In a week where the eyes of the media are glued to the British royal family—yet again for all the wrong reasons—one could be mistaken for thinking we were reliving some form of Stone Tape Theory re-enactment of Princess Diana's now-infamous 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir. The same elements are all there, just different faces. A royal rebel—check. A belligerent media—check. And a chat-show host basking in the glory of the ensuing drama—double check.
In what can only be described as gleeful hyperbole at its most vulgar, the Daily Mail promised that the tawdry details of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's tell-all interview with US TV host Oprah Winfrey will "rock the establishment to its very core" (as if somehow the sixth in line to the throne and his wife have any real capacity to do such a thing).
It's no secret that Fleet Street have been on the look-out for fresh blood for years and it was evident fairly early on in Markle's career as a royal newcomer that they had found their Diana 2.0 in the American actress. However, with Diana we were dealing with someone who could've been the future Queen of England, and the mother of the future King of England. Prince Harry is now so far down the royal line of succession, his other half is of no real "threat" to anybody in the royal establishment. Yet the drama ensues.
Whilst the notion that the sixth in line to the throne and his wife are anywhere near Princess Diana's level of significance is patently absurd, they are the closest the insatiable British mainstream media have been able to find and they do a more than sufficient job at occupying column-inches on a daily basis. From Meghan's controversial diamond earrings gifted from a murderous Saudi Prince, to her (seemingly normal but apparently not-so) tendency to cradle her pregnant belly, every aspect of Markle's life has become ripe for the picking. Indeed, some of the headlines are bordering on pantomime villainy—my particular favourite headline comes courtesy of The Express: "Meghan Markle's beloved avocado linked to human rights abuse and drought, millenial shame."
Let's be honest here: it's certainly worth remembering that our thirst for royal scandal is a lucrative business of which there are a number of beneficiaries, none more so than Prince Harry and the Dutchess of Sussex themselves.
This cannot be denied. CBS paid a whopping $7 Million to air the Oprah interview and ITV ponied up £1 Million to air the exclusive the next day. The official party line from their spokeswoman insists that the royal couple aren't receiving a fee for their interview. Of course, an admission to the contrary would likely spark even more controversy for them than they're already facing, so a denial of this kind is to be expected. But even if it's true, the publicity garnered from such a high profile interview will no doubt lead to many lucrative brand partnerships in the future.
The couple have already signed a Spotify deal worth $54.5 million to air their own Archewell Audio podcasts. The content of these programs is somewhat vague, with only one episode having been released thus far, but we are assured it will centre around "compassion and kindness" and will apparently "uplift and entertain" us.
If that wasn't enough to "excite" you they also signed a Netflix deal in 2020 to produce a range of programs and series, rumoured to be worth more than $100 million. Not bad work if you can get it.
Behind all the eye watering sums of money changing hands is a public being drip-fed royal scandal from the tabloids like the next installment of Eastenders. And whilst the human psychology behind the global phenomenon of celebrity culture is far too complex an issue for us to unpack in a single article, the fallout from Harry and Meghan's Oprah interview has once again shone a dismal light on the world stage on the ugliness and blood-sport mentality of the British press.
Researchers have found that readers of tabloids typically come from a more uneducated background. "More often than not, we're responding to deeply primitive, unconscious impulses when we get sucked into the latest media outrage" states psychologist Marc Trussler from McGill University.
Trussler suggests that, as individuals, most of us hold a world view which is decidedly more utopian than our real lives. He theorizes that our thirst for drama and scandal in the news comes about from a need to more closely align our distorted utopian views with the harsh realities of the unpredictable and often volatile world around us. The contrast between our fantasy world view and the bleak reality of modern life is what attracts us to these stories.
Whatever the psychology behind it, most of us are surely savvy enough by now to know when we are being played. Critics of Prince Harry are quick to point out the hypocrisy of his very public disdain for the British press, whilst continuing to often court the media. Allies will see echoes of Diana in the harsh and unfair treatment at the hands of the press.
Whilst everyone seems concerned with "picking sides" in this pantomime over the latest controversy, perhaps it's time we acknowledged that when it comes to the bottom line, we really haven't come very far, have we? People still seem to enjoy the public lynchings and scandalous stories. Beneath these tales, though, are simply humans. And whatever you think of Prince Harry and his wife, maybe it's time we rose above it all. Let's not keep feeding the sharks.