The documentary detailed how a war between palace press offices culminated in a shouting match between the brothers at a family emergency summit as the queen quietly looked on.
“It was terrifying to have my brother scream and shout at me and my father saying things that simply weren’t true and my grandmother quietly sitting there and sort of take it all in,” Harry said.
The couple’s attorney, Jenny Afia, described in Episode 5 how there was a “real kind of war” against Meghan from elements in the palace.
“I’ve certainly seen evidence that there was negative briefing from the palace against Harry and Meghan to suit other people’s agendas,” she said.
Prince Harry and Meghan in Netflix documentary seek to control their story
Lucy Fraser, a friend of Meghan, told the filmmakers that the duchess became a kind of scapegoat to deflect negative press from other members of the family. “They would feed stories on her, whether they were true or not, to avoid other less favorable stories being printed.”
For her part, Meghan said, “you would just see it play out. Like a story about someone in the family would pop up for a minute and [the palace would think] ‘got to make that go away.’ But there’s real estate on website homepage, there’s real estate there on a newspaper front cover and something has to be filled in there about someone royal.”
And that someone, Meghan suggests, was her.
It all started out so well, as outlined Episode 4, which began with Harry and Meghan’s picture-book wedding — but according to the couple, their emerging fame was upsetting the natural royal order of things.
The situation began to change after their tour to Australia and New Zealand. “They were so popular, so popular with the public, that internals at the palace were incredibly threatened by that,” Fraser said.
Harry explained that there is a strict hierarchy and role expectation for those joining the royal family.
“The issue is, when someone who is marrying in and should be a supporting act, is then stealing the limelight or doing the job better than the person who is born to do this, that upsets people, it shifts the balance,” he said.
The people around the family then feared that the new couple would destabilize the “power dynamics” inside the palace, and something had to be done, said James Holt, Harry and Meghan’s former spokesman.
“The aim was to put in them in a box or make them irrelevant,” he said. “All of a sudden, these tabloid stories started to appear, criticizing Meghan for every little thing.”
Meghan described how during a royal walkabout — or walking tour — of Liverpool, someone told her, “What you’re doing to your father was not right,” and it was the first time she realized that “people actually believe this stuff,” referring to tabloid stories claiming that she was mistreating her father (who admitted being paid by the tabloids to pose for photos and do interviews).
She described how this sent her into a dark place, to contemplate suicide. “I was like, all of this will stop if I’m not here, that was the scariest thing about it, it was such clear thinking.”
“I remember her telling me that, she wanted to take her own life,” said Doria Ragland, Meghan’s mother. “And that really broke my heart.”
‘Harry & Meghan’ series trashes British tabloids, but spares royals — so far
Harry laid out how the dueling priorities of the palace’s different press offices began to play out, with consequences for family relations. The whole process of supplying negative stories to counteract existing ones is known as “trading.”
“If the comms team want to remove a negative story about their principal, they will trade and give you [the press] something about someone else’s principal, so the offices end up working against each other,” he said. “William and I both saw what happened in our dad’s office, and we made an agreement we would never let that happen to our office.”
But, he said, soon his brother’s press office was doing “the very same thing that we promised the two of us would never, ever do. That was heartbreaking.”
Matters reached a head when Harry and Meghan proposed relocating to Canada but continuing to work on behalf of the queen — something that was promptly leaked to the press, forcing the disastrous emergency family summit in Sandringham.
Harry and Meghan are quitting the castle, but who’s going to pay for the butler?
As Harry was leaving the meeting, he read that a “joint statement” from himself and his brother went out without his input or permission. The statement denied claims that Harry was pushed out by William’s bullying, calling the accusation “offensive and potentially harmful.”
“I couldn’t believe it.” Harry said. “No one had asked me. No one had asked me to put my name to a statement like that.”
Harry said he rang Meghan, who burst into “a flood of tears, because within four hours they [the palace] were happy to lie to protect my brother and yet for three years they were never willing to tell the truth to protect us.”
So far the first few episodes of the series appear to have done little to change British minds about the royal renegades, who in 2020 quit as “senior working royals,” moved to California and — having freed themselves from rules constraining how they could make their money — secured a multimillion-dollar production deal with Netflix.
Some admire Harry and Meghan and appreciate their struggle — but many find them happy to exploit their remaining titles with little to sell but privileged grievance.
A YouGov poll found that 4 percent of British adults had a more positive view of the couple after the first three episodes, while 14 percent reported a more negative view. Some 45 percent said their opinion hadn’t changed.
The couple complained that their version of the story had not been told before. And so the need for six hours of documentary film, plus the planned publication of Harry’s memoir next month.
The first half of the series repeated themes the couple hit in previous interviews. TV reviewers in Britain mostly found the series tiresome — less revelation, more infomercial.
Reaction by royal correspondents and the British tabloids — who are the main culprits in Harry and Meghan’s narrative — has been defiant. They spent the days after the first tranche of episodes picking them apart.
Nathan Sparkes, chief executive of activists group Hacked Off, applauded Harry and Meghan for being more willing than some other members of the royal family to confront the press.
“What they have achieved with their successful legal actions, and now this Netflix documentary, has exposed the press’s strategy — of intimidating critics into silence with relentlessly hostile coverage — as having failed in the most public and spectacular way,” he said.
Hannah Hamad, a senior lecturer in media and communications at the University of Cardiff, said Harry and Meghan’s description of “racial undertones” in some of the media coverage is indeed fair and “demonstrates some good critical media literacy skills on the part of the Duke and Duchess.”
Yet some in Britain have objected to the couple’s docuseries as a one-sided assault on the monarchy itself — and there has been a lot of grumbling that the show was airing just three months after the death of Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.
The Conservative Party lawmaker Bob Seely said he is planning to bring forward legislation to strip the Duke and Duchess of Sussex of their royal titles, charging the couple with “trashing his family and monetizing his misery for public consumption, [Harry] is also attacking some important institutions in this country.” A government minister called on Britons to boycott Netflix.
But, of course, plenty of people have been watching. The series is Netflix’s highest-viewed documentary ever, and it was the most-watched show in Britain this past week. The latest series of “The Crown” was the No. 4 most popular show.
Sally Bedell Smith, who has written a best-selling biography of Charles, wrote in the London Times that Harry’s claim that he had to “deal with the loss of his mother without any support or guidance” was “patently untrue.”
“Both Charles and the late Queen dedicated themselves to consoling the two grieving princes,” Smith wrote. “When Harry grew despondent in his early thirties, Prince William persuaded him to seek therapy. His father, who had seen a psychotherapist for 14 years to deal with his marital problems, fully endorsed Harry’s decision to undergo mental health treatment.”
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