It was, according to one journalist who has long reported on the royals, a landmark documentary that would “intensify questions about whether Prince Harry and Meghan Markle can cope with the pressures of life as high-profile members of the Royal Family.”
In the extraordinary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, which screened on British TV on Sunday and is due to air in America on Wednesday, Harry confirmed a rift with his brother, said that the flashes of camera guns caused him to flashback to the worst moments of his mother’s life, ruminated on moving to Africa, and said his own mental health had suffered a setback.
In the same program, Meghan revealed that her friends had warned her not to marry her husband, whom she calls “H”, because tabloids would destroy her life, fought back tears as she confirmed she was “not doing OK,” and said that those who envied her life of wealth and fame had “no idea” and were simply falling into the trap of thinking the “grass is greener.”
The candor was nothing short of explosive, and came the same day it was reported that Harry and Meghan would be taking a six-week break at the end of the year, much of that time to be spent in America. Just what kind of royal future do Harry and Meghan want?
The documentary was presented by Harry’s pal Tom Bradby, and as a result felt rather like a particularly long video clip on Harry and Meghan’s Instagram feed.
Bradby, who brings to the art of cross-examination the ferocity of a pet sheep, will no doubt be delighted at his role in creating what was arguably the most nakedly emotionally-manipulative piece of royal television served up to British viewers since Diana met Martin Bashir for the notorious edition of BBC's Panorama, in which she spoke of the “three people” in her marriage to Prince Charles (the third being Camilla Parker Bowles).
For Harry, the trauma of Diana's death runs visibly deep. In the documentary he even appeared to be attempting to weaponize her memory. In a segment widely reported before Sunday, Harry said that every time a camera flashes it reminds him of her tragic fate.
Asked by Bradby if he felt at peace about his mother’s death in 1997 or if it is “still a sort of wound that festers,” Harry said, “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.
“In that respect... it’s the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best. The last time I was here was in 2013. But being here now, 22 years later, trying to finish what she started, yeah will be, 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 ... sort of the pressures that come with that I get reminded of the bad stuff unfortunately.”
His father Prince Charles, by contrast, was not mentioned once. Bizarrely, however Chazzer popped up during one of the commercial breaks, in a trailer for a forthcoming TV show about his country estate.
Charles was pictured chuckling along with a jolly and toothless son of the soil who appeared absolutely honored to be being thus patronized, against a backdrop of rolling English countryside and livestock, a strange reminder of what royalty used, not very long ago, to be.
Then we were back to the new royals, new Angolan minefields and Harry talking, yes, once again, about his mother.
“I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum,” Harry declared at one point, as a roaring camp fire blazed.
While some of the documentary was indeed given over to Harry and Meghan's work in Africa, we swiftly cut back to the tear-jerking interviews with kids who had lost limbs to land mines, intercut with guess-who-yes-that’s-right-Diana having the same conversations 22 years ago.
We even had a reunion between a young land mine victim who had met Diana for a famous photo in 1997 and now had five children herself, one of whom, we were informed with astonishing predictability, was called Diana.
The centerpiece of the film was, however, Harry's fireside interview with Bradby. It really seems like Harry is going through a particularly bad patch right now. He did at one stage talk about the need for “management,” of his mental health problems, saying, “I thought I was out of the woods and suddenly it all came back.”
It was extraordinary TV, and there were as an overwhelming sense that Harry had just decided to say all this stuff without consulting any communications professionals.
For instance at one stage Bradby asked him if the rumors of a rift with his brother were true.
Harry conspicuously failed to deny it and instead replied: “Part of this role, and this job, being part of this family and the pressure this family is under, inevitably stuff happens, but we are brothers, we will 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.”
Crikey. It seems things are even worse than we thought, an impression that was confirmed as Harry continued: “We don’t see each other as much as we used to because we are so busy… but you know as brothers, you have good days, you have bad days.”
There was time for a quick cut to a clip of 15-year-old Harry talking about how he hoped to make his mother proud which appeared to be there for no other reason than to make us cry, which it did.
And then it was day nine and in a slight alteration to the official program, Harry launched legal action against the Mail on Sunday and denounced the press as liars and relentless propagandists.
Bradby gave the first truly impartial assessment of the situation saying, “The media thought they had gone mad,” before quickly realizing the error of his ways and gravely informing us that actually this was part of a “moral mission to not be bullied.”
After all this it was time for Meghan to be brave and give a heartfelt, fiveminute interview in the grounds of the embassy to Bradders.
The stand-out fact for me was that she calls Harry “H.”
Asked about how the last year had been, Meghan said, “It’s hard… I had no idea—which probably sounds difficult to understand here—but 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—said, ‘What are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense.’ I didn’t get it. So, it’s been complicated.”
Bradby, untroubled by the bizarre claim that the home of the National Enquirer boats a tabloid-free media landscape, asked about her mental health. “Any woman, 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.
“Thank you for asking. Not many people have asked if I’m OK, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes,” she said.
When Bradby asked Meghan if that meant she wasn’t OK, she replied, “Yes.”
Bradby then asked he if she could “put up with it” and “continue” to which Meghan replied: “I’ve said for a long time to H—that’s what I call him—it’s not enough to just survive something. That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you’ve got to feel happy. I think I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I tried. I tried. But I think what that does internally is probably really damaging.”
Bradby seemed rather aghast mumbling off camera that a stiff upper lip “had its advantages,” but Meghan was not to be swayed.
“I thought it would be fair,” Meghan said. “And that’s the part that’s really hard to reconcile.”
Fair? What gave you that idea Meghan? The murder of the princes in the tower? The beheading of Anne Boleyn as a witch? The vast unfathomable wealth of you, your children, and your children’s children? Surely Meghan had seen, or had knowledge of, the long and vexed relationship between the royals and the British media.
Meghan finally lost her patience with Bradby when he raised the whole unimaginable wealth thing.
“I think the grass is always greener. You have no idea. It’s really hard to understand what it’s like. I know what it seems like it should be, but it’s a very different thing,” she snapped.
Bradby called an end to proceedings at this point, telling Meghan she must be exhausted.
Bradby then really showed his affinity with Harry and Meghan by claiming that the African tour had been “by any conventional measure a success,” which I suppose you would only disagree with if you think that alienating the entire media corps with whom you are going to have to work with for the rest of your life represented a great triumph.
In which case, yup, well done guys, way to go. The coming weeks and months will see how far the reverberations of this interview ripple out—and what kind of royal life Harry and Meghan really want, and whether the royal family and media will welcome it.