given was that those conversations were not productive.”
So, did Meghan and Harry ever really want a quiet, private life, or was that simply the line they had to tow until they could tell their side of the story? And more importantly, does it matter? If they’ve decided they want to try and change how the world works, then they’ve certainly got the clout to do so.
Since the pair made claims about racism within the institution, there have been heated debates across the globe about casual racism and unconscious bias. Although race was already a huge part of the national conversation in the US, it’s been brought to the fore again in the UK and Australia since the interview, opening up the issue to people who may not have been aware of the Black Lives Matter movement.
If their aim was to get people talking about a wider issue, they’ve achieved it – by using personal examples to highlight the issue.
There’s no doubt that Meghan’s candour about how she “didn’t want to be alive anymore” has raised awareness of mental health, and started to break down some of the stigma surrounding it.
Research shows the number of people who seek support for their own mental health issues after a celebrity discusses their own experiences, increases greatly. Meghan has also garnered praise for writing about her miscarriage in the New York Times, and been celebrated for encouraging others to talk openly about their experiences.
None of these topics lend themselves to privacy. They are all deeply personal events that the Sussexes are choosing to share with the world. The question is, why? Cynics would argue that it’s all part of a self-aggrandising publicity campaign. That by giving the public – and the press – some salacious details about their personal life, they’re simply laying the foundations for their future careers; it’s part of a wider plan to propel them into wealth in their own right, rather than on the coat tails of the royal family.
A more charitable view is that they are actually trying to make a difference. That by raising personal and contentious topics they’re trying to force some change; not only behind royal doors, but worldwide.
Whether their recent openness is for philanthropic or financial reasons remains to be seen. But, whatever the decision behind the sudden change of heart, it’s clear that when it comes to keeping their private lives private, all bets are off.
Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Online support is available via Beyond Blue.
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