Dear Harry and Meghan, I feel for you... but sometimes a stiff upper lip IS the best cure: LIBBY PURVES writes an open letter to the Sussexes
Let me start by saying that there was much to admire in Sunday night's ITV documentary about your African tour (pictured) and the causes you support there
Dear Harry and Meghan,
Let me start by saying that there was much to admire in Sunday night's ITV documentary about your African tour and the causes you support there.
I loved the warmth, the dancing, the laughter, the genuine connection you both have with people.
And, like all parents, I appreciated the excellent piece of luck when baby Archie chose to grin at Archbishop Desmond Tutu, rather than yowling.
But the film wasn't just about the tour, was it? With your co-operation, it also became about certain hardships and griefs in your current situation that you want us to understand.
For some, that has proved provocative to say the least.
They point out that none of your hardships — yes, even childhood bereavement and family estrangement — look particularly overwhelming next to the poverty, loss, maimings and uncertainties of life for millions on the African continent.
They wonder, too, why it didn't occur to either of you that airing your feelings may have distracted and detracted from theirs.
Surely the fact that so many in those communities you visited literally dance in the face of so many challenges should have given you pause for thought.
As might the fact that, back home, many of those watching are themselves victims of loss and uncertainty, soldiering on without applause or complaint.
Many also consider that a life cushioned by taxpayers is a fair swap for the privacy you crave and feel is being abused.
Your critics will tell you that royals should put up with whatever comes their way, like the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the magnificently tough Princess Anne. There is a case for saying that if you're a royal you should 'never complain, never explain'; that is, carry on, smile when you're on duty and treat prying lenses and impertinent writers with a contemptuous shrug.
Your critics will tell you that royals should put up with whatever comes their way, like the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured with prince Charles and Camilla in 2013) and the magnificently tough Princess Anne
However, you have both made it clear that the pain of being looked at all the time is genuinely stressful. I do get that.
No half-normal people, apart from the most narcissistic celebrities, enjoy being stared at by millions of eyeballs and judged for every wardrobe change or slip of the tongue.
And yes, I accept that the additional stress may have tainted the joys of marriage and motherhood. No new mother is 100 per cent confident.
So I cheered when presenter Tom Bradby asked you, Meghan: 'Can you manage it, can you continue . . . and what happens if you can't?' and you replied: 'It's not enough to just survive something. That's not the point of life. You've got to thrive and feel happy. I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I tried, I really tried.'
Then, disappointingly, you added that such an attitude 'is probably really damaging'.
You said you hadn't expected things to be easy, but you had expected them to be 'fair'.
But, Meghan, life isn't fair! Cancer and road accidents, disability, lightning strikes, flash floods, inheriting fat legs — none of it's fair.
That's why the British invented the stiff upper lip: not just for other people's sakes but because it does make you feel better.
It was not only the pressure of the scrutiny you are under, Harry, that ran through this documentary, but your deeper sorrow about losing a parent. How could it not, when you were filmed walking in your mother Diana's footsteps through an Angolan minefield?
But, Meghan, life isn't fair! Cancer and road accidents, disability, lightning strikes, flash floods, inheriting fat legs — none of it's fair, writes Libby Purves (pictured)
I really wish, though, that Bradby hadn't introduced the dangerous idea of 'a wound that festers' when speaking of the impact of her death.
When you agreed, Harry, I winced. Because if there is one thing I know from my own greatest loss — of a son — it's that you can't allow festering to happen. So in all humility and friendship, let me pass on a useful metaphor to you both.
A friend whose wife was murdered told me that he was helped in his grief by remembering that in the trenches of World War I, most men died not of their wounds, but of the dirt that got into them and caused infection.
Whenever emotions such as resentment, unfairness or self-pity crept into his thoughts, he'd say to himself: 'Clean wound!'
I have used that clean-wound metaphor often. If some detail — like the click of a camera shutter, for you Harry, — reminds you of some awfulness, you face it down. You don't let it win.
Keep the wound clean. Keep the good memories fresh. Private pain — or, as we often label it, 'poor mental health' — is real. Especially in grief. But we can control it.
Twelve years ago, Harry, you made a speech at a memorial service to mark the tenth anniversary of your mother's death. It was perfect.
'She made us and so many other people happy,' you said. 'May this be the way that she is remembered.'
Not in resentment, not in fear and not as a 'festering wound'.
If the stiff upper lip fails you, you both have other things on which to rely. For one of you, it's the resilience of Army training and Army humour. For the other, a can-do American pioneer toughness. Work on those.