Harry & Meghan’s narrative of royal jealousy doesn’t stack up

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Prince Harry told his Netflix show that Meghan Markle was causing jealousy by “doing the job better” than his family, but there is a major problem with the way a particular anecdote is offered as evidence.

Episode four of the couple’s documentary, Harry & Meghan, depicts them going from a PR high during a royal tour of Australia in October 2018 to a spate of negative news stories in November and December that year.

Meghan’s friend and Suits co-star Abigail Spencer told the show: “It seemed to be amazing, and then I don’t understand what happened after that.”

The show appears to offer an answer to that question, namely that, according to an aide, people in the institution wanted to put Harry and Meghan in a box because they felt threatened.

Harry appears to suggest the cause was royal jealousy over how well Meghan did the job. To illustrate the point, he cites a moment when she beat all the senior royals to the front page of U.K. newspaper The Sunday Telegraph.

Harry and Meghan's Telegraph Front Page Picture
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are seen at the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall on November 9, 2019. The photo appeared on a Sunday Telegraph front page which Harry suggested sparked royal jealousy.
Chris Jackson/ WPA Pool/Getty Images

However, the edition depicted in the show was actually published a year later in 2019. This means it could not have played any role in the way that news coverage of Meghan suddenly shifted from positive to negative in late 2018.

The flaw is particularly glaring because the documentary also omits any acknowledgement of a toxic environment that had already developed in Kensington Palace before the Australia tour took place.

In reality, the relationship between the Sussexes and Prince William and Kate Middleton had already turned sour months earlier, and the two couples were already having clear-the-air talks by June 2018.

In his book, Spare, Harry describes how he found staff bent over their desks weeping as a poisoned atmosphere took hold in summer that year, before the Telegraph front page and before the October 2018 Australia tour.

How the Harry & Meghan Documentary Tells the Story

Lucy Fraser, a friend of Harry and Meghan, told the show: “I think Australia was a real turning point, because they were so popular with the public that the internals at the palace were incredibly threatened by that.”

Harry then says: “The issue is, when someone who is marrying in, who should be a supporting act, is then stealing the limelight, or doing the job better than the person who was born to do this, that upsets people. It shifts the balance.

“Because you’ve been led to believe that the only way your charities can succeed, and the only way that your reputation can be grown or improved, is if you are on the front pages of those newspapers. But the media are the ones who choose who to put on the front page.

“The first time that the penny dropped for her, M and I spent the night in a room at Buckingham Palace after an event where every member of the family, senior members of the family, had been, including the queen.

“The next morning they had set up breakfast for Harry and I,” Meghan said before Harry added: “And on the front page of The Telegraph, Meghan.”

“I went, ‘Oh my God’,” Meghan said. Harry added: “She was like, ‘But, it’s not my fault,’ And I said, ‘I know. And my mum felt the same way.'”

Harry’s words appear to be drawn from two separate interviews and he does not give any dates, however, a front page of The Sunday Telegraph is shown and it clearly matches the edition from 2019, not the year before.

Yet, the account is sandwiched between two sections which both focused on 2018, creating the appearance it also took place that year.

Immediately afterwards, there is a clip from Princess Diana’s famous 1995 BBC Newsnight interview describing how King Charles III felt jealous that fans wanted to meet her rather than him.

Diana said: “We’d be going round Australia, for instance, and all you could hear was, oh, she’s on the other side. Now, if you’re a man, like my husband, a proud man, you mind about that if you hear it every day for four weeks. And you feel low about it, instead of feeling happy and sharing it.”

The show then turns to negative stories published in the media in November and December 2018 and includes an interview with the couple’s aide James Holt who said: “When some people in the institution around the family started to see that this new couple could destabilize the power dynamics, whether actively talked about or not, the aim was to put them in a box or make them irrelevant.”

“All of a sudden these tabloid stories started to appear criticizing Meghan for every little thing,” he added.

What Really Happened

No casual viewer would be able to deduce that the Telegraph front page mentioned by Harry had come a year later after royal relations had already broken down, and therefore could not have triggered the tabloid stories mentioned by Holt.

By the time it was actually printed, Harry and Meghan were in fact just days away from leaving Britain to spend Thanksgiving in Canada, after which they never moved back to the U.K.

Harry and Meghan had also left the private office they previously shared with William and Kate and moved out to Windsor, spelling an end to the era in which the four royals worked together on jobs.

In fact, one month earlier, Prince Harry publicly acknowledged a rift with Prince William for the first time in an October 2019 interview with ITV in which he said: “We’re certainly on different paths at the moment.”

The Sunday Telegraph ran a front-page picture referencing the split with the headline: “United in Remembrance” in its November 9, 2019, edition.

Its brief article read: “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex last night made their first joint appearance with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge since a polo match in July as both couples attended the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.”

The event came one day before the country’s main Remembrance Sunday service, at The Cenotaph, in London, which was also widely attended by the royals.

Queen Elizabeth II beat Harry and Meghan to the front page of The Daily Telegraph on the Monday with a picture in which she appeared overcome with emotion at the service for the fallen.

Far from The Sunday Telegraph coverage causing the rift, it would appear that the rift played at least some role in causing The Sunday Telegraph to focus on Harry and Meghan as the article noted it had been months since they had been seen with William and Kate.

Meghan did not appear on the front page of The Sunday Telegraph following the November 2018 Festival of Remembrance.

Analysis

The flaw is hardly the first time there has been a mistake in a royal documentary or book, and there are a number in Harry’s own memoir.

However, what makes this one more significant is the overall lack of evidence to support Harry’s argument that the leaks driving the negative news coverage were the product of jealousy.

Clearly, negative stories about Meghan began appearing in the U.K. press in November and December 2018, imparting details that could only have originated ultimately from the palace.

However, in relation to motive, there is another possible explanation which can be found in the counterattack by former palace staff against Harry and Meghan’s narrative.

Allegations Meghan bullied her staff first appeared in U.K. broadsheet The Times in March 2021, though another key version of the palace narrative can be found in the paperback edition of Battle of Brothers by Robert Lacey later that year.

The book read: “As Harry explained it to Oprah [Winfrey], Meghan’s Australian tour success sowed the jealousies that caused feelings to ‘change’.

“According to this scenario, William and Kate resented the Diana-like popularity that was generated by Harry’s wife. But William had a different recollection.

“We now know that Princes William and Harry were no longer on speaking terms before the Sussexes set off for Australia on 16 October 2018.

“Feelings had already ‘changed’, as Harry put it—and drastically so. The brothers had parted on extremely poor terms, with the trouble centering on Meghan’s stringent treatment and alleged bullying of her staff.”

Awkwardly for Harry, elements of Lacey’s version actually match the timings in his own memoir better than the Winfrey interview or the Netflix documentary, despite the fact the historian’s book was published around 18 months before the prince’s.

In a section of Spare focusing on the summer of 2018, Harry wrote: “Nerves were shattering, people were sniping. In such a climate there was no such thing as constructive criticism.

“All feedback was seen as an affront, an insult. More than once a staff member slumped across their desk and wept. For all this, every bit of it, Willy blamed one person. Meg.

“He told me so several times, and he got cross when I told him he was out of line. He was just repeating the press narrative, spouting fake stories he’d read or been told.”

In relation to the Australia tour that October, Harry acknowledges his suspicions sounded paranoid: “She was so brilliant that midway through the tour I felt compelled…to warn
her.

“‘You’re doing too well, my love. Too damn well. You’re making it look too easy. This is how everything started…with my mother.’

“Maybe I sounded mad, paranoid. But everyone knew that Mummy’s situation went from bad to worse when she showed the world, showed the family, that she was better at touring, better at connecting with people, better at being ‘royal,’ than she had any right to be.”

Yet, Harry does not engage with the possibility that the leaks and hostility that followed were a product not of jealousy, but of the very real rift created by the argument over whether Meghan was mistreating staff.

The key problem with Harry’s royal jealousy narrative is the absence of evidence in support of motive in a context where there is an entirely plausible alternative explanation.

Irrespective of how the other cards fall, it is therefore hugely undermining to present The Sunday Telegraph cover as supporting evidence while using it so wildly out of context.

Jack Royston is Newsweek‘s chief royal correspondent based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jack_royston and read his stories on Newsweek’s The Royals Facebook page.

Do you have a question about King Charles III, William and Kate, Meghan and Harry, or their family that you would like our experienced royal correspondents to answer? Email royals@newsweek.com. We’d love to hear from you.



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