At the start of their highly anticipated new Netflix docuseries ‘Harry & Meghan’, the Duchess of Sussex – the woman formerly known as Meghan Markle – is asked about her motivations for creating the documentary.
“When you feel like people haven’t figured out who you are for so long, it’s really nice to just be able to have the opportunity to let people get a little more insight into what’s been going on. past and who you are,” she replies.
The pair may be polarizing, but they’re incredibly prolific storytellers of their own past.
That may be his stated motivation, but what follows over the next three hours is mostly a narrative we’ve heard many times before in the nearly three years since Harry and Meghan first announced their intention to step back as “working” members of the royal family. It’s an interesting choice for a couple whose professional and financial future depends on their ability to interest the public.
Indeed, the couple can be polarizing, but they are incredibly prolific storytellers of their own past. Freed from the constraints of the royal family’s ‘never complain, never explain’ policy and without an NDA, as Meghan revealed in her interview with The Cut earlier this year, Harry and Meghan now had carte blanche to discuss of their time as royals, and the factors that caused them to leave office.
And discuss it: Most notably, tens of millions of people in the US and UK watched the Sussexes sit down with Oprah Winfrey to discuss their royal past and relationship history, in March 2021. But there was also Harry’s appearance on the ‘Late Late Show with James Corden’ in February 2021, his chat with Dax Shepard on ‘Armchair Expert’ in May 2021, and the mental health-focused Apple TV show “The Me You Can’t See”. Meghan, meanwhile, has done interviews with The Cut and Variety, visited the “Ellen” show and opened up about her own podcast, “Archetypes.”
And it’s not over yet: Harry has a memoir due out early next year.
The couple’s Oprah interview, where Meghan discussed suicidal thoughts during her first pregnancy and the couple accused an unnamed family member of questioning their unborn child’s skin color , was filled with new information. As such, it was undeniably captivating.
This series looks disappointing in comparison. His most interesting moments are an exclusive interview with Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, and Harry’s thoughts on his infamous Nazi costume from 2005.
Because despite the personal touches, the series can’t escape the transactional elephant in the room. It’s the first product of a content deal with Netflix that’s thought to be worth around $100 million, and a chance for Harry and Meghan to prove a worthwhile investment for potential brand partners.
This series seems unlikely to elicit the same kind of strong reactions – and that might be a worst-case scenario.
Oprah’s interview won Harry and Meghan an outpouring of support, but also sparked public anger. This series seems unlikely to elicit the same kind of strong reactions – and that might be a worst-case scenario. By their own admission, the couple are now “financially independent” and dependent on business deals to fund their lifestyle. If they can’t retain the long-term public interest, it’s bound to impact their earning potential.
The royal family today must constantly justify its existence in the modern world. It’s what drives them on social media and embracing causes like climate change through projects like the Prince of Wales’ Earthshot Prize, which awards grants to organizations focused on the environment. But Harry and Meghan’s challenge could be even greater.
Without a formal attachment to the institution that made people care about them in the first place, they have to give people a reason to stay interested. Pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of the monarchy can only get them so far, and already they seem to be running out of new stories to tell about this time period. It’s understandable: they’ve been away from the Royal Family for almost double the time Meghan has been there.
Clearly, the royal halo effect is fading. It’s not completely gone, of course – they still have their titles, and Harry will still be a prince. This happens to all members of the royal family (except direct heirs) as they age and move away from the throne, but those who remain working members of the family also retain vital institutional support.
But if Harry and Meghan are to retain their long-term superstardom and corresponding earning potential, they must convince the masses to care about more than their royal history. This series could have been an opportunity to clearly lay out their vision for the future beyond vague promises to live a “life of service”. At the very least, it might have offered something new about their present, like an in-depth look at how they navigate life in California and build their Archewell foundation. These are things that would help fans stay invested in their next chapter.
Instead, it rehashes the same stories we’ve heard over the past six years: their dating, their engagement, their troubles with the media, and the circumstances that led them to flee. There are still three episodes to go, but given that we’ve only just arrived at their wedding, it seems unlikely that the show will delve deeper into post-royal life.
There aren’t many examples of successful former British royals outside of the family: Sarah, Harry’s aunt, the Duchess of York (also known as ” Fergie”) made deals with companies like Weight Watchers to pay the bills after her divorce. After abdicating the throne in 1936, the Duke of Windsor spent his life in exile in France, apathetic and unable to find purpose beyond reminiscing about his status as king of yesteryear.
Harry and Meghan still have the potential to be a unique hybrid of unofficial statesmen, philanthropic ambassadors and celebrities with near heavenly power. But to achieve that status in a sustainable way, they need people to invest in their future – not just their past.