You may have been busy the last four years, but then again, maybe the global pandemic slowed things down enough to allow you to pick up a few tidbits of celebrity news. Either way, chances are high that the couple, Harry and Meghan, have made it into your news feed. He, a son of the now King Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
The world’s younger brother, fun-loving, and red-haired, one who broke the stiff upper lip of the royal mold even as a child, sticking his tongue out at the press. She, a biracial, divorced actress, of divorced parents, in whom he finally met someone willing, and perhaps able, to deal with the behemoth that is the British (and global) press.
Of course, from the outset, there was speculation about Meghan, her intent in the relationship, bets on how long it would last (ongoing), and how the other members felt about her joining the Windsor clan.
Four years later, they are telling their own stories, in their own words, without the rules and regulations that traditionally govern palace life, having stepped back as ‘working’ members of the royal family.
For me, as a writer, the British royal family, has always held some allure, perhaps because of how much their history is intertwined with European history – a subject I loved as far back as high school. From Elizabeth I to Victoria, and beyond, for better or worse, the British royals have helped shape the course of modern society through their vast empire.
I got further mixed up in it all when I specialized in postcolonial studies for my Ph.D. as a child of Indian expats. The last British Viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten (Harry’s great uncle), royally f@cked up the Partition of India (and that’s putting it very mildly).
All this to say, when Lady Diana Spencer entered the scene, I, like much of the world, perked up. I remember watching her wedding with my parents as a young girl and thinking she could do anything she wanted. She seemed so beautiful, so powerful, so full of attention. Later, in college, a friend woke me up with the news of her fatal accident, and I was somewhat bemused. Diana – dead? In her 30s… it seemed so strange.
“There wouldn’t be this much hype about Mother Teresa passing,” I said when the global grief continued. When the (in)famous nun did pass away a few days later, the sadness compounded.
Because Harry’s mother broke the royal mold in many ways; she exuded warmth, crouched when speaking to children, touched the sick and dying, didn’t tolerate her husband’s affairs, and had many of her own. She spoke about her pain publicly, and she turned her back on royal life. When she was struck down in the back of that car, she was trying to figure out what was next. She needed money to keep up that glamorous, high-maintenance lifestyle, and Dodi, she was known to say, “had all the toys.” Plus, the Fayeds knew her worth – something she craved but never got from The Firm.
Anyway – as a writer, I spent a decade writing a novel every November. 1600 words a day, thanks to National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. This is how I came to write nine novels back to back. You spend a month creating a manuscript and then seven months editing it.
When I came to the end of the planned projects about life in the Middle East, there was one more story I wanted to tell. About a fractious family who all agreed on the importance of duty — and a prince who wasn’t quite sure he wanted to be one.
Writing About Families
But when I started writing The Princely Papers, it wasn’t just his story that was interesting. It was his mother’s. So the back and forth, from mother to son, created in alternating chapters. At the time, the real-life couple was just dating, and there was much speculation about where the relationship would go.
But a big question throughout my fictional story was: would Albie make a break for it? Because the material was there, even back then, for how someone who experienced the media’s pain and scrutiny, firsthand, via their mother’s misery, would react when he himself became a husband and father.
In 2018, we got a real-life hint: Harry released his own statement about the media’s hounding of Meghan, describing her as being straight out of Compton, despite having grown up in LA. With the palace’s habitual silence around girlfriends, his naming and shaming of the British press hounding the new girl’s friends, family, and colleagues. Here was the first sign this was a prince who was not going to play by the book.
The Trouble With Families
And that’s how we got to an interview with Oprah Winfrey, a Netflix docuseries, and now Spare, a tell-all memoir. People speculate it’s Meghan pulling the strings, but the signs have always been there that Harry has wanted to talk all along.
The story is so familiar, it can take on any ethnicity or nationality; women come into families that think they’re too good for her. She is the one who has to bend. If she doesn’t, there are consequences. (Usually for her.) Usually, the husband lets her down.
That’s what makes Wallace Simpson, Diana Spencer, and Meghan Markle, both relatable and fascinating. They won’t fall in step like Kate Middleton; they can’t stop being themselves.
Lucky for Meghan, her husband can’t either.
Because Harry isn’t just breaking royal taboos, he’s ‘airing dirty laundry’ and talking about his family in public – areas off limits to Southerns and South Asians alike.
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To learn more about life in the Arabian Gulf, check out the Crimes In Arabia series!