Before I get on to the final three episodes of Netflix’s Harry & Meghan, which I watched last week and found even more excruciating than I feared, here’s an unexpected radio moment that cheered me.
Published: 20 December 2022
I had half an ear to Frenemies, a section of the Times Radio Saturday lunchtime show that I particularly like which has two MPs from different political parties discussing their friendship.
This time it was DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and the newly defenestrated, belligerent SNP leader Ian Blackford, who met at a prayer meeting and despite the gap between unionism and nationalism, found common ground and mutual liking and respect.
As if this wasn’t a big enough surprise, when Sir Jeffrey was asked to nominate his hero of the week, he chose the outgoing Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Micheál Martin — now being replaced by Leo Varadkar — whom he praised for his decency and his efforts to hear and understand the unionist point of view.
Sir Jeffrey and I have had several differences over almost three decades, but we think alike on this.
Mr Martin is one of the most fair-minded politicians I’ve come across in Irish politics, he has courageously resisted those who goad unionists and seek to bully them into a united Ireland and he valuably counter-balanced Fine Gael Foreign Minister Simon Coveney’s ill-judged outbursts of partisan nationalism by setting up and locating in the Taoiseach’s Department his genuinely constructive Shared Island initiative.
He is now in a strong position to help improve relations between the EU and the UK.
From reconciliation to division, we move to the Montecito Two, in their nine-bedroom, 19-bathroom, $14.7 million Californian mansion, who must be back with their therapists today after the ungrateful reaction to the six-part series Harry & Meghan.
Their popularity with the British was already slumping, not least because the public remembers how wildly enthusiastic they were about Meghan’s arrival, how much they, like the royal family, were thrilled that Harry, at last, had found love, how they thought it a bonus in the multi-ethnic United Kingdom that she was mixed-race, and how wounding was her public rejection of the people who had welcomed her and how resented was her cynical playing of the race card.
Over the past year there has been a sea change. In the last authoritative YouGov poll, taken just before Harry & Megan was screened, Prince Harry, who was once second only to the Queen in the public affection, was down to -26 (33% positive, 59% negative), with Meghan at -39 (25% and 64%).
For understandable reasons, America has been much more inclined to see the couple as victims of buttoned-up, snobby, racist royals, but rather than reinforcing that view the series has backfired, with critics awarding it 5.4 out of 10 and using words like “cringemaking”, “self-pitying” and “boring”.
No one, throughout the whole six hours, uttered any criticism or asked any difficult questions. And what seems to have irritated many was how Meghan’s narcissism runs throughout the series.
Nothing that went wrong is her fault: everything is down to the failure of the Royal Household (for not protecting her from the media — something they’ve never been able to do for themselves — an accusation that might carry a little more weight if it wasn’t that many of the negative front pages they showed were American), of Charles (for not accepting Meghan was right), of William (terrified Harry by shouting at him, which must have been a very fierce performance when you consider that Harry was happy for ten years as an active soldier) and Kate (jealous because Meghan was so much better at being a royal).
A few things are Harry’s fault, he tells us, for he has been through re-education (eg unconscious bias, and failing to put his perfect wife at all times before the institution).
Friends of Meghan were brought on as a chorus of celebration.
Harry had only one, for this sociable, gregarious guy who delighted in being one of the lads, was a happy partner in royal ventures with William (who protected him) and Kate (whom he called his sister), has been taken away from family, friends and country.
All he needed was the right wife.
Unfortunately, he got Meghan.