Dear Harry, don't be such a hot-head over Meghan, says RACHEL JOHNSON in an impassioned open letter to the Prince
Harry - You showed great dignity and decorum as you led the nation at our Armistice Day commemorations
Allow me start with a compliment on behalf of the nation to clear my throat before I get going.
You showed great dignity and decorum as you led the nation at our Armistice Day commemorations.
You looked splendid with your hipster stubble and full regalia as you visited the Field of Remembrance, read out a Rupert Brooke poem, and laid a wreath at the National Memorial Arboretum honouring the 16,000 Servicemen and women who have died in the line of duty since 1948.
With you – the Firm’s rock star – front of house in your dashing regimental red-striped trousers on a day of solemn remembrance, you represented the Royal Family at its impeccable best. Thank you.
With that pleasantry out of the way, I would like, with permission, to move on to an unhappy event earlier in the week. Kensington Palace released a long statement on your behalf (entitled ‘A Statement By The Communications Secretary To Prince Harry’) attacking the press for ‘a wave of abuse and harassment’ that has engulfed your new girlfriend, American actress Meghan Markle, and her family.
It was a passionate howl against the press for once again dabbling their dirty fingers in the stuff of other people’s souls, as someone once said of a book about your late mother’s marriage.
When I read the detailed, pained statement – about Miss Markle’s mother ‘having to struggle past photographers to get to her front door’ – of course I thought (how could one not?) of how you lost your mother to fame when you were only 12.
She was partly hounded to her death by a pack of foreign paparazzi in Paris (though responsibility for the fatal crash must lie with the drunk driver), and I thought how desperate you must be not to lose another most precious relationship to the insatiable appetites of the public and media for gossip and trivia, and to protect the woman you loved as best you can. My heart went out to you, at first.
As the week wore on, however, I thought: ‘Hold on. What have you done?’ First of all, why did you need to issue such a public statement, on Twitter, from the @Kensington Palace feed to start with? Your father was in the throes of an important mission to the Middle East. Why didn’t you just send a two-line advisory to editors, rather than making an international incident out of it?
If anyone in the world didn’t know you were dating obscure Suits actress Miss Markle – well, they sure do now.
Second, the tone and content of the statement. It read to me like the script of a daytime soap begging for the full Richard Curtis treatment more than a sombre emission from the Royal Household. And that is not a good thing. The modus operandi of the Royal Family is Never Complain, Never Explain.
The times that senior members deviate from this MO – the Prince Charles-Dimbleby interview, the Diana-Martin Bashir Panorama, Andrew Morton books… the entire canon of over-sharing is too long to list here – have all been spilt-milk misfires. But back to your statement.
Ms Markle even does her own grocery shopping down the road from your residence (Nottingham Cottage aka Notty Cotty) in Kensington High Street and – hold the front page, and indeed the Daily Mail duly did – even carries the bags home on foot all by herself
‘Prince Harry is worried about Ms Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed he has not been able to protect her… It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms Markle should be subjected to such a storm.’
First, visions from the movie The Bodyguard swam before my eyes, but they were quickly supplanted by images of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the film Notting Hill, and that mawkish bit when the famous Hollywood actress says to the floppy-haired Brit: ‘I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.’
For your statement attempted to twang our heartstrings in the same way. ‘He knows commentators will say this is “the price she has to pay” and that “this is all part of the game”. He strongly disagrees. This is not a game – it is her life and his.’
Boil all that down and it comes to this line. ‘I’m just a Prince… standing in front of an actress I love… asking for us to be left alone.’
But Harry – it didn’t work, and it may have made things worse, and, as I will come to, very much worse indeed for me.
The whole world and all Royal reporters (and as Max Hastings once said, ‘If you can’t get a job as a pianist in a brothel, you become a Royal reporter’) ignored your plea for privacy and restraint and simply leapt on your confirmation that you were dating Miss Markle. You didn’t just add fuel to the flames – you gave the story not just legs but 40-denier, Pretty Polly stockings.
As a novelist and mother who, as I revealed last week, has maternal feelings for you, I was also fascinated by the inadvertent revelation of how you see yourself, and your new ‘relationship’.
You see yourself as a knight in shining armour who seeks only to protect his beautiful princess from monsters such as me (and I’ll come to that in a second). That is courtly and old-fashioned and also, I might respectfully suggest, unnecessary.
Journalist and broadcaster Afua Hirsch, who is bi-racial, wrote this about Miss Markle in the Guardian: ‘Prince Harry’s apparent new love is a “glamorous brunette”, “a departure from Prince Harry’s usual type” and “not in the society blonde style of previous girlfriends”'
Miss Markle is three years older than you, stars in a TV show, has a website called The Tig, has a million followers on Instagram, and her own clothing line. She even does her own grocery shopping down the road from your residence (Nottingham Cottage aka Notty Cotty) in Kensington High Street and – hold the front page, and indeed the Daily Mail duly did – even carries the bags home on foot all by herself. This told us that the self-described ‘brash American’ didn’t feel the need of a bodyguard yet, but you could quite easily dip into your £10 million trust fund and pop one in her Christmas stocking if she changed her mind.
Miss Markle strikes the casual observer as being quite capable of looking after herself, which was what I felt when I was so bold as to write about her in this paper last week. To recap: I said she was a drop-dead gorgeous campaigner and actress. And, yes, I also said it would be lovely if you and she had offspring as Royal stock would be improved by ‘rich and exotic DNA’.
That was last Sunday. On Tuesday, your statement decried the ‘smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments’ and I found myself – almost solo – in the dock of the court of public opinion. The FT, The Guardian, The Sun, The Independent, The Huffington Post, MPs on Twitter etc, selectively named only me and my column in reaction to your statement, even though daily tabloids had been gunning for Miss Markle for days.
Just one example, in yesterday’s Guardian: ‘Rachel Johnson wrote that if the couple had children, “the Windsors will thicken their watery thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with rich and exotic DNA”, which Johnson denied was racist but upset Harry.’
As a result of this singling-out, I’ve been called ‘racist’ to my face, and on Friday someone even sent me a photo of a Ku Klux Klan gathering – but hey, I’m not complaining.
No, I merely want to understand what was thought so derogatory in my piece. I didn’t get why – on a day that a self-confessed sexual predator, race-baiter, xenophobic misogynist Islamophobe took the White House – I was pilloried in the public prints for calling a woman ‘exotic’.
I consulted journalist and broadcaster Afua Hirsch, who is bi-racial and wrote this about Miss Markle in the Guardian: ‘Prince Harry’s apparent new love is a “glamorous brunette”, “a departure from Prince Harry’s usual type” and “not in the society blonde style of previous girlfriends”, according to the Daily Mail. ‘I think what they are trying to say is that Markle, actor, global development ambassador and lifestyle blogger, is black.’
I asked Hirsch, who is writing a book called Brit(ish), how I may have offended people. She replied: ‘Exotic is not the word I would have used, as it brings with it, to me anyway, connotations of people from minority backgrounds. It suggests colonial, backward, tropical, a bit native and inferior, from the dark continent.
‘But the sentiment of your article, that a senior Royal is embracing diversity, was the most enlightened thing anyone wrote, and in sharp contrast to the rest of the pieces that were racially charged, and that her mother was “straight outta Compton” and so on.’
Thank you, Afua, for that!
Still, I stand by the word ‘exotic’ – which I was using in its dictionary definition, ie from a far country. And I’m glad that for right-minded folk, there was no missing the point I was making, or trying to make, which was this: having a woman who is proudly bi-racial in the mix is, as Donald J. Trump would say, a beautiful thing – especially when you consider how outsiders from Mrs Simpson to Dodi Al Fayed via Koo Stark have been treated in the past.
I am relieved to report that your communications secretary, Jason Knauf, has assured me that my article ‘was not one our statement was referring to’, but that hasn’t stopped people saying, ‘Why is Prince Harry calling you a racist?’ or ‘Are you being trolled by Kensington Palace?’ after they’ve read stuff naming me in the newspapers and online. ‘I can see why you were concerned, but I hadn’t seen your comment piece when I issued the statement,’ Knauf told me. Thanks for that, Jason, but I’ve already taken one for the whole team.
But I am rising above, Prince Harry, and I suggest that, in future, you do too. Try it! Like Advil (ask Meghan), it works.
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