Britain’s Royals, Media React to ‘Harry & Meghan’ Docuseries

Meghan and Harry’s long-awaited docuseries, “Harry & Meghan,” threw plenty of punches – mostly aimed at the Royal Family with the British media (specifically sister papers the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday) next in the firing line.

So far, the royals have not responded publicly, declining to release any kind of official statement. But “Palace sources” did brief the U.K.’s royal reporters after Volume I (comprised of the first three episodes of the series) aired last week. The sources claimed Harry’s dad, King Charles, and brother, Prince William, hadn’t been contacted for comment, contrary to the title card that appears at the opening of the doc, which reads: “Members of the Royal Family declined to comment on the content within this series.”

A Netflix source disputed this, saying the royals’ communications offices had been contacted and given the chance to respond to the couple’s claims. According to reports, the Palace eventually conceded it had been contacted by a “third party” (which Variety has confirmed was director Liz Garbus’s company Story Syndicate, who produced the series) but when Palace officials tried to verify Story Syndicate’s queries with both Netflix and the Sussexes they didn’t get a response.

Aside from the on-background brouhaha, Charles and William have remained resolutely shtum, instead using a series of high-profile public outings to project a uniquely British sentiment best summed up by English comedian Catherine Tate’s catchphrase: “Am I bovvered?”

Last Friday, the day after Volume I aired, King Charles, alongside his wife Queen Camilla, turned up in Wales where they met Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, with the tete-a-tete reportedly set to appear in the next season of Reynolds and McElhenney’s docuseries “Welcome to Wrexham.” (Disney+ declined to confirm whether footage of the King’s visit would be included in the series). Clearly, this was King Charles sending a message to his errant son and daughter-in-law: “We have plenty of A-list clout too.” It didn’t hurt that “Welcome to Wrexham” sits on Netflix’s arch-rival Disney+.

(When asked by attendant reporters whether they had seen Harry and Meghan’s doc, Reynolds demurred while McElhenney reportedly quipped: “I’ve never heard of it.”)

The media, meanwhile, was going wild not only over the couple’s perceived slights to the Royal Family but also the sheer number of details to be excavated from the first three hours of the docuseries, from intimate family photos (the wedding! Archie’s first birthday party!) to juicy royal gossip (Meghan was barefoot when she first met William and his wife Catherine).

Within hours of Volume I dropping, the 12 leading stories on the Daily Mail’s website were about Meghan and Harry while the print edition the following day dedicated no fewer than 18 pages to what it dubbed “Megflix.” (Rumor has it that the Mail assigned three journalists to watch Volume I, with each simultaneously watching a different episode so they could be first to publish; reps for the Mail didn’t respond to Variety’s query).

The Mail was far from alone in its extended coverage. The Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sun and even the Guardian, which usually eschews royal news altogether, all ran with a photograph of Meghan and Harry on their front pages. Unsurprisingly, much of the accompanying coverage was critical. The royalist Daily Telegraph ran with the headline: “Sussexes’ TV show claims are a ‘direct hit’ on late Queen’s legacy.”

The lead on the front page of the Daily Star (a tabloid best known for live-streaming a rotting lettuce) read “Royalty-turned-Z-lister reality-stars dropped their £90m Netflix show on the world yesterday. But it wasn’t a patch on BBC favourite [daytime property show] ‘Homes Under the Hammer” alongside a photograph of Harry and Meghan with their eyes blacked out (a jab at the couple’s pleas for privacy while simultaneously revealing private details about their lives in exchange for money.)

Surprisingly even the left-leaning Guardian and BBC took umbrage with some of the series. The Guardian’s print reviewer Lucy Mangan said she had to “suppress my rising breakfast” while watching one scene where a friend of Meghan’s was effusively praising the duchess. And some of the BBC’s reporters publicly mocked the couple’s claims their 2017 engagement interview with the network had been “rehearsed.” Tony Hall, the BBC’s then-director general, told BBC’s “World at One” program the claim was “simply untrue.”

It was Volume II of “Harry & Meghan,” which dropped yesterday at 8 a.m. U.K. time, that went for the jugular, with Harry claiming William had “bullied” him out of the Royal Family, “screaming and shouting” at him, while Charles said “things that weren’t true.” Harry also implied that both William and Charles had leaked stories to the press about him and Meghan.

As with the previous volume, there was no official response from the royals. Instead they put on a show of family unity by attending a Christmas carol service at Westminster Abbey on Thursday evening, hosted by Harry and Meghan’s sister-in-law Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Accompanied by their two eldest children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, William and Catherine were seen exchanging warm greetings with Charles and Camilla. Again, the message to the Sussexes – and the world – was clear.

Friday morning’s print editions of the Times of London, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Sun all ran with the same photograph of the rosy-looking Cambridge family on their front pages. The headline in the Mail read: “Dignity in the face of treachery” while the Sun’s said: “The traitor & the dutiful.” The Daily Star wrote: “The world’s most private man yesterday invaded his family’s privacy by revealing just how horrible they were to him. Allegedly.”

But despite the gossip being even juicier than the previous week’s, there was also a sense of “M” and “H” (as the duo call each other) fatigue. The Daily Mail’s print edition dedicated only 16 pages to Megflix on Friday and by the afternoon its website had bumped the couple way down in favor of a story about an exploding aquarium.

It remains to be seen whether the docuseries has an impact on the British public’s perception of the couple. A YouGov poll taken days before Volume I dropped put their popularity at its lowest ever ebb, just above Harry’s disgraced uncle Prince Andrew.

Of course, it is far more likely that from Meghan and Harry’s point of view the only opinion that matters it that of the American public, at whom many sensed the docuseries was aimed. There the reaction was certainly more favorable. Gayle King, who attended Meghan’s New York baby shower in 2019, said on CBS’s “Mornings” program: “Harry and Meghan said all along they wanted to tell their story, what they believe happened, and now they’re getting a chance to do that. I can’t wait to see it but this does sound very dicey.”

Elsewhere there was similar sympathy for the couple’s clear distress in dealing with both a relentless press and their estranged families, but also an increasing sense that maybe spending the past two years in therapy rather than production would have yielded a more positive outcome. “There seems a sort of narrative stuckness, an inability or lack of desire to find the next thing to say that we haven’t yet heard,” Variety’s own reviewer wrote of Volume I while Jezebel was more forthright in its critique, writing of Volume II: “[Meghan and Harry] can’t seem to help but make caricatures of themselves, steeped in a sort of narcissism only those who’ve been trained to exist in front of a lens…can embody.”

Howard Stern, discussing the series on his radio show, went further still, calling the couple “whiny bitches.” “So like, where do you go with this?” he said. “Is this your career talking about how humiliated you were being part of, I don’t know, living in a castle — and it’s hard to relate to. It’s like, it looks pretty terrific to me.”

But perhaps even worse was the outright mockery. Martin Short, co-hosting last week’s “SNL” with Steve Martin, quipped: “You know Steve, we are like Harry and Meghan. No one is rooting for us but you’ll tune in to watch anyway.”

Ultimately of course, the nature of the coverage is less important than the fact that there is worldwide coverage. Given Netflix’s rumoured multi-million dollar deal with the couple, which was inked over two years ago, has only so far yielded one complete project, at least execs at the streamer can be satisfied they’ve made a splash.

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