LONDON — The epic squabble between Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, and the rest of the British royal family burst back into the open Thursday, in a Netflix series that promised to reveal the “truth” about the rift pitting Hollywood glamor against the centuries-old institution.
Harry and Meghan are clearly keen to tell the story of their relationship from their perspective. But while the the first three of the six episodes do feature some unseen footage of the couple and messages between them, they offer little new information about them and the controversies that have swirled around them.
“This is a great love story,” Harry says in the first 10 minutes. “And the crazy thing is, I think this love story is only getting started.”
Referring to his mother, Princess Diana, who was 36 when she died in a car crash while being chased by photographers in Paris, Harry describes himself as “my mother’s son” when talking about his relationship with Meghan.
“I think for so many people in the family, especially obviously the men, there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mold, as opposed to someone you are perhaps destined to be with. The difference between making decisions between your head or your heart,” he says.
“My mom certainly made most of her decisions, if not all of them, from her heart and I am my mother’s son,” he adds.
The series is being carefully watched in Britain, with coverage of the documentary dominating publications that Harry has accused of hounding his family.
Aside from showing the story of their courtship, the six episodes of “Harry & Meghan” also look set to highlight long-running grievances that have roiled Britain's royal family for years.
Harry's obvious anger at the media surfaces multiple times. He says it is his “duty to uncover this exploitation and bribery that happens within our media,” and is “genuinely concerned” for the safety of his family. “No one know the full truth, we know the full truth, the institution knows the full truth and the media knows the full truth because they’ve been in on it.”
“Every relationship that I had within a matter of weeks or months was splattered all over the newspapers and that person’s family harassed and their lives turned upside down,” he says later.
After their relationship became public, Meghan says in the second episode, members of the media “paid certain neighbors” near her home in Toronto “to put a livestream camera into my backyard.”
“My face was everywhere, my life was everywhere, tabloids had taken over everything,” she adds.
The episode also touches on Meghan’s early life and features her mom, Doria Ragland, who describes the last five years as “challenging.”
Meghan, who has described herself as mixed race, also talks about the media’s coverage of her race. “It’s very different to be a minority but not be treated as a minority right off the bat. Obviously now people are very aware of my race because they made it such an issue when I went to the U.K. But before that, most people didn’t treat me like a Black woman,” she says.
The third episode serves as a sort of lesson on racism and oppression stemming from Britain's vast empire, and the historical relationship between slavery and the royal family.
‘The race element’
The British tabloids have intensely scrutinized Meghan, publishing stories about her estranged family following her engagement and marriage to Harry in May 2018. The couple has won several lawsuits against their publishers in recent years, while some remain unresolved.
Harry says that the media coverage early in their relationship was viewed by a lot of his family “almost like a rite of passage.”
“Some of the members of the family were like, ‘Right, my wife has been put through that, so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently? Why should you get special treatment? Why should she be different?’ And I said, ‘The difference here is the race element.’”
Later he adds, "The fact that I was dating an American actress was probably what clouded their judgment more than anything else at the beginning. Oh, he’s dating an actress, this won’t last."
It is awkward timing for the release of the show, coming three months after Queen Elizabeth II’s death and the ascension of Harry’s father, Charles, as king. It also comes less than a week after his brother, Prince William, and his wife, Catherine, Princess of Wales, made a high-profile trip to the United States.
Before and after leaving Britain for North America, the couple accused the royal household of not defending Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, from the intrusive and sometimes racist coverage by the country’s voracious tabloid press. In addition, Harry is challenging in court a decision by the British government to deny him police protection while in Britain.
Directed by Liz Garbus — the Emmy-winning producer of the Netflix documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” — the three episodes are being released Thursday and three more Dec. 15. The Sussexes' media company, Archewell Productions, is listed as one of the three producers.
Interest in the couple intensified after they stepped down as senior royals in January 2020 to eventually build new lives in California. Harry was later stripped of his honorary military titles and the British Home Office — the ministry responsible for policing, immigration and security — decided that he would no longer receive personal police security while in Britain even if he were to cover the cost himself.
In a wide-ranging interview with the media mogul Oprah Winfrey last March, the couple described a lack of support for the newlyweds and Meghan's experience with suicidal thoughts. The pair also alleged that in the months leading up to the birth of their son, Archie, a royal insider expressed “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”
“That conversation, I’m never going to share. But at the time, it was awkward. I was a bit shocked,” Harry told the talk show host. Winfrey later said the conversation was not with the queen or her husband, Prince Philip.
Even before going live, the series elicited a strong response in Britain, where the “feeling amongst the British public is 'enough is enough,'” the author and journalist Katie Nicholl told NBC News on Wednesday.
“We have heard this before. What more can they say?” she added.
Nicholl said that Charles was attempting to put “down his blueprint,” but “there seems to be so many distractions, particularly from across the Atlantic and coming out of the Sussex camp.”
“It seems to be a case of anything you can do, we’re going to do and get more headlines,” she added.
However, Nicholl said, Buckingham Palace would take allegations about leaking and planting stories “very, very seriously,” because it was “potentially quite damaging.”
“This is a centuries-old institution that wants to prove that it’s fit for modern purpose,” she said, adding that the couple’s racism accusations were “damaging” to both the palace and to “Britain as a country.”
Buckingham Palace has declined to comment on the series.
The trailers for the series have already courted controversy as several seasoned royal commentators have suggested that archival footage and pictures featured in them were taken at events that had nothing to do with the couple.
One clip showing men running with cameras was used to illustrate the paparazzi hounding the couple, but was taken as the British model and reality TV star Katie Price arrived at a courthouse to be sentenced for DUI, analysis by several British media outlets including Sky News has shown. (Sky News is owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC News.)
Doug Seeburg also told The Sun newspaper that the image featuring him among a throng of other photographers was taken ahead of the premiere for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two,” in July 2011, years before the couple met.
“In the Netflix trailer, it’s implied the photographers, including me, were trying to get a shot of the royal couple — but that’s nonsense,” he told the tabloid.
Netflix did not respond to a request for comment on the record.