"It's a death wish," a senior aide at Buckingham Palace said about Harry and Meghan's war on the tabloids. "You just don't take on the British press." — Finding Freedom, pg. 310
First of all, let us make one thing clear what this book is NOT.
- It is NOT an indictment of any member of the royal family. (If anything, it is quite the opposite.)
- It is NOT a publicity piece written by the couple to make themselves look good. (They have made it very clear they were not interviewed nor consulted for this book.)
- It is NOT a book describing how perfect Meghan is, or detailing catfights between sisters-in-law. (Her sister-in-law is barely mentioned.)
- It is NOT a book about a feud between two brothers.
What this book is about, is a thoroughly investigated account to set the record straight on what really happened behind the notoriously tight-lipped royal family. Written from the vantage point of two journalists, part of a very small inner circle who were privileged to witness the events between 2016-2020, who are able to give a front-row account of what unfolded.
It is Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand’s first person observations of Harry and Meghan’s stand against the lies, negligent behavior, and malicious intentions wickedly spread and reported as gospel truth by some of the most-read tabloids. It is their arraignment on the mafia that is the British media, an organization so out-of-control that not even the royals have been courageous enough to take it on. And perhaps it is their unvoiced plea to humanity to take up arms and demand accountability from publications that consider the private lives of public figures something to be carelessly toyed with, lit on fire, and destroyed without any repercussions or thought for the persons they harm.
Now, let us assume you can read this book without bias. If only that were possible. No matter what you think about your ability to be impartial – unless you have lived under a rock away from any source of internet, newspaper, or source from the modern world – you will not be able to separate yourself from what you have already read/heard/thought about the famous couple, and any unwanted biases that have already seeded themselves inside your mind will unwittingly be stored in your subconscious.
With that in mind, let us take a look at the controversial book at face value, the way the authors intended it to be taken.
The first third of the story very much reads like a fairytale romance. A handsome (single) prince, with a bit of a bad-boy reputation, who is desperate to be treated like a normal person, meets a beautiful, strong, and independently successful woman who has worked hard to come up from a humble background and get to where she is. They meet. They connect over their mutual desire to make the world a better place. And they fall madly in love.
After one month of long-distance dating and chatting and texting everyday, Harry whisks Meghan away on a five-day romantic getaway to Africa — a place they discovered held sentimental meaning for both of them on that first serendipitous blind-date — telling her “to just arrive in London and he would handle the rest.” In true fairytale style, the Prince has planned everything, from her discreet pickup at the airport, to their secret getaway to the lush, romantic Meno A Kwena in Botswana: Africa’s last Eden. Cue the music.
They ‘camped’ in a luxurious tent six miles away from any other safari, where they slept out in the wild and under the stars amidst the sounds of hippos, birds, and elephants. It was a magical experience and the authors provide beautiful details of the location and the atmosphere — even what they ate for breakfast. You feel as though you are right there with the young couple as they discover true love.
The authors expound on Meghan’s previous encounters with the continent: first, on a trip to Rwanda as a UN Representative to visit the Gihembe Refugee Camp and speak with female parliamentarians in Kigale; then, a year later, she returned with World Vision. But it is the revelation of Harry’s touching connection to the continent which opens the doors to understanding a little more about this Prince who “wears his heart on his sleeve,” as a friend told the reporters.
Mere days after that somber moment we all witnessed on television in 1997, as a 15-year-old Prince William and 12-year-old Prince Harry followed their mother’s, Princess Diana’s, coffin to her final resting place, Prince Charles suggested the boys join him on his first trip to South Africa. It was there, as a young boy who was constantly in the public eye, that Africa opened up her loving arms and provided an escape, a hideaway, a shelter for the young boy to mourn the loss of the woman he loved most in the world. Since that initial pilgrimage, Harry has championed the continent for the conservation of her precious resources: her wildlife, such as rhinos and elephants on the brink of extinction, and most importantly, her people, by taking up his mother’s mantle where it had fallen, to continue and finish the fight against AIDS.
It is with these first glimpses into Harry’s childhood, and the trauma he experienced after losing what is arguably one of the most important relationships in anyone’s life, that we see how the authors are helping us to understand a little more fully the man whose whole life has been shaped by his grief, his love, his anger, his sense of justice, and his passionate desire to keep his mother’s memory and life’s work alive.
“Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.” — Finding Freedom, pg. 311
For six months, the young couple enjoyed the private bubble of bliss as they traveled back and forth across the pond, cherishing every moment, because they both knew it was only a matter of time before the bubble burst. And the bubble did burst.
Even though Meghan had been in the public eye – by virtue of her career as an actor on the TV show, Suits – she had lived a relatively quiet life compared to the media frenzy that descended upon her the minute it was revealed that the world’s most eligible bachelor was off the market. It’s at this point in the book that the fairytale romance starts to become a horror story.
It did not take long for the racism to appear in stories about Meghan because of her biracial ethnicity. Here is an excerpt from the book of a few of the first headlines covering Meghan, just to make your skin crawl:
“A headline in the [major British Publication] in the first week of November referred to Meghan’s upbringing as ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ going so far as to call her mother’s neighborhood ‘gang-scarred.’ Three days later, the same British tabloid wrote that Meghan would have failed the ‘Mum Test.’ The article breathlessly detailed how ‘the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA.’ It went on to describe Meghan’s mother as a ‘dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks.’ These publications had sunk to a new low. Subtext turned into outright race-baiting as each day certain tabloids went one step further. A newspaper wrote that Meghan was ‘not in the society blonde style of previous girlfriends.’ Racism in the UK takes a different form than it does in the United States, but there is no mistaking its existence and how engrained it is. A major theme of racism in the UK centers on the question of who is authentically ‘British.’ It can come through in subtle acts of bias, micro-aggressions such as the Palace staffer who told the biracial co-author of this book, ‘I never expected you to speak the way you do,’ or the [Major British Publication] headline, ‘Memo to Meghan: We Brits Prefer True Royalty to Fashion Royalty.’ While their columnist was criticizing Meghan for her Vogue editorials, there was another way to read it, and that was that to be British meant to be born and bred in the UK—and be white.” — Finding Freedom, pgs. 96-97
It is no wonder that Harry was apoplectic with rage as the international media hysteria that attracted sales in the high millions surrounded Meghan like sharks.
“‘Because she’s been attacked so publicly, there must be a part of him that is reliving what happened to his mother at the hands of the tabloid press,’ a former senior courtier said.” (pg. 100).
This time, Harry was not about to watch the woman that he loved be torn away from him without a fight.
And so the prince valiantly took up his pen, for it is mightier than the sword, and began to wage a war that had been a long time coming against the evil villain of the story, the sinister British Tabloids.
As a general rule, the British royalty rarely respond to the press. There is a royal code of conduct that they abide by, and girlfriends are expected to strictly follow these rules as well. They do not respond to the press. They do not talk. They keep a close inner circle, are extremely private and tight-lipped, and they have multiple people working in each house to help them control what is released to the media.
This is a necessity for the royal family. As the authors explain, ‘The Firm’, as the Royal family is called, is in the precarious position of not being only a family, but an institution and a business. It is a career you are born into. With that birth comes privileges, but also incredible responsibility. Loose lips sink ships, or so the saying goes. In this act of rising above it all and silencing any voice, they are unified.
It was the first of many unprecedented moves when Harry penned a statement, released by the Palace, where he basically ordered a cease-and-desist against the “abuse and harassment” of his American girlfriend “before any further damage [was] done.” He did the unthinkable. The rumors were chipping away at the love of his life, which she referred to as “death by a thousand little cuts.”
He took up his sword, threw down the gauntlet, and said, “enough is enough.” And the British tabloids, responding to the call for war, took up their pens, and waged it right back.
“Because she’s been attacked so publicly, there must be a part of him that is reliving what happened to his mother at the hands of the tabloid press,” a former senior courtier said.” — Finding Freedom, pg. 100
It did not take long until anything said or done was twisted into a hateful portrayal of one Miss Meghan Markle. As the book states, “she was damned if she did and she was damned if she didn’t.” Merely looking at the adjectives used to describe one royal bride compared with the other, as a BuzzFeed article did this past January when they laid headlines covering the same topic of the two duchesses side by side, it is easy to see how the continual barrage of negativity and downright lies can wear a person down.
Unfortunately, because of the click-bait nature of the enigmatic couple and the billions of dollars earned in sales for any story about Harry’s girl – whether it was true or not – meant that the war was costing the couple everything, but earning their enemies millions at their expense.
Publications paid handsomely for any story of Meghan’s past, from anyone who claimed even the most remote connection to her. The authors recount the tragic and gradual corruption of Meghan’s father by the press in detail, with whom she had shared a very loving and supportive relationship, and the tragic outcome of yet another family destroyed by the power of media.
Even after their marriage, and the subsequent birth of their child, it got worse, leaving a down-beaten Prince helpless to defend his wife and feeling alone from the silence that echoed through the halls of Buckingham Palace. He railed and he fought, but ultimately, he felt that the battle was being fought alone. The Firm was silent.
In an eye-opening conclusion, the book leaves off from the tone of weaving a story and becomes straight journalistic prowess. They recount the events that led up to that infamous meeting in Sandringham between The Queen, her son, and her two grandsons. They cite sensational story after sensational story, with the accusations getting more outlandish each time to anyone who knew the couple intimately. Palace staff and aides leaked stories, to the point where the couple felt isolated, unable to trust the very people hired to protect them.
And then of course there are the lawsuits, which are still in the courts as of the publication of this article. They paint the portrayal in the press of the fractured relationship between the brothers and their wives, and they shed light on what had become a strained relationship between the brothers — but not to the degree that was implicated in the media.
Harry was pleading for help, but was only met with a silent and helpless family unable to support them publicly against “The Cartel,” as they jokingly began to refer to the media.
“Harry had hoped his family would be willing to show support for their decision, but the silence was deafening. Though Charles privately respected his son’s decision, the Prince of Wales also depended on the press to back him when he one day became king.” — Finding Freedom, pg. 310
And there it was. When had the press become so powerful, that even a future King was weary of taking a stand for his son for fear for his crown? Clarence House and Kensington Palace could not court the war without getting burnt in the process, and as they are in direct line to inherit the throne, their hands were tied in how much vocal support they could give their own family, even as they witnessed his struggle.
The authors do not pass judgement on the impulsiveness of the young couple to step down, nor on their brash behavior to take their life into their own hands without consulting the Firm when they could not fight anymore. Nor do they judge the difficult decision of the monarchy tasked with making a choice of not only a ruler, but also a grandmother. They present the facts and let the reader judge however they choose.
As the last page closes, we get a glimpse of what Harry and Meghan fought for. When an accusation arises completely based on falsehood about who will be paying for their security detail, Harry and Meghan respond through a spokesperson, “Privately funded security arrangements have been made.” And in seven words, they shut the gossip mill down on that lie with the freedom to now defend themselves.
Perhaps Prince Harry has won his battle after all. Because what have the great wars in our history been fought for, but freedom?
‘Finding Freedom’ (HarperCollins), authored by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, is available here.