If The Royals Are 'Not Really Okay', Maybe It's Our Fault
I have a confession to make: I am a Royal family fan.
It’s not all my fault, though, my mum has read every book ever on Diana and my earliest memory of something really important happening on the news was her death. I remember coming into the living room when I was nine years old and my mum was sobbing in front of the TV. I can still see the moment.
I’ve hosted parties for Royal weddings, watched as many documentaries as I can find, and seen every episode of Netflix’s The Crown (and am waiting eagerly for more).
But the latest documentary is different. Refreshingly so. Harry and Meghan: An African Journey sees the Duke and Duchess of Sussex giving a voice to what we’ve probably known for decades: being Royal can actually really suck.
Now, of course, there are some wonderful things about being Royal (they’re rich, influential, and pretty much the embodiment of privilege), but living in that gilded cage with your every move dissected and criticised and manipulated to drum up the most controversy and nastiness must be awful.
And Meghan and Harry are not shying away from it. Meghan chokes back tears while candidly telling journalist Tom Bradby of her struggles with new motherhood in the public eye, agreeing that she is “not really okay” and that she and Harry have been “existing, not living”. Harry tells us that they would like to move to Africa, in part to escape the endless hounding from the tabloids.
These are two young people who are not coping. And we are all to blame.
Yes, the media outlets that give us our daily dose are big players in this machine. But they wouldn't churn their product out if we didn't buy it. It is us who spend time and effort in the comment section and on social media ripping these people to shreds, or over-idealising them, and commenting on their lives as if we know anything about it.
And let’s be honest, it is mainly the women we criticise. Meghan and Catherine and Diana and Camilla and Margaret are the main subjects of our interest and are the ones who cop the most viciousness in the comments and in the media.
This is why Harry and Meghan’s candour about how this is affecting them is so important. This openness about their own emotional wellbeing may be the very thing we need to snap us out of it and make us examine our own lives instead of being quite so invested in theirs.
Because when we are criticising Meghan (and Kate and Diana, etc), we need to confront the fact that it is actually ourselves we are judging. When we lambast her on social media for holding her baby “wrong” (as if that’s a thing), it is because it makes us think of all the times we have messed up as parents and it makes us feel shame. So we lash out at someone with enough distance and privilege that we can convince ourselves she isn’t a “real” person. It is our quick fix way of feeling better: I’m a better parent than Meghan Markle, so I am a great parent.
It takes a hell of a lot of courage to say “I’m not really okay”. Even more when you know that there is a sizeable chunk of the audience who will not be sympathetic. We should commend Harry and Meghan for their candour and for their self-awareness. And maybe we can follow their lead.
The public has put the Royals on a pedestal, seemingly forgetting that they are real people with real flaws and faults. They will inevitably fall off. And who can blame them? I’m not on anyone’s pedestal and I find myself stumbling and falling pretty regularly. Don’t we all?
This documentary is so refreshing because it removes the veil of Royalty and presents us with a new mother and father just trying to make their way, and being really honest about it. They give us all permission to say “I’m struggling” or “I’m not okay” or “this isn’t how I thought things would turn out”.
Like it or not, celebrities give us a model of how to behave. When the Duchesses of Sussex or Cambridge wears a dress it sells out in minutes. Wouldn’t it be great if, now that Harry and Meghan have been so open about their struggles, we could be too?
We have become so hyper-judgemental of others and of ourselves that it can seem like it's impossible to admit our flaws and failings, and accept those of others. And the Royals arguably cop public judgement more than just about anyone else. But it would be pretty hard to watch Meghan and Harry talk about their experience in this documentary and not feel for them. It would be even harder to be judgemental of them.
It seems that this is the gift they’ve given us. What they have shown us about the power of being open and vulnerable is worthy of our interest and our emulation.
And maybe if we can approach them with compassion and without judgement, we can extend that to ourselves.