One word brought Meghan’s pain into stark relief
The sadness was written on Meghan's face, tears threatening to well.
Journalist Tom Bradby had just asked the Duchess of Sussex how she was faring in the face of almost three years of intense public scrutiny, after she admitted to the vulnerability of pregnancy and new motherhood being magnified by relentless pressure. And then, an unexpected punch to the heart.
"Thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I'm okay, but it's a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes," she said.
"And the answer is - would it be fair to say 'Not really OK'? It's really been a struggle?" pressed Bradbury.
If it wasn't apparent before, one word brought the private pain of Meghan in to stark relief.
A raw examination of the crushing weight of public life was certainly not what I would have expected from a documentary with the anodyne title of Harry & Meghan: An African Journey. Sure, there was some good PR puffery in there, but the insight into their state of mind was telling.
In recent months, Harry and Meghan's names have become a kind of Kardashian-Jenner white noise, such is their ubiquity in copious headlines. We assume that when it comes to public scrutiny they should accept their lot, cop the criticism, and if nothing else, put on a brave face. After all, when people enter public life they know exactly what they're signing up for, right? Why should we feel sorry for them?
But for Prince Harry, it's more personal than that given his late mother's harrowing experiences before her death. Which is why Meghan giving voice to her pain is so important. It's a reminder that the name in the headline is embodied as a real, raw human being.
Harry, a tireless advocate for mental health, has long been vocal about the pain of losing his mother and his anger at the media's role in her downfall. But his words to Bradby not only spoke of anger and unresolved grief like a "wound that festers", but in mind, of post-traumatic stress disorder reverberating throughout his public life.
"Every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash it takes me straight back. So in that respect it's the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best," the Prince told Bradby.
Imagine that for a second, having to relive and confront that kind of trauma every day, and what living that over and over and over again would do to you as a human being.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Bradby described Harry and Meghan as being "tired and bruised", Harry as "burnt out", and a young family "struggling to adapt to life in the spotlight".
Meghan's response to Bradby's question of whether she and the family could survive the pressure of intense scrutiny was telling. Life can't just be about survival, she said. Yes, she and Harry live enormously privileged lives but her admission that they've been "existing, not living" as they contend with the storm hanging over them doesn't sound charmed.
There's an assumption that being a public figure is a free pass to treat celebrities and royals like a punching bag, and even more so when public money is involved. But who among us could handle the barbs and arrows - nay grenades - unwounded?
When the Duchess of Sussex revealed she'd thought the media coverage of her would at the very least be fair, many scoffed. Who could ever be naive enough to think that the press would be fair? But at its core, her hope wasn't an unreasonable one.
The Duchess is an easy target. Behind the nasty nicknames like "Duchess Difficult", "Hurricane Meghan", "Duchass", and the nonsensical "Me-gain", and the accusations that she is the cause of a royal rift between Princes William and Harry are ugly undertones. Racism, classism, sexism, and perhaps most of all, a lingering ignorance about mental health.
So often we're encouraged to ask others if they're okay, and yet it seems that a different rule applies to public figures.
Anyone who has been bullied knows how relentless and soul-destroying it can be, Duke, Duchess or otherwise.
It's a cliche sure, but Meghan and Harry's documentary reminds us that public figures are people too: judgment, words and actions wound.
At worst, as we know all too well, they can lead to tragic consequences. If this window into the emotional scars of public life isn't enough to give us pause, then hearts are clearly missing.