Harriet Hall, The Independent
The story of The Little Mermaid concluded the Duchess of Sussex’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey. “Oh my God,” said Meghan, recalling her thoughts when she re-watched the Disney cartoon. “She falls in love with the prince and because of that she loses her voice.”
The Little Mermaid was a neat reference for another reason, though. The 1989 Disney adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale glossed over the original’s dark themes of murder, deceit and eventual suicide. And a glossing over of a dark reality seems to be the theme du jour.
When the most recent series of The Crown was released, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, suggested it should carry a fiction warning. Did the drama unfold exactly as it did in the Netflix show? No. Conversations and events were certainly embellished for dramatic effect, but the general theme – of a family bolstered by privilege, riven with tension and rivalries, and beholden to outdated tradition and protocol – all rang true.
In 1995, Princess Diana pulled back the curtain on her own story. Speaking to Martin Bashir, she described the dissolution of her marriage to the Prince of Wales, saying, “The fairytale had come to an end.” She looked wide-eyed and traumatised, sitting in her Kensington Palace quarters where she had been sequestered during the three years or so after separating from her husband.
Diana’s clandestine meeting with the BBC journalist resulted in media uproar. She spoke of a “crowded marriage”, postnatal depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and an eating disorder.
The now legendary Panorama appearance had been in response to Charles’s interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, in which the heir to the throne had said that he had tried to remain faithful to Diana until the marriage “became irretrievably broken down”. Diana’s interview exposed, just like that remarkable Oprah interview, that sometimes the truth can be far worse than the rumours.
When Bashir asked Diana if the royal family supported her during her mental health struggles, Diana replied: “Maybe I was the first person ever to be in this family who had had a depression and obviously that was daunting because if you’ve never seen it before, how do you support it?”
That may have been an excuse at the end of the last century, but it doesn’t fly now. William and Kate have made it their personal brand to discuss mental health, and yet there Meghan sat, bathed in the glow of the Californian sun, reflecting on an institution that repeatedly let her down while she was, in her own words, “begging for help”.
A public facade may be able to conceal terrible tensions, but in the end, the truth will out. It took many years for Diana to tell her side of the story. Meghan, fuelled by the additional horror of racism and with the all-important support of her husband, took just four.
Buckingham Palace has issued their statement, the tone of which implies that, for now at least, they are staying tight-lipped. It is short and businesslike, with one line that seems a little barbed: “some recollections may vary”. That doesn’t go as far as Piers Morgan did on Good Morning Britain when he said he believed Meghan had made up most of her story during the Oprah interview, but it certainly appears intended to stoke scepticism in her and Harry’s account. Clearly, the public is not on the side of the palace on this one, however: after over 41,000 complaints to Ofcom following his outburst about Meghan, Piers parted ways with the ITV show.
Among the social media controversy and the high-profile resignations, what has become clear is that Meghan is determined to wrest back control of the narrative and reclaim that voice she almost lost. Just as Diana said of herself to Bashir 30 years ago: “She won’t go quietly; she’ll fight to the end.”
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