** NOTE: This article contains spoilers about the first three episodes of the ‘Harry & Meghan’ docuseries on Netflix. **
The first half of the Harry & Meghan docuseries — consisting of three episodes released in Thursday’s early-morning hours — doesn’t take any major jabs at the Royal Family, but instead offers an in-depth criticism of the U.K.’s tabloid newspapers. It delivers on the Netflix promise of a series that “explores…the challenges that led (Markle and Harry to feel) forced to step back from their full-time roles in the institution.”
Viewers are given perspectives from Harry, Markle and their inner circle of friends and colleagues. But anyone holding their breath for salacious stories or gossip about the inner workings of Britain’s most influential family will have to hold on until the next three episodes are released on Dec. 15 — if those type of stories are told at all.
Much of the docuseries, so far, goes deeper into topics addressed in last year’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, including Markle’s difficult transition into life as a royal, the unfortunate fallout with certain members of her own family and the ruthlessness of the U.K.’s tabs.
Instead of a hit job on the Royal Family, as some expected, viewers are given a more intimate, albeit entirely uncritical, look at how Harry and Markle have navigated their relationship — from the beginning of their secret courtship to glimpses of their current life in Montecito, California.
From the couple’s meeting to surprise guest interviews and the drama that unfolded during the early days of their relationship, here are five of the top moments from the first volume of Harry & Meghan.
Markle’s mom, Doria, speaks out for the first time
The world caught glimpses of Doria Ragland accompanying her daughter during her 2018 wedding to Harry, but up until now she’s never shared her side of the story with the press.
She makes her debut in Episode 2 of the series, telling the camera that “the last five years have been challenging,” but she’s now “ready to have (her) voice heard, that’s for sure.”
Ragland gives her take several times throughout the second and third episodes, speaking about her first impression of Harry — she noticed he was “handsome” and “really nice” upon first meeting him, with “really great manners — as well as documenting the fear she felt while being “stalked by the paparazzi” in the U.S.
“I felt unsafe a lot. I can’t just go walk my dogs. I can’t just go to work. There was always someone there waiting for me,” she explained.
At one point, Ragland also expressed regret for not candidly speaking to Markle about the judgement she might face one day as a mixed-race woman.
“As a parent, in hindsight, absolutely, I would like to go back and have that kind of real conversation about how the world sees you.”
Harry and Markle’s surprising meet cute and secret courtship
Perhaps one of the most interesting revelations of the series is that Harry and his bride initially met through Instagram in 2016, which also means that Harry had (has?) a secret Instagram account.
“I was scrolling through my feed, and someone who was a friend had this video of the two of them, like a Snapchat,” Harry recalled.
After seeing the snap of Markle with a dog-ears filter, the prince was curious to know more.
“I was like, ‘Who is THAT?’” he shared.
The mutual friend told Markle that “Prince Haz” wanted to meet her, but she wasn’t familiar with the royal’s nickname.
“Who’s that?” she remembered, saying she then scrolled his feed as a “barometer” and was impressed by his nature photography and philanthropic work in Africa.
The two then set out on an intense, clandestine courtship. They met for drinks and dinner in the following two days, before she had to return to North America for work.
Two weeks later, on a leap of faith, she met up with Harry in Botswana. Shielded from prying press, the two began their romance in the African bush, sleeping in a tent for five days.
That time together was critical, said Harry. “We had to get to know each other before the rest of the world, and the media, sort of joined it.”
The unrelenting U.K. media followed Markle to Toronto
After just a few months of dating, with Markle making frequent under-the-radar trips to royal properties in the U.K., the press finally got hip to the fact Harry was dating an American actress.
Knowing the story would be in the papers the next morning, Harry and Markle had one last hurrah in late October 2016, a Halloween gathering with a few friends where they dressed up in costumes and partied the night away.
Markle said she felt tremendous relief when the news first broke. Everyone seemed thrilled for them, both in the U.K. and stateside. The press was favourable and she was lauded for her philanthropic work.
It didn’t take long, though, for the press patina to wear off. Markle, who had returned to Toronto to begin filming another season of Suits, recalled members of the U.K. media sleeping in their cars outside her house. She also claimed they had paid neighbours to install livestream cameras that would point into her backyard.
Scared, she said she approached Toronto police, but they ignored her pleas for help and protection.
“I would say to the police, ‘If any other woman in Toronto said to you, I have six grown men who are sleeping in their cars around my house and following me everywhere that I go, and I feel scared, wouldn’t you say that was stalking?’” she said in the documentary.
Toronto police allegedly said they couldn’t help her because of “who you’re dating,” she said.
An in-depth look at the tabloids’ racist turn against Markle
What was first painted in those tabloids as a fairytale story of a biracial woman joining the Royal Family with the potential to boost the monarchy’s modernization, soon spiralled into negative stories about Markle being an entitled actor who did nothing more than bully her staff.
Harry, along with expert voices in the series, explain an “unwritten contract” that exists between the tabloids and the Royal Family. The palace, they said, has granted privileged access to six newspapers that feel they are entitled to learn intimate details about members of the Royal Family, since British taxpayers fund their lives.
Harry and Markle said they initially tried to follow palace advice to remain silent about the press coverage as other members of the family said it was a rite of passage. But the couple said they felt compelled to tell their story because there was something different about the way Markle was treated.
“The difference here is the race element,” Harry said.
The series dissects how the U.K. media –— specifically the tabloid newspapers — feed into societal racism that is, in part, bolstered by a history of racism inflicted by the British Empire, which enslaved Black people and extracted wealth from British colonies in the Caribbean, Africa, India and Asia.
Historian David Olusoga explains that while large numbers of Black and Asian people moved to Britain after World War II, changing the face of the nation, those changes aren’t reflected in the media.
Black people make up about 3.5 per cent of Britain’s population but account for just 0.2 per cent of the journalists, Olusoga said.
“We have to recognize that this is a white industry,” he said. “So people who come up with these headlines, they are doing so in a newsroom that’s almost entirely white, and they get to decide whether something has crossed the line of being racist.”
Harry blames himself for Markle’s fallout with her dad
In Episode 3, we learn that Harry thinks he’s the one to blame for the unresolved rift between Markle and her dad, Thomas Markle.
In the days leading up to their 2018 wedding, the world learned Thomas had declined to attend, despite previously agreeing to escort his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.
The fallout happened when the media revealed that Thomas had accepted $100,000 from a U.K. tabloid in exchange for staged photos and planted stories in the weeks before the May nuptials. When Markle questioned him on it and asked him to tell the truth, he refused the allegations, but she said she believes he lied to her.
Ragland also weighed in on her ex-husband’s public drama in the docuseries.
“I felt sad that the media would run with this. That he would capitalize… Certainly, as a parent, that’s not what you do. That’s not parenting,” she said.
Days before the ceremony, Thomas also claimed he had a heart attack and was unable to fly to the U.K. to see his daughter get married. Markle said in the documentary that she was desperate to help her dad and make sure he was OK, but claimed he refused to answer her texts.
Harry said he feels “incredibly sad” and blames himself for Markle no longer speaking to her father.
“Now she doesn’t have a father. I shouldered that. Because if Meg wasn’t with me, then her dad would still be her dad,” Harry explained, referring to the photo scandal. “It’s amazing what people would do when offered a huge amount of money. Fifty thousand, a hundred thousand (dollars), to hand over photographs, to create a story. And thank God most of them said no.”
— With a file from The Associated Press
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