10 December 2022
When I coined the phrase ‘The Grabdication’ in The Spectator two years ago, I had no concept of exactly how grasping the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would turn out to be. Having found Frogmore Cottage insufficiently close to California even after £2million of public money (since paid back) was spent on renovations, I still imagined that Meghan would eventually settle for a few tiaras and some voice-over work. I had no idea that what this grim pair were actually seeking was the destruction of the House of Windsor, ostensibly on the grounds of racism, but actually because this was the one chance two mediocre people would get to feel mighty.
It’s unnerving that she calls him ‘H’ which is slang for heroin – and also the campest member of Steps
People always say ‘soulmates’ like it’s a good thing, but such relationships can easily turn toxic. Individually Harry and Meghan seemed happy enough, neither of them too bright, but both living lush lifestyles they didn’t have to break sweat for. Then they met – and it was attempted murder of the reputation of the Royal family. As a life-long republican, I’ve been surprised to find myself on the side of an institution I’ve never liked.
Considering the flight of the Sussexes, it’s easy to draw a parallel with another American divorcee who turned the head of another weak prince and led him by the genitalia away from his family. But while Edward and Mrs Simpson peregrinated around the elite watering-holes of twentieth century Europe, Meghan had one distinct destination in mind – her hometown of Los Angeles, where she had unfinished business with the entertainment industry, having ‘peaked’ while simulating fellatio in a car in an episode of the re-booted Beverly Hills, 90210 in 2008. Hollywood was done with her – but she wasn’t done with Hollywood.
With her recent podcast Archetypes, Meghan finally started to show talent as a thespian – and to remind one of a certain legendary actress. Acting is, after all, merely playing pretend – that her wedding was celebrated in the streets of South Africa, that her baby’s nursery caught fire, that she is a victim rather than a vastly privileged woman living in a house with circa 19 toilets. Sadly, the iconic actress she is beginning to resemble is Norma Desmond, the tragic heroine of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, who shares her vast mansion with a devoted retainer who discovered Norma, married her and made her a star and now acts as her servant, humouring her deluded fantasies of a comeback. If Archetypes was the opening act, then the Netflix series – this bouncing hundred-million-dollar baby – is the main attraction, if ‘attraction’ can be used to describe a pair of multi-millionaires taking the best part of six hours to gossip about imagined slights from their families and congratulating themselves on being non-specifically Special.
Appropriately for a pair who have a nodding acquaintance with the truth, even the trailers were false, showing paparazzi pursuing not our humble heroes but rather Katie Price – if I was her, I’d issue a statement expressing my outrage at being linked with these publicity-seeking shysters. Then there was another monstrous regiment of view-hallooing hacks – at a Harry Potter premiere years before H&M ever met. And more paps chasing Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen from a courtroom. For a pair so savagely harassed, they don’t appear to have any footage of themselves being harassed savagely – where’s a bunch of bloodsucking hacks when you need them?
Billed as A NETFLIX GLOBAL EVENT, I must say I felt a tinge of nostalgia as I settled down to watch ‘Volume One’ – AKA the first three episodes, if you’re not a jumped-up half-wit. In this age of atomised entertainment, it was a lovely feeling to be involved in a televisual milestone that would surely bring a fractious nation together, like Angie and Den’s divorce in EastEnders but not as subtle. Warnings of LANGUAGE, DISCRIMINATION flash up, with a soundtrack from an afternoon TV funeral plan commercial; we’re aware straightaway that we’re watching the world’s most expensive home movie, with the texts and the Facetimes and the photo-booths snaps, the pair snogging, snuggling, hiking, biking and being ‘goofy’. Meghan reminisces about her lovely life as a mid-ranking actress in a Canadian cable show; ‘Then came H – talk about a plot twist.’ (It’s unnerving that she calls him ‘H’ which is slang for heroin – and also the campest member of Steps. He calls her ‘M’ like James Bond’s scoldy boss-lady, which seems somehow appropriate.)
‘This is a great love story’ Harry smarms, but it’s far more like a surreal rom-com – When Harry Met Wally (Simpson). M’s girlfriends are dragged out as a geek chorus assuring us of the loveliness of Meghan – that old ‘I’m a girl’s girl’ shtick that some females use. It was, H affirms, pretty much love at first sight – ‘Everything I’ve been looking for’. That’ll be her wearing your mother’s favourite perfume. Diana is the third wheel in this marriage; knowing how strong public affection is, the Sussexes have cynically hitched their wobbly wagon to her dead but still somehow dynamic star. ‘I am my mother’s son’ Harry proclaims 17 minutes in, ’Meghan is so like my mum…the same compassion, the same empathy…’ Archie is held up to touch a framed photo of Diana? ‘Who’s that?’ coos Meghan. She should know, as she was obsessed with her according to her best teenage friend Misha Nonoo, despite her protestations to the contrary.
It probably wasn’t such a great idea, at 23 minutes, to have footage of the shy young Elizabeth the Great vowing to give her life in service; the two women are so unalike that they barely seem the same species. Never mind, here’s Harry doing his feminist thing, murmuring sadly about ‘the pain and suffering of women marrying into the institution’ over a photo of Kate and Sophie looking sad – but they’re pictured at Remembrance day, of course they look sad! Should they be high-fiving each other? Both H&M take swipes at their families; H mentions that his friends in Botswana ‘brought me up’ – take that, King Dad! – while M seeks out her bete noire sister Samantha’s abandoned daughter to testify that the only child’s (as M claimed to be) only sister is a wrong ‘un.
‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go’ sings Harry, which seems like epic trolling, considering he seems to spend most of his time swanning around on private jets and playing polo. He has the shiny-eyed zeal of the newly-converted preacher in a religion of two – fine when talking about human dignity, but a bit weird when talking about hummingbirds. Moaning about how they’re both children of divorce, M reads a self-pitying poem she wrote as a girl about having two of everything and wishing she had only one. Then why has she got so many toilets? Her ‘confiding’ style in particular gave me the ‘ick’ as the kids say – like an actress in a tampon commercial reassuring the audience about absorbency. At times there’s an ‘Uncanny Valley’ feel to the thing – like the protagonists are actually playing themselves in a Hallmark Channel biopic.
Summing up, I speak very much as one who had the typical Meghan ‘journey’ (to use a word she and ‘Haz’ probably favour) starting out making a drooling fool of myself over her (see Spectators passim) and then going off her when her entitlement and hypocrisy became evident. I expected to despise this documentary series, but it’s actually a little scary too. Seeing that the pair are so interested in mental health, I wonder if they understand that they may be – in my layman’s opinion – suffering from both paranoia and persecution complex, and that it might be wise to seek professional help? After all, Meghan allegedly not being allowed to access psychiatry was one of the things which turned them against the Firm in the first place. Now they can do it to their hearts content.
Looking back, Meghan may well treasure this documentary as her optimum moment, her place in the sun, with the eyes of the world on her at last; I can imagine her watching this in a darkened room, her beauty fading, like Norma Desmond in her lonely Californian chateau. For Harry, it may be the moment when he lost his family for good, and so cause him increasing sorrow. In the future it’s likely that – like every toxic couple from the Macbeths to the Depps – they may turn on each other, heightening the performative aspect of their relationship even further. There is something of a Red Shoes danse macabre about this now – neither can ever go home again, and neither can appear to help themselves.
But on the other hand, it is amusing. Most character-driven humour is alchemised in the gap between what people think they are and what they actually are; writing in The Spectator in October in the wake of M’s Variety interview, I advised, ‘If Meghan can provide “content” on this level – creating a character we love to hate on a level with an Alan Partridge or a David Brent, or a deluded show-business buffoon comparable with Count Arthur Strong – throughout the coming winter of discontent, maybe we should at last just cave in and award her the applause she craves. Because comedy gold such as this does not come knocking every day.’ Like a pair of lap-dancers accusing people of looking at them, in a vehicle so cheesy that it makes Richard Curtis look like Jean-Luc Godard, they are the natural heirs to the Kardashians – the Carcrashians. And though I blush to admit it, I can’t wait for the next ‘Volume’ to drop.
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