Before a single second of the Netflix series Harry and Meghan aired, without even Netflix’s most favored entertainment journalists seeing it in advance, critics could be found ripping the royal pair’s show apart.
“He’s monetizing his mother,” Daily Mail consultant editor Andrew Pierce said of Prince Harry in a viral clip from the UK show Good Morning Britain. Pierce based his argument on the only information on the show released at that point, the trailer, in which Harry appears to compare the treatment of Meghan with the treatment of Diana: “I didn’t want history to repeat itself.”
The editor went on to attack the trailer for containing a one-second clip of photographers at a Harry Potter movie premiere — something Fox News, via its fellow Murdoch-owned UK tabloid The Sun, had also picked up on.
But by zeroing in on trivialities from a trailer, the critics were telling on themselves.
Pierce’s main point was that what happened to Diana could not happen today, thanks to new privacy laws passed in the wake of tabloid phone hacking scandals in the 2010s. As GMB presenter Susanna Reid pointed out sharply to Pierce, having had experience of this herself, privacy laws don’t stop the feeling of being hounded by paparazzi.
The Mail man’s argument is especially specious to those of us paying attention that week in 1997. Deeply implicated in paparazzi culture, undoubted customers of the pursuing photographers had Diana lived, UK tabloids like the Mail and the Sun changed the subject very quickly after the tragedy. “Where is our Queen? Where is her flag?” blared the front page of the Sun on the second day after Diana’s death. Attacking the next most beloved royal for insufficient public grief could have been a sign of desperation, but repeated in every tabloid, it worked. The subject was changed.
Diana died that night in Paris thanks to a tragic confluence of circumstances — including a drunk chauffeur and Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed’s failure to wear back-seat seatbelts — set in motion by photographers pursuing the couple on motorbikes. Still, French police cleared the photographers of direct involvement. They were fined one euro each for invasion of privacy.
Who’s to say a similar investigation would yield drastically different results today? What is actually stopping the paps on motorbikes from striking again?
France has passed some of the strictest anti-paparazzi laws in the world – photographers could, in theory, be jailed for a year for taking unwanted photos of public figures like Meghan and Harry. In practice, they’re fined — and the fines rarely reach anywhere near the maximum possible 45,000 Euros. Photos of Diana — and Meghan — could easily sell for many multiples of that. For many French magazines, fines are part of the cost of doing business, as are the “mea culpa” front page statements the law occasionally forces on them. And again, most of the global customers for candid snaps of the Royals are beyond the reach of that law.
“The game is the same,” one veteran celeb photographer told Yahoo News 20 years after Diana’s death. “We just shoot with longer lenses.”
So you can understand why Diana’s son might be more than a tad wary of the paparazzi that follow him and his wife everywhere. Especially when the aggressive pursuit went hand in hand with a highly hypocritical British tabloid culture. The UK headlines slamming Meghan and praising sister-in-law Kate Middleton for the exact same thing are legion, and many of them hail from the Daily Mail.
What family, what marriage could function well under those circumstances? Could yours? After facing the barrage of snappers everywhere you went outside, your primal brain be hard at work on a whole host of nightmares involving pursuit? What if your mother had died with paparazzi in pursuit before you’d even turned 13? What if you had a three-year old and a two-year old? Personally, I’m impressed Harry has the wherewithal to not go full Sean Penn. If the pursuers were representatives of newspapers openly hostile to my wife, I would not be so saintly.
Time will tell if the Harry and Meghan show itself uses images of random paparazzi gatherings like the Harry Potter premiere, or if that was just something cut together for the trailer. (Talk to any studio executive or movie critic about how often trailers don’t resemble the actual product.) No doubt royal watchers and the online legion of Harry-Meghan haters will be coming every second for out-of-context B-roll.
For the sake of their sanity, we hope the couple – or rather, the show’s producers and editors who put this thing together – haven’t given the haters more ammunition.
But even if the extremely online find some pap shots from the archives: so what? Going full Reddit easter-egg hunter on this show is kind of missing the point.
This is quite specifically and clearly Harry and Meghan’s perspective, their side of the story. Let’s take minor visual exaggerations into account, but don’t kill the messengers. They didn’t choose this fight, but they’re bringing it. Let the photographers and the tabloid editors make their own documentary in reply; they may continue to tell on themselves by defending the culture that this young family decided, quite reasonably, to flee.
Harry and Meghan Volume I is streaming on Netflix from Dec. 8, Volume II lands on Dec. 15.