Wednesday 29 January 2020

Liz Kearney: 'Setting your own agenda only gets you so far - Meghan and Harry can't control it all'

Royals apart: Meghan and Harry have said they are stepping back from front-line royal duties and claim they want to be financially independent. Photo: Getty Images
Royals apart: Meghan and Harry have said they are stepping back from front-line royal duties and claim they want to be financially independent. Photo: Getty Images
Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney

You would have to have a heart of stone not to empathise in some small way with the plight of Meghan and Harry.

They may live in gilded palaces and wear fabulous designer clothes, but on another more basic level they are just a couple of newlyweds, hopelessly in love with one another, and now, with a gorgeous baby to boot, doing their best to navigate the trials of early parenthood while dealing with the complexities of family life.

Sounds like the daily challenge facing plenty of ordinary couples, which is why it's easy to relate to on one level.

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No one ever made the mistake of believing that family life, for all its many benefits, is guaranteed plain sailing.

And while most of us don't have to deal with the details of these tribulations being headline news, arguably that is the price the Sussexes pay for the aforementioned palaces and clothes. There are worse situations to find yourself in.

Where Meghan and Harry appear slightly less sympathy-worthy is in their ruthlessly modern reaction to their predicament. They have said they are stepping back from front-line royal duties and claim they want to be financially independent while maintaining many of the trappings of their privileged existence.

From now on they will only deal with a hand-picked circle of journalists and media who, presumably, will say only nice things about them.

Should we be surprised? Social media has nurtured a generation of young(ish) people who believe it is their divine right to control the narrative at all times, because they have grown so used to being their own editors.

On Instagram, they publish pictures in which they look gorgeous, while deleting the ones where they look a bit cross-eyed. They post photos of the appetising avocado toast they are having for breakfast, but no one sees the empty tube of Pringles demolished while watching 'Love Island' last night.

Holiday snaps are curated into a series of sun-dappled idylls - footprints left on golden beaches, beautifully dressed children playing happily in the sand, romantic balcony sunsets.

Of course, there are no photos of the blazing row at the airport when someone forgot the passports, or the epic tantrum at the restaurant when the tired toddler wanted chips instead of mashed potato.

This relentlessly careful curating of your personal narrative, which has become second nature for a whole generation, has transformed celebrity culture. Once upon a time, stars who wanted to plug their latest film or book had to endure the ignominy of being interviewed by an actual journalist.

These days, celebs just interview one another, and glossy magazines are forced to print whatever self-serving rubbish they spout about charity work and wellness trends in exchange for having a famous face on the cover.

It has even transformed politics - one of Boris Johnson's first moves on becoming UK prime minister was declaring a weekly self-hosted press conference, at which he would answer questions he had chosen himself.

And now it is transforming the British monarchy, one of the most conservative institutions on the planet. Meghan and Harry are not stepping back because they want less publicity, but more. With their carefully crafted website and hints of exciting upcoming ventures, they have signalled their intent to continue a life lived in the public eye. The difference this time is that they want that fame to be all on their own terms.

They envisage a future in which they can be lauded for their tireless activism and environmental campaigning, without having their carbon footprint questioned after another flight by private jet. Or where Meghan can campaign for worthy causes - just yesterday she appeared at a women's refuge in Canada - without being troubled by press tittle-tattle about making family members cry during her wedding preparations or annoying aides with demanding early morning phone calls.

Harry and Meghan want what most of us secretly want: to be surrounded by people who agree with us, who only say nice things about us, who loudly appreciate our good points and turn a blind eye to our failings.

But the thing about curating your own personal narrative is that it can only get you so far. You might be able to control what you are quoted as saying in your pre-approved media, but you can't prevent people reading those quotes and concluding that you are an awful gobshite anyway.

Similarly, you have no way of controlling wayward friends or family members who have their own view of events and are happy to share that view with the world - just yesterday it emerged that Meghan's father may take the stand in her case against a UK tabloid, a prospect which must fill her with horror.

Ironically, their bid to break from their roles has only ignited a new wave of criticism, even from previously friendly quarters. On social media, the couple could just press 'block'. In real life, it might not be so simple.

Irish Independent

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