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Did the hounding of Meghan give Harry the excuse he wanted to free himself from the straitjacket of royal life?


Harry and Meghan have waved goodbye to royal life to begin afresh in the United States

Harry and Meghan have waved goodbye to royal life to begin afresh in the United States

Harry and Meghan attend the Endeavour Fund Awards in London on March 5

Harry and Meghan attend the Endeavour Fund Awards in London on March 5


Harry and Meghan with the Queen on the balcony at Buckingham Palace

Harry and Meghan with the Queen on the balcony at Buckingham Palace

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The fairy tale wedding

The fairy tale wedding


Harry reads his introduction to Thomas & Friends: The Royal Engine earlier this week

Harry reads his introduction to Thomas & Friends: The Royal Engine earlier this week


Harry and Meghan attend the Commonwealth Day Service with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Earl and Countess of Wessex on March 9

Harry and Meghan attend the Commonwealth Day Service with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Earl and Countess of Wessex on March 9


Harry and Meghan have waved goodbye to royal life to begin afresh in the United States

As the couple's battles with the British tabloid press continue, including taking some newspapers to court, Donal Lynch looks at why the Sussexes felt they had to flee to the US. But will they still be pursued for cheap headlines?

One can only imagine what passed through Queen Elizabeth's mind as she flicked through the morning papers a fortnight ago. Thousands dead. Millions unemployed. Summer garden parties cancelled. Oh, and grandson Harry boycotting a good portion of the British press, as he and whatsherface rather imperiously announced.

And to think people used to say she - QEII - was out of touch! She could parade through Piccadilly in a gold chariot, throwing cake to the social-distancing stragglers, and she still wouldn't look as tone-deaf. Compared to Meghan and Harry, Elizabeth might muse, she has her white-gloved finger on the very pulse of the nation.

Perhaps 'One' also spared a little thought for the British tabloids, who will go hungry as a result. As break-up notes go it was pretty devastating. "No cooperation and zero engagement" for any of the four big tabloids, Meghan and Harry primly insisted. And that also means no more Nazi salutes, no naked Las Vegas photos, no getting drunk and falling in the pool.

The wail of pain from those tabloids was heart-rending. Moralism was seasoned with schadenfreude in the pitiful copy. "Don't worry about us, because we're not worried about you," The Mail's Sarah Vine wrote in a journalistic equivalent of putting pictures of yourself looking hot on Instagram solely for the purpose of making your ex jealous.

"Prince Harry and Meghan boycott The Sun - but without publicity what are they?" Jane Moore asked, presumably to strains of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.

The end of the Sussexes' on-off relationship with the British tabloids is the latest instalment in a saga that is, depending on your point of view, an abdication drama of the magnitude of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson or like that time the Beckhams moved to LA.

In early March Meghan and Harry dramatically announced that they were packing in their royal duties, becoming civilians and going to live in Canada. After a fairytale wedding and a brief honeymoon period Meghan had inexplicably tired of being relentlessly described (I'm slightly paraphrasing here) as an uppity intruder who has torn a family and a nation apart. She had committed treasonous atrocities like touching her bump too much, wearing the 'wrong'-coloured tights, not showing "all" of Archie to the waiting photographers, and going on a holiday which was paid for by Elton John.

There was much talk of what Meghan "owes" the British public as royal commentators shimmied between undying fealty and impertinent questioning. The press seemed to want her hung and drawn while also craving ever more details on the nitty-gritty of her relationship. It was Love Island meets Tower of London.

David Yelland, a former editor of The Sun, said there had "certainly been an element of racism" in coverage of Meghan. Hilary Mantel, a gloriously cynical royal watcher, agreed that "racism was a factor" in the coverage. And perhaps a dose of old-fashioned misogyny too? 'Look at what Meghan has done now!' always had slight overtones of 'does Anne Boleyn have six fingers?'.

Piers Morgan, Meghan's berater-in-chief, wrote: "She's an unsavoury, manipulative, social-climbing piece of work who has inveigled her way into Prince Harry's heart. The very future of the monarchy may be in serious jeopardy."

Eighty-three years after Mrs Simpson, that seemed like a slightly tall claim. For all the bile written and the distress caused to Harry and Meghan, theirs has been a love story that has helped make this generation of royals more popular than virtually any before them.

When they became an item, after meeting in 2016, she said it was in spite of, rather than because of, his royal celebrity that she was interested in him. He later said he knew immediately she was 'the one'. They would later look back on this early period fondly.

 Meghan later said: "We had a good five, six months almost with just privacy, which was amazing."

Once the story of their relationship broke, the press began pursuing her relentlessly and Harry immediately stepped in. In a formal statement he asked the press and trolls on social media to stop the "wave of abuse and harassment" that had been directed at his new girlfriend. He said he had been involved in "nightly legal battles" to stop the media from publishing defamatory stories about Meghan and their relationship.

She later said: "There was a misconception that because I have worked in the entertainment industry, this would be something I would be familiar with. But I've never been part of tabloid culture. I've never been in pop culture to that degree and lived a relatively quiet life."

Throughout their courtship Meghan continued to film Suits, the legal drama that made her name as an actress. She attended the wedding of a childhood friend of Harry in Jamaica and by late 2017 she and Harry were themselves engaged.

At their wedding, which was somewhat unbelievably only two summers ago, Oprah, David and Victoria Beckham, and of course the royal family attended - but all eyes were on the bride, who wore a stunning Givenchy gown for the ceremony and a chic halter Stella McCartney dress for the reception at Frogmore House.

The symbolism of a member of the royal family marrying a mixed-race woman was lost on nobody and the giddy, freewheeling sermon by Bishop Michael Curry lives in the memory of all who heard it.

The only fly in the ointment of the big day was the absence of Meghan's father, a retired TV lighting director, who was recovering from heart surgery. Thomas Markle is a lottery winner who blew his fortune and filed for bankruptcy. He divorced Meghan's mother in the late 1980s. As the press began to mine his character for quotes, his relationship with his daughter frayed.

Meghan is currently suing the Mail on Sunday for publishing a letter she wrote to her father around this time, which she alleges was selectively edited. In a London court last month, Meghan's lawyer claimed that Associated Newspapers, which owns the Mail, had an agenda of publishing "intrusive or offensive stories" about Meghan "to portray her in a false and damaging light".

Meghan's lawyer said Thomas Markle (below) had made it clear to Meghan that "he was being harassed and humiliated by the defendant and tabloid newspapers but particularly the Mail", adding that the Mail on Sunday had "cherry-picked" bits from a letter written by Meghan.

Her lawyer said half the letter had been omitted as "it didn't fit the narrative" and the letter was "obviously private correspondence" containing Meghan's "deepest and most private thoughts" about her relationship with her father - at a time of great personal anguish and distress after he was unable to walk her down the aisle at her May 2018 wedding.

It was also revealed in the case that Harry had contacted Thomas Markle shortly after he said that he would not attend the wedding.

"You do not need to apologise, we understand the circumstances but 'going public' will only make the situation worse," Harry wrote in a text to Thomas.

"If you love Meg and want to make it right please call me as there are two other options which don't involve you having to speak to the media, who incidentally created this whole situation. So please call me so I can explain. Meg and I are not angry, we just need to speak to you. Thanks."

The judge reserved judgment but did not say when he will rule.

Harry and Meghan were understood to have been upset that Thomas had allowed tabloid photos of himself to be staged. But plenty of people have managed the press in precisely the same way, not least Harry's mum Princess Diana.

Her courting of the press is a detail that has since faded from memory - like a candle in the wind - and certainly Harry seems to have long forgotten it. He has said he has no intention of watching the press torment his wife for clicks in the same way they once hounded his mother; Harry himself felt harried.

"I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been," he said of their treatment by the tabloids, continuing: "My deepest fear is history repeating itself… I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

Meghan has sometimes been blamed for dragging Harry away from his royal destiny - but just as Edward VIII was said to have a useful pretext in Mrs Simpson for escaping the monarchy, so the young prince was thought to have been drawn to a woman who would one day necessitate his escape from an institution that has always constricted him.

This dynamic was heightened by the couple's contrast with William and Kate, who seemed to relish their royal roles and with whom the press soon talked up a rivalry.

It's customary for royals to feel other royals have it easier than them. Charles reportedly resents Andrew for his duty-to-scandal ratio. And Harry is believed to think William got an easier ride from the press owing to being notably more boring. Wills is balding and not, that anyone knows, having an affair, which makes him doubly tedious. His wife is a colourless mannequin, "a doll on which certain rags are hung", as Hilary Mantel once described her. Still, William and Kate speak the language of middle management and remain painfully on-message. The contrast with the Sussexes could not be greater.

At their last royal engagement together, a lip reader, engaged by The Daily Telegraph, claimed he deciphered Harry turning to Meghan after his brother and Kate took their seats, saying: "He literally said, 'Hello, Harry' and that was it and he didn't say anything more than that." It takes a certain fluency in British understatement to understand that these are the sounds of war.

While Kate and William are seen as dogged workhorses, to Meghan and Harry there was imputed a certain entitlement. Since they married, the British press has been awash with quotes from unnamed palace sources which say that they don't make royals like they used to.

"People had bent over backwards for them," the Daily Mail reported one courtier as saying. "They were given the wedding they wanted, the house they wanted, the office they wanted, the money they wanted, the staff they wanted, the tours they wanted and had the backing of the family - what more did they want?"

After a huge kerfuffle over who would pay their security bill in Canada, it's now transpired that Meghan and Harry are probably moving to America. In February Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner let slip that she heard they were looking for a house in Malibu. The couple have quietly moved their operations to the US. They have hired the Hollywood PR firm Sunshine Sachs, as well as a new chief-of-staff, Catherine St-Laurent, a well-regarded French-Canadian who previously worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to reports, Prince Charles has also given Harry £2m from his "personal fortune" to tide the young family over. Do-gooder earnestness and a cut-glass accent go down a treat in California. The Sussexes may fit right in.

It will be interesting to see, however, what exactly the difference is between royal celebrity and regular celebrity. The Windsors have long been state-sponsored Kardashians, and the gossip hunters of TMZ and The National Enquirer are scarcely less dogged than their counterparts on Fleet Street.

They also have the advantage of not having to deal with England's stricter libel laws, which have given the young royals a degree of protection that they may miss. Just a few months ago Brad Pitt bemoaned becoming "trash-mag fodder"; one wonders what would make Harry and Meghan any different.

There has been much talk about how the departure and the frayed relationship with the Cambridges will leave Harry and Meghan isolated and more dependent on each other. But perhaps equally significant will be its affect on the royal family.

In an era of Brexit, Covid-19 and Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein, Harry and Meghan's absence will be keenly felt.

And when Charles ascends the throne, and turns out to be not as popular as his mother, they may realise that the sixth in line to the throne, and his uppity wife, were actually just the box-office magnets that the royal family could really do with.


The Duchess of Windsor

In terms of rocking the royal boat of monarchy, Wallis Simpson upended the House of Windsor. The young Edward found her domineering manner and abrasive irreverence toward his position appealing - though she quite liked the prospect of becoming queen. It would never happen. He was crowned Edward VIII in January 1936 but the threat of their wedding caused a constitutional crisis which led to his abdication in December 1936 - famously, to marry "the woman I love". The couple married six months later and were made the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Lady Diana, Princess of Wales

Depending on perspective, the People's Princess was either an idealistic ingenue overwhelmed by royal politics and a bad marriage, or an unstable manipulator of the press - Germaine Greer famously called her "devious, cunning and thick".

Like Meghan, Diana seemed determined to establish a life outside the strictures of royal duty, and like Meghan she was remorselessly hounded by the press.

Her death in a car crash in 1997 prompted an international pageant of grief, the reworking of an Elton John ballad and a lot of royal soul-searching.

Anne of Cleves

The fourth wife of Henry VIII was one of the most vilified women in British history. Anne was only chosen as Henry believed he needed to ally with her brother, William, who was a Protestant leader in Germany.

Henry had admired a flattering, idealised portrait of her and the first time he saw her was when she arrived in England for their wedding. The corpulent king then declared: "I like her not!" After six months, the marriage was declared unconsummated and therefore annulled - and, as a result, she was not crowned queen consort.

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