It is difficult for individuals to break away from tribal thinking, to separate themselves from all they have ever known, and to challenge the power of tradition over their lives when that tradition so clearly does not serve their best interests. It is far easier to ‘go along and get along,’ to settle quietly and without resistance into lives defined by established custom and loyalty. The need to belong and be at peace is strong for everyone. This is true in politics, religion, and national life.
Much has been written about the lives of the British Royal family and especially about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s dramatic decision in 2020 to leave the service of the Monarchy, though they were also expelled by the Royal family itself.
In reading Prince Harry – Spare and despite everything I already knew about the British Monarchy and its dysfunctional and disturbed relationship with the British tabloids, Harry’s painstaking memoir tells a far more intimate story about his growing up in that rarefied environment of privilege, wealth, celebrity, and notoriety than I expected to learn. His memoir showed how trapped he was, as are all members of the Royal family, in a self-perpetuating system that squashes compassion for one another and seems to care little for the mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being of its members. Appearances, clearly established standards of behavior, remaining silent about matters large and small, and Royal rank are everything, and the bullying threats of an insatiable British tabloid media and its immoral and intrusive paparazzi are permitted to stop at nothing in their intrusive, terrorizing, destructive, and dishonest practices against a family that has made a dystopian agreement with the devil.
Yes – this memoir is one-sided. We learn from Harry’s perspective only how the media and the Palace failed him and Meghan, how his brother, sister in-law, father and step-mother (victims themselves of the same media and palace treachery) in turn victimized H and M constantly, wittingly or not.
Harry’s story is a deeply sad one, but at least to this point in time, his has been a courageous and redemptive effort at self-liberation and self-realization away from the tentacles of the Royal-media complex. As I read one incident after another in his life starting with the tragic killing of his mother at the hands of the paparazzi in Paris in August, 1997, and his subsequent efforts to discover who he is and what is his purpose in life as an increasingly distant heir to the throne, one has to feel sympathy for him and wonder what is next for him and Meghan.
Harry and Meghan are, though exceptionally wealthy by any standard, also sympathetic and compelling a couple. They are charismatic, socially conscious, loving partners to one another, and adoring parents of their children.
On a personal level, I identify with Harry’s most important experience as a 12 year-old – the sudden loss of his mother. I lost my father suddenly as well when I was 9 years-old, and though I never engaged in the magical thinking about my dad that Harry did about his mother, believing that she wasn’t really dead at all, I understand how great a loss it is for a child to lose a parent. Everything that happens subsequently is somehow related to that early trauma. In discussions I have had over the years with friends and congregants who lost their parents when they were children, most confess that so much of what they did and became grew from their loss. Their yearning for the deceased parent never ends, though it recedes in time and is integrated into their lives. Yet, the hole of yearning doesn’t really go away. Many of us spent years seeking comfort, in both appropriate and inappropriate ways, in order to understand who that parent was and how we are like and unlike them.
For Harry, his mother was among the most famous people in the world, the “People’s Princess,” an idealized woman from Harry’s perspective, the loving font out of which his early life flowed and was nurtured. Fortunately for him, eventually he found love and meaning with Meghan who, contrary to the awful and false portrait of her created and disseminated constantly by the British media and promoted by the Palace Royal family and staff, is an intelligent, educated, talented, kind-hearted, loving, socially conscious, modern, and self-realized woman. Clearly, H and M love each other dearly and adore their children. In this, they are a model of what celebrities can do to preserve their sanity and dignity and thrive as a family despite the demands the public places upon them.
Many are asking – why should we Americans care so much about this family, and why should we spend time and ink writing about them? My simple answer is that the British Royal family is 1000 years-old, and so from a historical point of view, their history of Kings and Queens is fascinating. Shakespeare thought they were so compelling that many of his plays are based upon them and their subjects. As Americans who broke away from England in a violent revolution 250 years ago to create a new nation, the British Royal tradition is part of American history and experience. We wonder, however, who the Royals really are today and what their anachronistic institution means in the modern world.
Other questions are left unanswered with regards to H and M and their children. Is there a way back for Harry to his family that is meaningful and healthy for him? Can H and M establish their lives and careers in America? What kind of a life will little Archie and Lilibet have in the United States given the likely tenacity and intrusion of the British paparazzi following their every step? Will these kids have a relationship with their British cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandfather? How will these children be educated, find normality, and remain secure given theirs and their parents’ fame? Will any of them be able to trust anyone new that they meet, or must they rely only upon long-held relationships for anything that approximates real friendship? What does fame of the kind that H and M have do to people over the years?
Time will tell about all of this. In the interim, I wish them well. They are entitled to happiness and fulfillment, just as are the rest of us.