The new biography of Prince Harry and The Duchess of Sussex, Finding Freedom, is releasing in a few weeks, and The Times has serialized parts of it. I have so many thoughts, so I want to go over it.
The TL;DR of my opinion: I know this biography is supposed to paint Harry and Meghan in a positive light, but I came away from this first article thinking the way they portray Harry is… not great. Either the writers and Sussex sources are way off the mark, or Harry really did spend 33 years in the royal fold (pre-marriage) only to learn nothing about how it works.
In terms of the book, a Sussex spokesperson says that “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were not interviewed and did not contribute to Finding Freedom. This book is based on the authors’ own experiences as members of the royal press corps and their own independent reporting.” However, it’s clear from this first article that Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand (the authors of the book) spoke to Sussex friends and sources. It’s also clear Scobie and Durand spoke various royal family staff, but seemingly not to many “friends” of the various royals, judging by who the authors cite the quotes to.
So a bit of a disclaimer. There are five sides to this story: Harry and Meghan/their friends have their opinions on the events that happened and what they witnessed; so do the other members of the Royal Family and their people. Scobie and Durand have whatever biases they have that color their opinions and writing style. Each individual reader has their own biases that color how we read about these events and the people involved. And then, of course, there is The Truth, which none of us are privy to.
I don’t think this book should be taken as “the source of truth”, but I don’t think it should be fully discounted either. I think it’s fine to read, have an opinion, and comment on this book. Having said that, let’s get into it (this is a long one).
I will not be quoting the entire article because it’s very long, but you can read it over at The Times. (ETA: You can read the article in PDF form here) I will be excerpting parts that I want to comment on.
Since getting married, Harry and Meghan had enjoyed calling their own shots. “Harry and Meghan liked being in control of their narrative,” a source said, which is why originally agreeing to fold their household into Buckingham Palace, instead of creating their own independent court, had proved a big disappointment to them. Harry and Meghan had wanted to create their own individual household in Windsor, meaning their own office staffed with their own team, who would be separate from all others. But senior officials quickly ruled out that option.
I think the control aspect is very important here. The lack of control – be it with the Royal Family and courtiers, the press, Meghan’s family – is a big reason why Harry and Meghan made the choices they made.
I also have to point out that perhaps their request for a fully separate court wasn’t necessarily reasonable. None of the Queen’s children outside of Charles has their own independent court – Andrew (at the time), Edward, and Anne all have their offices within the Buckingham Palace structure. Only Charles and William (and Harry when he was a part of William’s office) have their own separate courts. Based off of the precedent set by previous royals, it makes sense that if Harry and Meghan wanted to break away from William’s office that they wouldn’t get their own fully separate one. I can understand Harry and Meghan being disappointed, but it does make sense.
Increasingly Harry had grown frustrated that he and Meghan often took a back seat to other family members. While they both respected the hierarchy of the institution, it was difficult when they wanted to focus on a project and were told that a more senior ranking family member, be it Prince William or Prince Charles, had an initiative or tour being announced at the same time — so they would just have to wait.
Years before Harry ever met Meghan people in the royal watching community were commenting on the fact that Harry would take a backseat to William frequently, so I find it hard to believe that Harry suddenly – 33 years into being a royal – was frustrated by this and didn’t understand that it worked that way.
Away from the courtiers and all things royal, they could think for themselves. They went over the events since the wedding and talked about how and if they could create a situation that would make for a better future. “I don’t need to have that movie moment where we get out of a car and wave to a hundred photographers before going into a building,” Harry told a friend. “It should just be about the work happening inside. Let’s focus on what really matters.”
Obviously the work happening inside matters, but the press covering the event helps publicize the work happening inside. And most of the time, the vast majority of press and photographers are not allowed inside to cover the event so the majority of photos are from the royal arriving and leaving. If Harry wanted the work inside to be the focus, he should have let more of the press actually inside to cover the event.
Their trip to London was going to be short, but Harry was keen to ensure that by the time they returned to Canada at the end of the week, their new chapter had been secured. […] As their Air Canada flight made its early morning touchdown at Heathrow, and still with no appointment to see Her Majesty, Harry and Meghan toyed with the idea of driving straight to see the Queen. Not wanting to cause problems for themselves (arriving unannounced would have ruffled feathers), the couple instead called for a team meeting at their home, Frogmore Cottage. With senior aides Harry and Meghan revealed details of their plans to the team. Whether their speedy approach was right or not, Harry and Meghan were more determined than ever. “At this point they felt like they had brought up the subject enough times with family members over the past year and they were fed up of not being taken seriously,” a source close to the couple said. “Everyone had their chance to help but no one did.”
The fact that Harry and Meghan always knew their trip back to the UK in January was going to be short is something that has bothered me since January. Ahead of their visit to Canada House, a Sussex spokesperson said they ‘have come back refreshed and have several public engagements in the diary for next week’. But that was never true. Harry and Meghan and their team knew that they were only staying for a short while. So why put out that statement that they are refreshed and ready to go with engagements already lined up? It just seems so pointless.
The palace scrambled to figure out if all of the requirements in the couple’s manifesto could even work logistically, including having the “future financial autonomy to work externally”. This was very different from the simple idea of spending more time abroad that had originally been presented. There were security and funding issues, tax implications, and visas. How could they legally take on commercial endeavours and still represent the Queen? “It was a huge headache,” an exasperated aide said. Even a source close to the couple admitted that while Harry and Meghan had put a lot of thought into this immense transition, they could also be “impatient and impulsive”. “They run hot, in a way,” the source said. “The reactions in individual moments are definitely not the same, a month, a few weeks, down the line.”
I’d be interested to know what the context was for that last quote. Because it’s perfectly reasonable to gain new information and change your mind on a topic. But there are certainly people to flit from one idea to the next and never fully commit or finish a project/idea.
Despite her sadness at the thought of losing the Sussexes as working royals, the Queen could see it was necessary for the couple to completely separate from the institution. No one should be forced into something they don’t want to do. But if Harry thought that their public proposal would result in their getting exactly what they wanted “he was sorely mistaken”, a senior courtier said. “The Queen understood the difficulties they faced, but the rules don’t bend for anyone.”
“the rules don’t bend for anyone” – Except Andrew, apparently. 🙄
What a source described as a “practical workmanlike approach” permeated the room as the royals set out to form a deal. Harry felt as though he and Meghan had long been sidelined by the institution and were not a fundamental part of its future. One didn’t have to look further than the family photos displayed during the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day. In the Green Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, where the Queen delivered her address, viewers glimpsed photos of the Cambridges and their children, Charles and Camilla, Prince Philip, and a black-and-white image of George VI. Noticeably absent was a photo of Harry, Meghan, and their new baby, Archie. Palace sources insisted that the photos were chosen to represent the direct line of succession, but for Harry and Meghan, it had been yet another sign that they needed to consider their own path.
Charles made it clear to Harry that he and Meghan were very much part of the future for the royal family despite calls for a “slimmed-down monarchy” with fewer senior working royals. “The Prince of Wales’s vision always included Harry as part of a slimmed down monarchy,” a source close to the family shared. “His vision included both his sons. William will always be more important than Harry but that’s a fact only because of birthright.”
There was also a “source” saying something similar to this about the photos that came out in December with The Queen, Charles, William, and George making pudding (or was it the Four Generations photo that came out just after new year? I don’t remember). I can entertain that both of these photoshoots and the Queen’s photo selection for her Christmas message were some petty reaction to Harry and Meghan’s sabbatical and request for change, but I think it’s entirely possible that these photoshoots were planned long before then and that the Queen’s Christmas message photo selection had nothing to do with Harry and Meghan.
Specifically, The Queen’s Christmas message photos often don’t show all of the royals. In 2017, while George and Charlotte were included, William and Kate were not. In 2016 and 2014, none of the Cambridges were included. In 2013, the Four Generations photo from George’s christening was included, but Kate wasn’t. In 2012 and 2011, there weren’t any photos. And of the ones I looked at, Harry was only included in 2017 and 2018. So it’s not uncommon for people to be excluded from the photo lineup. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a petty move not to include a photo of Harry and Meghan, or specifically Archie. But I’m not saying it was either.
Additionally, I remember in 2012 when only HM and Philip and Charles’ family were included on the balcony for the Diamond Jubilee, there was a stink from other royals about not being included, but it was said at the time it was a move to show Charles’ slimmed down monarchy of just himself and his sons and their families. At the time, it was said that Harry and whomever his wife turned out to be would very much be a part of that slimmed down lineup. If that was said all the way back in 2012, and Harry was never included in the Christmas message photo lineup before 2017, why is Harry suddenly thinking that he will be excluded from the slimmed down monarchy lineup? If something was said that would make Harry think that, then it should be included in the book, but basing that assumption off of photos on a table during a speech is ridiculous.
Courtiers viewed Harry’s position as completely unrealistic. While it was easy to say they wouldn’t take money from the sovereign grant, it was quite another thing to follow through. “The biggest row was over money, because it always is,” a source familiar with the negotiations said. One aide made a joke about Meghan launching a line of beauty products.
“The biggest row was over money, because it always is” – For literally everyone.
More difficult were the hurt feelings on both sides. Even sources close to Harry and Meghan had to admit that the way the couple were forced to approach the situation (mainly in the act of keeping the family and their team in the dark about their website) “created a lot of ill will in the household and especially in the family”.
“Harry and Meghan would have reached a more beneficial agreement to allow them to live the life they wanted if they had handled things in a private, dignified way,” a senior Buckingham Palace aide explained. Another courtier added: “They oversimplified what they were asking for. They thought they’d give Charles their rider, negotiate over email, rock up to London, give three months’ notice and fly back to Canada.”
Harry and Meghan, however, felt that they had been patronised by other family and staff members for too long. People had humoured them when they brought up grievances, never thinking the couple would actually do anything drastic. The explosive reaction was a direct result of their growing impatience. If other members of the family and those working with the households had taken their requests more seriously, it wouldn’t have reached that point.
We don’t know how much was done by Harry and Meghan to negotiate in private before they threw open the flood gates. Without that knowledge, I kind of think it’s oversimplifying things to say “Harry and Meghan would have reached a more beneficial agreement to allow them to live the life they wanted if they had handled things in a private, dignified way”. Maybe they tried and it didn’t work so they had to play hardball. We don’t know.
But I do think that Harry and Meghan didn’t think their plans through enough. Their initial requests in their website were never going to work.
The media speculated that Meghan was behind the decision for the couple to step back, but few knew how much she sacrificed to try to make it work. As Meghan tearfully told a friend in March: “I gave up my entire life for this family. I was willing to do whatever it takes. But here we are. It’s very sad.”
While the British media often blamed royal wives, in Harry’s case, he was very much on board with distancing himself from the public eye. It’s why he gravitated toward the military, had always avoided the pomp as much as he could, and didn’t give his child a title. He long craved a life away from the prying eyes of the media. Meghan simply emboldened him to make the change. She supported him no matter what. “Fundamentally, Harry wanted out,” a source close to the couple said. “Deep down, he was always struggling within that world. She’s opened the door for him on that.”
This is another thing that gets me: if Harry wanted out so badly, didn’t like the pomp, and didn’t want a title for his son… then why did Harry accept the pomp of the wedding, accept a title that his son will inherit one day, and, most importantly, not make these decisions before marrying? I think it’s so rude on Harry’s part to use Meghan as a getaway car and scapegoat. So many people blame Meghan for Harry’s actions the last few years; she is the one vilified for, apparently, Harry’s decisions. If Harry wanted to protect Meghan, he should have made these decisions for himself and taken action, and not use Meghan as an excuse to leave the royal fold.
The most demoralising aspect of the deal was Harry being stripped of his honorary military appointments. “That’s been a tough pill to swallow, and one that has been most painful to Meghan witness him go through,” a source close to the couple said. “It’s the one that made Harry emotional.”
“It was so unnecessary,” Meghan later told a friend. “And it’s not just taking something away from him; it’s also that entire military veteran community. You can see how much he means to them, too. So why? The powers [of the institution] are unfortunately greater than me.”
“The powers [of the institution] are unfortunately greater than me.” – Yes?? I don’t understand why it is surprising that a giant institution, which is known to care more about protecting itself than any of the people in it, has more power than one person. Have you not seen The Crown! Lol, wasn’t this exact thing a storyline in season 1 in 2016?
One of their final engagements was the Commonwealth service at Westminster Abbey. But if they ever needed confirmation that stepping away from the institution was the right move, the machinations that had preceded it served as a useful reminder. Although they had been part of the procession of senior royals who entered the church with the Queen in previous years, this year they discovered they had been removed from the line-up. The decision had been made without their consultation, and they were informed long after the 2,000 orders of service had been printed for guests, with their names notably absent. This year it would just be the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales, and the Duchess of Cornwall walking through the abbey with the Queen. It felt intentional. “Harry was more than disappointed,” a friend said. “He spoke up, but the damage had already been done.” To smooth things over, the Cambridges agreed to take their seats at the same time as the Sussexes and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. […]
“It should have been the one public moment where the royal family put their arms around the couple for a show of support,” a source close to Harry and Meghan said. “They purposefully chose not to put them in the procession and not to be welcoming. It was most unpleasant.” Buckingham Palace shrugged off the procession change, saying there was “no set format”.
For the Commonwealth Service procession, I noted that it was different but didn’t think anything of it at the time since the Cambridges also didn’t partake, but yeah I can see why people would think this was a petty move. However, I can also understand not wanting to show the Sussexes in a place of seniority since they were leaving as soon as this engagement was over. 🤷♀️
I find the narrative that Harry was the one driving the resentment toward the royal family and the break away a bit unbelievable. If the narrative was that Meghan was the one having a hard time with the BRF structure, I would actually understand that. Meghan wasn’t a royal watcher, and maybe she was sold a bill of goods by Harry that didn’t come true, and having to suddenly navigate taking a backseat to a bunch of other people and losing control of her own narrative (which she was very much in control over when she had her social media and blog) would be a big shift that she might come to resent. But for Harry, who grew up in that institution knowing full well how it worked and taking a backseat to others, even though he was one of the most popular royals, for years before he ever met Meghan, to suddenly be shocked by how the royal family works is mind-boggling. And, as I said above, I think if this is true and Harry essentially used Meghan as an excuse to leave the royal family, then that’s a d*ck move on Harry’s part.
For me, for this first article, I don’t think it makes any of the people involved look very good. The palace staff and courtiers look like a-holes who purposefully tried to sabotage things, the royal family members look uncaring (in that the structure benefits them so they don’t care to change it), and Harry (especially) and Meghan look ridiculous for not understanding how things work.