Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are, arguably, among the most famous celebrities on the planet.
Their extraordinary fame is not due to their advocacy of a world powered by compassion. It is due to the sensational, unprecedented interviews they have given over the past year, delivering blow after blow to Harry’s family. They have forensically portrayed the royals as cruel, uncaring, discriminatory and, in the most astonishing accusation, downright racist.
It’s been unmissable drama. And next week the royal feud narrative will be at the top of news feeds once again, owing to the upcoming publication of the paperback edition of the biography of the couple, Finding Freedom, by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, which is being reissued with a new chapter in which sources sympathetic to Harry and Meghan double down on their previous criticism of the royal family.
Leaks and previews of the book this week have suggested that there is little in the new epilogue to raise the hopes of those who wish that Meghan and Harry will soon or ever be reconciled with the Windsors.
William is described as “furious” about the Oprah interview, and the royals in general were apparently thrilled Meghan didn’t come back to Blighty for Philip’s funeral because they feared she would create a “spectacle”.
Harry and Meghan, meanwhile, are said to be aggrieved nothing concrete has been done about their allegations of racism in the family.
Most sensationally, however, the new chapter seeks to stir that controversy up again by revealing that Harry and Meghan considered naming the person who made the alleged racist comment.
The Sussexes and Scobie deny that he is a confidant of the couple, or is given access to inside information at their behest. True as that may be, it seems incredibly convenient for the Sussexes that just as the controversy pipeline was starting to dry up, it has been flooded with fresh, weapons-grade royal gossip. This stuff always makes for sensational headlines, so it seems likely that next week’s celebrity news cycle will likely be dominated by a retelling of Harry and Meghan’s beef with the royals.
The news that they considered naming the royal racist is certain to unleash a brand new round of Quiz as to just who it could be.
Scobie’s new chapter will propel Meghan and Harry to the peaks of global attention once again.
This seems to be a position Harry and Meghan are comfortable occupying. Indeed, Scobie is also behind an emerging narrative that the couple intend to quasi-relaunch and become much more visible in the months ahead. Scobie, when revealing this new drive to People magazine said the couple were entering a “new era of visibility” adding, “They need to be on the ground. They say that the proof is in the pudding, and what we are about to see is that pudding.”
It’s hard to imagine what being more visible could mean in Harry and Meghan’s world; their interview with Oprah Winfrey was watched by 50 million people in the first week alone. They rarely seem to be off the front pages for more than a few days in a row.
However, it’s less hard to imagine what they hope to do with their new visibility: good works that, as their website modestly puts it, “uplift and unite communities—local and global, online and offline—one act of compassion at a time.”
The trouble for the Sussexes is that there is very little evidence that the public are anything like as compelled by these noble endeavors as they are with the trash talk.
A vivid example of this problem is provided by the 40X40 mentoring initiative that Meghan launched on her 40th birthday.
Even the keenest student of the royal super-narrative could be forgiven for already having forgotten that just three weeks ago, Meghan encouraged all of us to follow the example of her and 40 of her friends, whom she had apparently persuaded to spend 40 minutes of their time mentoring a young person.
Has there been a huge outbreak of Meghan-inspired mentoring since she recorded her announcement in her lovely, expansive and expensively decorated office? Or can nobody remember anything about it except the funny, fluffy bit: Melissa McCarthy taking the mickey out of those outdated, irrelevant and old-fashioned royals by florally overdressing as a stereotypical British duchess?
The stalled initiative exposes the enormous difficulties Meghan and Harry face in trying to move their brand beyond the telling of royal secrets and into the realm of positive global inspiration. Selling out the royals is pretty easy. You sit down, you talk, the world gasps in horror.
But to genuinely launch a mentoring initiative, supporting mentors and mentees, would be a huge, full time undertaking. It would require enormous investments in time and money. It would need, staff, training, offices, meeting rooms, an organized network, infrastructure, branding, decent coffee and massive political support to go into schools and colleges. That stuff doesn’t make the front pages.
Fortunately for them, the couple do have one incredibly successful initiative under their belt which could be a better model for whatever their next endeavor may be; the Invictus Games, the Paralympic-style tournament for wounded veterans established by Harry in 2014.
Harry certainly didn’t shy away from using his celebrity to promote this incredible start-up; he gave interview after interview to the British and international media, freely discussing his own mental health traumas in order to advance the cause. In a textbook example of how to bend royal fame to a brilliant cause, he staged a clip of Barack Obama video-calling Queen Elizabeth, goading her and telling her to “bring it.”
“Oh really, please,” the queen was seen replying.
Harry has spoken candidly about how difficult it was to make Invictus a reality. On the opening night of the games, in 2014, he subsequently revealed, he wasn’t even sure if they were “going to fill seats.”
The truth is that setting up a meaningful charitable or philanthropic program involves years and years of dull and laborious groundwork.
Sure, Meghan and Harry can do the glamorous celebrity sparkle stuff and order up nice shiny websites about good things overnight. But the sensational attacks they have spent the past year firing off at the royals are sucking up all the oxygen from the worthy stuff.
When we see Meghan and Harry, our amygdalae are now conditioned to brace for the negative buzz, the sugar rush of royal gossip. Making us care about their latest good cause after a year of that will be a very hard sell.