CW: Mentions of suicide.
In light of Oprah Winfrey’s recent interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, it would be difficult to find anyone who has not heard something related to the statements made in the 2-hour CBS special. The bombshell allegations of the conversation Harry had with a member of the royal family on his first-child’s potential skin color, the details behind their split from the monarchy, and the nature of their relationships with members of the family like the Queen and Kate Middleton were all part of what the world learned from the interview. But most of all, the criticisms after hearing what Meghan and Harry divulged seem to be the loudest part of the online response.
One of the most vile and unsympathetic criticisms that has ever been made, aside from that of how racism influenced Meghan’s hardships and public depictions in the headlines, is that both Meghan and Prince Harry are surviving off of millions of dollars, therefore, they should silence themselves and not expect sympathy from the public. To illustrate these criticisms, here are a few direct quotes from many of the popular voices who have pushed forth this notion:
“And then Harry’s saying, ‘All I had was my mother’s inheritance.’ So I looked that up it was about, 15, 16 million dollars. So you’re telling the American public, the British public, we’re supposed to feel sorry for you because you couldn’t find a way to pay for your own security when you haven’t had to pay for a dime of your own life so far?”
– Megyn Kelly on Good Morning Britain (4:32)
“On Monday, I said I didn’t believe Meghan Markle in her Oprah interview. I’ve had time to reflect on this opinion, and I still don’t. If you did, OK. Freedom of speech is a hill I’m happy to die on. Thanks for all the love, and hate. I’m off to spend more time with my opinions.”
“All I can say is that young woman the other night didn’t appear to me to have any mental health problems, but it is shocking that if you attack somebody who claims they’ve got a mental health problem, you’re suddenly the villain.”
-Nigel Farage, former member of the European Parliament, on The Ingraham Angle on Fox News (1:51)
“If they wanted to get it all out, well now they’ve done it. But how many times are we going to hear their sob stories? They were given freedom, they wanted freedom, they’ve got it. They found each other, they love each other, they’ve got one child and another on the way, they live in a magnificent bathroom with 16 bathrooms, they’ve got a deal with Netflix and another big deal with Spotify. I don’t really think you should put yourselves up as victims and complain.”
-Angela Levin, Royal biographer, on CTV News (5:16)
There are several aspects of these criticisms, and many that sound like them, that should be addressed. Firstly, Harry’s wealth (which so many are quick to mention) did come from his mother’s inheritance, namely Princess Diana’s inheritance. As many should be reminded of, Princess Diana died tragically in 1997 at the age of 36 in a fatal car crash on a night out in Paris, specifically because the British paparazzi and media were relentlessly chasing after her. Personally, I’m sure many, many people would not want to gain $15-$16 million if it meant losing their mother, or any close family member, especially if it meant losing as loving of a mother as Diana. Of course, it is an amount that is enough to sustain anybody, especially a budding family trying to start a new life on their own. But the tragedy that lives behind that money, and the same story carrying out in Harry and Meghan’s life, does develop a unique layer of trauma that many cannot speak of themselves.
On the point of Diana, it is no secret to the world that the Royal Family handled her situation quite badly. If you just so much as watched the latest season of The Crown or the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, you would get a glimpse of the literal physical isolation Diana experienced right before her marriage to Prince Charles. Her attempts to reach out to Queen Elizabeth II or any other family member were avoided or suppressed, and Prince Charles was also neglectful of her given his romance with Camilla, now the Duchess of Cornwall. In Meghan’s recent interview, she talks about a similar experience of physical isolation around the time of her marriage to Prince Harry, noting that the excuse the institution gave her was because of her frequent mentions in the press and the need for the buzz to die down, despite being in the palace for months.
The actual psychological effects of social and physical isolation are significant and astonishing. The world has experienced this to an extent, given the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 shutdowns and lockdowns a year later. Being socially isolated can lead to greater susceptibility to depression, a weakened immune system, poor sleep, higher levels of stress, heart troubles, and much more. Bottom line – it takes a great toll on one’s physical and mental well-being.
The Royal Family’s history with Princess Diana is not the first of its kind. In the past, it has been revealed that certain family members were entirely “erased” from the family because of their unique battles with mental illness and disabilities. Additionally, Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson, former Duchess of York and one of Diana’s best friends, noted a similar isolated experience in a 1996 interview with (you guessed it) Oprah Winfrey.
Whether or not you care about the Royal Family’s history and their complications with mental health-related issues in the past, there’s one other significant, perhaps life-saving argument that must be made against the aforementioned criticisms. This notion of “victimization” on the part of Meghan Markle, and perhaps Prince Harry, is a dangerous one, especially at a time when an increased number of people are struggling with their own mental health and suicidal ideations, according to the CDC. In one study, it was reported that many do not discuss suicidal feelings or thoughts for several reasons, indicative of fears of social stigmas that would be placed upon them if they verbally expressed them. The idea of one “playing the victim” when relaying these thoughts is extremely dangerous, and projecting this stigma onto seemingly distant public figures like Meghan Markle is detrimental to all who are suffering from the same battle.
Therefore, it’s crucial to be sensitive about how we address these public allegations, especially because the way we address them and talk about them affects everyone around us. This is true with any other serious matter as well, from racism, sexual harassment and abuse to homophobia, transphobia, and more. There is always an ear who is taking in a lot of what we say and do when it comes to these matters, and prioritizing how we can be of better service to those around us with compassion and sympathy is something we can all learn from moments as public as this recent and alarming interview.