The Harry & Meghan documentary Volume I opens with ‘This is a first-hand account of Harry & Meghan’s story, told with never before seen personal archive. All interviews were completed by August 2022.’ Oh, so the month before the Queen died? Is that what they mean?
There are a lot of nuggets in the first three episodes of Netflix’s new series, many intentional and many not – subtle digs at Kate, who she finds Meghan’s hugs jarring. A remarkable moment when Meghan bows, all mock elegance, showing viewers how she first greeted Harry’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II. I’m American and even I found that treasonous.
Surprisingly there are lots of things we learn in this new documentary and none of it makes the story any clearer. On the contrary, the emotions and hurt feelings whirring through the air add more and more uncertainty to the question of where this sordid tale willend.
‘This is a great love story,’ Harry says, looking uncertain, ‘and the crazy thing is I think it’s only just beginning,’ or something like that. Harry and Meghan are obsessed with controlling the narrative. Their story has to be a happy one. IT HAS TO BE.
You can see the panic in their eyes as they realise they’ve pressed the nuclear button again. A ‘trajectory of self-destruction’ is a phrase used by a news reporter at the beginning of the first episode, and that sums this couple up I think.
Watching Harry & Meghan is a bewildering experience. The carefully curated depiction of ‘their story’ isn’t just a volley aimed at the UK press and royal family, although itis also that. It’s their story of how they have experienced life up until now, and boy is it an emotional one. ‘Harry is a sensitive boy,’ says his mother Princess Diana, speaking in old footage shot at their Kensington Palace home as the infant Harry crawls around on the floor. ‘He’s very quiet, always watches…a very different character altogether’ to his elder brother.
The grown Prince Harry is ‘his mother’s son’ by his own admission, thinking with his heart and not his head. His life has taken an extraordinarily dramatic turn and whether it will be for the better is still unknown. Unlikely. It is as if we are watching the older generation fight with the new one over the future of Britain and America’s values: self-sacrifice or self-actualisation?
Meghan thinks she wants to do the former but actually she’s a self-actualisation warrior. ‘She is fed through service,’ a friend says of Meghan, meaning I guess that she thrives off philanthropy. I think it more likely that Meghan really wants to be seen as a philanthropist, and there’s nothing wrong with that especially, but she spends more time curating her own image.
Another extraordinary nugget reveals how much appearances matter to Meghan. She describes a moment when she first told her girlfriends about dating Prince Harry. ‘Google him,’ someone told her. Meghan counters, ‘No, go to their social media account, that to me is the best barometer of a person, what they’re saying about themselves.’ Really? Well, that explains a lot—her obsession with controlling the narrative for example. She loved Harry’s Instagram feed—and ‘what a person puts out there’ is really who they are, right?
Contrary to appearances, I sympathise with Meghan. I too came to Britain from the American West, naïve and adventurous and happening upon a young prince of my own. Ok, he’s a journalist from a village in East Sussex, but he had the accent and he also went to Eton. It’s a seductive combination.
We fell madly in love and have stayed together ever since; but making a home in a foreign country entailed learning some hard lessons. My husband and I come from almost oppositional cultures—one open and plain-spoken, blunt maybe; the other measured, refined, restrained. Sparks fly but it can become combustible.
Two people from such different cultures don’t have the same familiar methods to fall back on when faced with conflict. They navigate dangerous waters the same way they navigate exciting, romantic possibilities—with no map or blueprint. Meghan and Harry have had to do this while an audience of approximately 2 billion people watches.
So much of what Meghan is and how she is, is so similar to my mum,’ says Harry. This is why I find the whole story tragic. It is clear to everyone, even Harry himself, that in Meghan he has found the same warmth and informality he adored in his mother. He craves it, yet he is conditioned not to give in wholeheartedly to it, to keep emotions to one side when it comes to doing his duty. The two Harrys wrestle visibly on his face. It isn’t clear at allwhich has the upper hand. They may tug over him for the rest of his life.
Meghan also has two faces, at least. She admits as much when she recites the poem she wrote as a child afterher parents’ divorce: it concludes ‘Life would be easier if there were two of me.’ For any child of a broken home, her words contain a familiar sentiment. And God, what a heart-wrencher.
It’s a very emotional story and that’s why it rankles so much with the British royal family, and a huge chunk of the British public to. But it’s why I sympathise with it. It’s true, no one likes a moaner—it’s not becoming or polite to complain about your lot publicly, especially when you’re fighting over whether or not ‘HRH’ will appear on your credit card anymore.
The wrencher is that Harry and Meghan have very good points about the cruel nature of media attention, especially towards young women, and about the inflexible formality of the institution in which Harry has grown up. They’re just going about it the wrong way. She and Harry would win hearts and minds if they took a measured pause to reflect, instead of continually producing more clickable content. It is an intriguing battle to watch because it is both deeply personal and of enormous public interest at the same time.
Both having come from turbulent, painful childhoods, the odds may be against them finding internal peace and establishing a new, healthy traditions for their family. I doubt this documentary will aid in that goal, but that’s what I wish for them. Maybe one day.
Harry & Meghan is now available to watch on Netflix.