Harry & Meghan express frustration, sadness about press in documentary

Harry & Meghan express frustration, sadness about press in documentary

The ITV documentary, Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, aired on Sunday, and I want to discuss it. I have now been able to watch the whole thing thanks to someone uploading it to YouTube, but I wrote up the quotes based on clips prior to being able to watch the full show.

It’s a nice documentary, and I highly recommend watching the full program – either on ITV (if you’re in the UK) or on YouTube (if you’re not in the UK). I enjoyed seeing the footage of the engagements and getting a backstage look at them, hearing Harry and Meghan’s thoughts on the trip, and watching the interviews with the people at the organizations they met. The footage was heartbreaking, inspiring, and also aggravating (The Halo Trust has been clearing landmines in Angola since 1994 and it’s going to take until 2025 to clear them all? That’s crazy; how many landmines are there!).

The only issue I have with the documentary is that Harry and Meghan’s personal interviews about the press treatment pulled focus from the rest of the documentary. I understand why they wanted to include it, and why they kind of had to because of the timing of the lawsuit and statement, but I wish Harry and Meghan had done the documentary, and then done a sit down interview about the press treatment separately.

First, I’m going to reference Tom Bradby’s, the host of the documentary, preview article to set the context of the piece. It’s a long article, and I’m only quoting parts of it.

[A]s the journey wore on, another human story gradually emerged, of a couple who clearly feel under the most extreme pressure and seem, at times, to be buckling beneath it. […]

I think almost everyone would accept that since [the engagement] the attention has been uncomfortably intense. Some of the coverage has been very positive, of course, but on the other side of the ledger has been the way her family background has been explored in the public domain — or exploited, as those close to her would say — and a slew of stories this year that have accused her in particular, and the couple in general, of everything from arrogance, to profligacy, to hypocrisy.

Throw in the reports of difficulties, splits and tensions within the wider royal family — some untrue or exaggerated, but not all — and it was no great surprise that the couple I met in their house in Windsor just before the trip were bruised, even a little defensive. […]

[Harry] has so often seemed at home [in Botswana], but by this stage in the trip it was clear to me that the reality behind the scenes for both of them was a far cry from the brave public faces. […]

The next day, in which he was literally retracing his mother’s footsteps with the de-mining charity Halo in Angola, was inevitably deeply emotional and, that night, on the banks of a river, we started to unpack what had been going on.

All those who watch tonight will, of course, form their own judgment, but it does not take a genius to work out the basic psychology at play. Harry still believes that the press, or at least the game she was forced to engage in with it, killed his mother. He now fears, in the most deep and atavistic way, that history may repeat itself with his wife. […]

We weren’t even halfway through the trip and as we travelled on through Angola, Zambia and Malawi, I couldn’t help but notice how incredibly tired, even burnt out, he looked. […]

The following night, before we all got on the plane home, I had a chance to explore what had been going on with Meghan herself. Again, it will be for everyone to judge… but both of them in this trip came across as more vulnerable and bruised than the spoilt, petulant, arrogant and entitled caricatures that are sometimes tied to the public whipping post. […]

I couldn’t quite shake a sense of sadness, too, at the powerful impression that this young family, happy in themselves, is struggling to adapt to life in the spotlight. […] As we lifted off for home, I found myself left with a single question: if they can’t cope with this; if it is, as she says, existing not living; what then?

The Sunday Times

Harry and Meghan felt bruised and defensive going into the tour due to the treatment they received from the media, and as we know they were getting ready to drop lawsuits on the Mail on Sunday, The Sun, and The Mirror. That’s the context for these quotes from Harry and Meghan during the documentary.

I’m going to go through Meghan’s quotes first, because there aren’t as many as Harry’s.

Meghan on her friends warning her about the British press:

“It’s hard. When I first met my now husband, my friends were really happy because I was so happy, but my British friends said to me, ‘I’m sure he’s great, but you shouldn’t do it, because the British tabloids will destroy your life.’ And I very naively – I’m American, we don’t have that there – ‘What are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense. I’m not in tabloids.’ I didn’t get it.”

ITV News YouTube

Meghan on the impact to her physical and mental health:

“I would say, look, any woman when they’re, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable and, so that was made really challenging, and then when you have a newborn, you know. And especially as a woman it’s a lot. So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed, it’s… Yeah, well, I guess, and also thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I’m okay. But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”

ITV News YouTube

Meghan on if she can manage the press:

“You know I’ve said for a long time to H – that’s what I call him – it’s not enough to just survive something, right, that’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you got to feel happy, and I think I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I tried, I really tried. But I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging. And the biggest thing that I know is that I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair, and that’s the part that’s really hard to reconcile, but just take each day as it comes.

The Telegraph YouTube

I will say that while I do have differing opinions on certain things, I understand why Meghan said what she said from a PR perspective in terms of Harry and Meghan’s current talking points. She’s reiterating things that Harry said in his statement – how there’s a human cost to the press treatment – and drawing sympathy, and also low key shaming people, for not asking if she’s okay and for not receiving fair treatment.

Let’s move to Harry’s quotes.

Harry on his mother’s death (whether he’s at peace, or if it’s a wound that festers):

“I think probably a wound that festers. I think being part of this family and this role and this job, every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back. So in that respect it’s the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best. Being here now twenty-two years later, trying to finish what she started, will be incredibly emotional, but everything that I do reminds me of her. But as I said, with the role, with the job, and the pressures that come with that, I get reminded of the bad stuff, unfortunately.”

The Royal Family Channel YouTube

Harry on Diana:

“I will always protect my family, and now I have a family to protect. Everything that she went through and what happened to her is incredibly raw, every single day, and that’s not me being paranoid, that’s just me not wanting a repeat of the past.”

The Telegraph YouTube

Harry on living in Africa:

“I don’t know where we could live in Africa at the moment. We’ve just come from Cape Town, that would be an amazing place for us to base ourselves, of course it would. But with all the problems that are going on there, I just don’t see how we’d be able to really make as much difference as we want to without the issues and the judgement of how we would be with those surroundings. I think it’s a very hard place to live when you know what’s going on but then you’re slightly disconnected from it. So, look, the rest of our lives, especially life’s work, will be predominantly focused on Africa, on conservation. You know there are nineteen commonwealth countries or something across this continent, so there is a lot of things to be done, there’s a lot of problems here, but there’s also huge potential for solutions.”

The Royal Family Channel YouTube

Harry on standing up for what he believes in:

“Part of this job, and part of any job, like everybody, means putting on a brave face and turning a cheek to a lot of this stuff. But, again, for me and for my wife, there’s a lot of stuff that hurts, especially when the majority of it is untrue. But all we need to do is focus on being real, focus on being the people that we are, and standing up for what we believe in. I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum.”

YouTube

Harry on his brother:

“Part of this role and part of this job and this family being under the pressure that it’s under, inevitably stuff happens. But, look, we’re brothers. We’ll always be brothers. We are certainly on different paths at the moment. But I will always be there for him, as I know he will always be there for me. We don’t see each other as much as we used to because we’re so busy, but I love him dearly and the majority of this stuff is created out of nothing. But as brothers you have good days, you have bad days.”

The Telegraph YouTube

Like with Meghan’s quotes, I have differences of opinions with Harry, but the one I want to touch on is this: “I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum.” Yeah, but you already are. This documentary, these quotes, are part of the game. Harry may not want to play the game by the press’ rules, but he’s still playing the game. This entire documentary is PR not only to promote the couple’s charity work during the tour, but to promote their current talking points in their disagreement with the press. From that perspective, both Harry’s and Meghan’s quotes are correct for them and on topic, even if one disagrees with their opinions.

I have two more high-level thoughts I want to discuss: the timing, and the target audience. Let’s discuss timing first.

I still find the timing of the lawsuits and now these interview quotes to be odd. I think we all can empathize with someone being upset about being lied about and feeling frustrated with not being able to correct the lie (I’ve been there on a micro level, as I’m sure we all have). But with any of the royals discussing their hardships, I come back to the idea of “know you audience”. Just because someone else is having a harder time than you doesn’t mean you aren’t also having a hard time. But when you are more privileged than the person you’re complaining to, you shouldn’t be surprised if they have a hard time empathizing with you.

For example, when my friend bought a Tesla and then complained that he only had $50K left in the bank, my reaction was “Let me break out my tiny violin for you” – that doesn’t make his financial worries less valid, but compared to someone who makes significantly less than he does, his complaining fell flat. For a royal example, William used to complain a lot about various aspects of his royal life and duties, and his opinions on his life were perfectly valid. But for William to complain about his life while seemingly not understanding how incredibly privileged his life is, that rubbed people the wrong way.

Similarly, just because Harry and Meghan enjoy a lot of privilege, and just because there are many people dealing with hardships that are worse than theirs, doesn’t make their hardships invalid. But when you’re on a tour of countries in Africa – to highlight the astronomical rate of gender violence in South Africa, to highlight the fact that children are still being maimed by landmines in Angola decades after the fighting has ended – and making a documentary about that tour, that’s maybe not the best time to comment on how hard your privileged life is. I enjoyed watching these interviews and their lawsuits and statements are understandable, but if all of this stuff with the lawsuits, statements, these quotes had come out a month or two after the tour and documentary were done, I think that timing would have been better.

Let’s take a pause on the timing and jump over to the target audience, because I think this will explain the odd timing, to be honest. After watching the interviews, I was left wondering who the target audience was. I think the people who already like Harry and Meghan don’t need these interviews because they already like and support them. And I think the people who dislike Harry and Meghan won’t have their minds changed by these interviews. So who is it for? My suggestion: the casuals. The people who rarely pay attention to the royals, who won’t watch the entire documentary but will see the pull quotes in various headlines and articles and will feel sympathy for the couple without thinking too hard about them. I don’t know about the UK, but the people I know in the US who know anything about the royals don’t pay much attention and only occasionally read a headline or two. It seems to me that those are the people whom the documentary and the pull quotes are targeting. Harry and Meghan are trying to move the needle on the uninterested to get them on side.

With that target audience in mind, the timing makes way more sense. Casuals notice things like weddings and births, and tours that are making headlines everyday. Harry and Meghan had a lot of attention from the tour, so it makes sense to drop the lawsuits and the statement during to capitalize on the casuals’ attention. Likewise, the documentary is perfect for these quotes because it captures that same attention and redirects it to their current talking points. The timing makes so much more sense to me now!

As for my personal opinion on all these quotes, I don’t think I’m the target audience so I think my takeaways are not what they had in mind. I think when someone recognizes a person or situation is triggering for their mental health, they should remove that person or situation from their lives as best they can (which can be very difficult). So for Harry’s quotes, my takeaway is that royal life may not be good for him, and maybe living a quite life away from the spotlight would be best for his mental health. Not saying accomplishing that would be in any way easy, but that’s my takeaway. For Meghan’s quotes, my takeaway is that maybe they rushed into the marriage. I remember thinking – and if I wrote it down I can’t find it now – back in November 2017, before the engagement but after we learned Meghan was moving to London, that it would be good for her to move to London and continue the relationship for another six months to a year before getting engaged, because jumping into a royal engagement/marriage after a year and a half of a long distance relationship might not be best. But I’m not a casual, I’m very clearly overthinking all of this, and I’m bringing my own experiences into my takeaways. I’ve had to remove myself from people and situations that weren’t good for me after recognizing that the only actions I could control were my own. And I’m overly cautious when making big, life-changing decisions. That’s me, so those are my takeaways.

Unfortunately, Harry and Meghan stepping away from royal life seems to be what the press want (actually, what I think the press want is more access to the couple and Archie so they can have more control and make more money, and they’re attacking Harry and Meghan as backlash to not having access and control), so I understand Harry and Meghan wanting to fight against that. No one wants to let the bullies win, you know. However, I think there are some fights where the only way to win is to legitimately stop playing the game.

So where does this Harry vs the press saga go from here? According to The Times, Harry and Meghan are taking six weeks off starting in mid-November. I don’t foresee the press taking time off from their campaign, though, so we’ll see what happens.

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