Sunday, April 2, 2023

Less Gossip, More Gobsmacked: The Real Pain Behind The Harry & Meghan Interview Special With Oprah

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Fresh from yelling at/with her computer for two hours, Emma Clifton has a lot of feelings about the Oprah interview with Meghan & Harry that the entire internet is talking about.*TW* this piece contains suicidal themes.

I will tell you, I watched the Oprah special on what I can only assume was an illegal live-stream where the viewer constantly flicked between the jaw-dropping interview and a basketball game, and it was a truly terrible way to watch two hours of content. So do your nerves a favour and just wait for the official screening tomorrow night. But I can also tell that from the numerous group chats I’m part of that were all buzzing about this interview, I wasn’t the only one risking a possible computer virus to tune into what has to be the interview of the decade.

And in the early minutes of the interview, when it became very clear that this was going to be a scorched-earth-policy of an exclusive, I did feel a type of giddiness that comes from knowing you’re watching something that people around the world are buzzing about. The initial revelations were charming and sweet – that Meghan and Harry had their own private ceremony before their multi-million-dollar wedding, that they are raising rescue chickens (Meghan saying ‘I love rescuing things!’ with no sense of irony was truly something, as is her frankly nuts denial that she never googled Harry. As if!).

But as the details got sadder and sadder, I had the sick, sinking feeling you get when something stops being entertaining and starts being truly disheartening; the part when you realise there are real lives at stake here. The human elements of this story stand out so strongly: a mental health crisis, a family who are so wary of losing control that they have no idea how to help people in pain… not to mention an institution so terrified of change that there were multiple conversations about how dark Archie’s skin colour was going to be and what that would mean for the royal family. Oprah really stood in for all of us when she just let out a series of shocked noises in response to that racist bombshell.

I generally steer clear of the Daily Mail website because I find it to be a truly soul-destroying place of self-harm and I don’t want to give them the value of my ‘click’. I am not naïve enough to assume that this sit-down interview has been enough to dissuade Meghan Markle haters but I am hoping it, at least, gives them pause for thought. Because if you find yourself, still, siding with Piers Morgan, siding with people who refer to her as a gold-digger/drama queen/synonym for non-white, after all of this – after all of that discussion of suicidal thoughts, of Meghan admitting that at her lowest point she felt her death would just ‘solve everything for everyone’, then I don’t think you need another Daily Mail article agreeing with you. I think you need an exorcism.

And I’d also remind you that they used all of this inflammatory and derogatory language about Diana, right up until she was killed. I think, of all people, Diana would have been the least surprised about the escape hatch that Harry and Meghan created for themselves and – if I am correctly reading between the lines of Harry’s comments – the reason she left her sons all her money may have in fact been because she knew he would need his own money one day for exactly this reason. As Harry said, “I have got what my mum left me. I think my mum saw it coming. And I felt my mum’s presence through this process.” That presence– and the continuing trauma of Diana’s death on Harry – clearly remains a large part of both their lives; when Meghan was having a terrible time with the press, she said she sought out one of Diana’s old friends because ‘who else would know’ what this was like.

There were several damning parts of the interview – anyone who’s watched the latest series of The Crown and saw Diana’s loneliness in the palace will be unsurprised to hear how miserable Meghan was, how her overexposed public life differed completely from her isolated private life. The estrangement between Harry and Charles, the petty nonsense between Meghan and Kate, the systemic racism that zeroed in on Archie before he was even born. The Queen comes across well but that’s about it. Meghan was extremely discreet about naming names – minus Kate – but Harry had no such hesitation, instead talking openly about ‘how let down’ he felt by the lack of support from his family.

There’s a part in the equally infuriating and disheartening documentary Free Britney where a paparazzo pleads with the interviewer for some sort of moral forgiveness after years of hounding Britney Spears when he says, “Working on her for so many years, she never gave a clue or information to us that, ‘I don’t appreciate you guys. Leave me the F alone.’” The interviewer, unseen by the camera but a voice clearly filled with judgement, replies, “What about when she said, ‘Leave me alone,’?” and then a series of clips where Britney, a 20-something on the verge of a nervous breakdown, cries to the 50 men surrounding her with flashing cameras, “Please leave me alone.”

So often when people in the spotlight struggle with depression or, tragically, die by suicide, a bruised public is left asking, “Why didn’t they say anything? Why didn’t they tell us they needed help?” Well, here you have two very shell-shocked individuals doing exactly that – talking about how hard it was – and is – and talking about the limited options they had to keep themselves both physically safe and mentally well, not to mention financially secure. Meghan’s forced keep-calm-and-carry-on attitude while being both suicidal and pregnant, in order not to let the side down, is just as upsetting as Harry’s shame at not wanting to admit to anyone they needed help.

The strictures of royalty – and of celebrity – leave so little room for real, human pain and the vitriol already being levelled at both Harry and Meghan following this interview is as predictable as it is deeply depressing. People shouldn’t be punished for asking for help. People shouldn’t be punished for putting their own health above old systems (particularly systems that, in Meghan’s case, don’t really see you or your child as a valid human being anyway). People shouldn’t be punished for thinking they are entitled to live full, healthy lives. If you think they should – if you watch Meghan having to reconcile the skin colour her child would need to have in order to be acceptable, or Harry’s open sadness at his family’s continuing lack of support at the bullying of his wife, and still think they’re just being dramatic, then I have to ask: what help do you need? Because I don’t think you’re getting it, either.

CBS presents Oprah with Meghan and Harry will broadcast on Tuesday, March 9, at 7.30pm on Three.

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor 

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666 

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