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Royals nearly drove me to suicide, Meghan Markle tells Oprah Winfrey

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Meghan Markle was left suicidal by her experience with a British royal family that refused to protect her from hateful tabloids and fretted about the skin colour of her unborn child.

Her husband, Prince Harry, was cut off financially by his father Charles, the Prince of Wales, who also stopped taking his calls.

Those were among the revelations when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — the ex-royals who have settled in California — told US television personality Oprah Winfrey the story of a biracial fairytale romance that captivated the world and has descended into a crisis for the British monarchy.

The two-hour broadcast on Sunday was preceded by so much briefing and counter-briefing by the warring royal camps that it was exhausting before it even aired.

In the event, it had something for everyone. For “woke” fans of Meghan and Harry and committed Republicans, there was new evidence of a cruel and archaic institution that tolerates racism.

For traditionalists, there was the pleasing spectacle of two privileged young people who quit work early and then complained about their family. For broadcasters, there was a rare event in the digital era capable of capturing a truly mass audience. And for those weary of pandemic-era lockdowns, there was the temporary distraction of watching another family’s problems.

The one clear loser was Britain’s royal-watching press. Its members will have sat astonished as Winfrey, one of the US’s most celebrated interviewers, unearthed enough gossipy nuggets in one session to sustain tabloids for a decade.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex with the Queen
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex sought to distinguish their treatment by royal officials and the Queen, with Markle saying the monarch had ‘always been wonderful to me’ © POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Viewers learnt that Markle is expecting a girl this summer; that she and Prince Harry married in secret three days before the royal wedding; that they were informed their son, Archie, would not have a royal title or official protection; and that they have adopted “rescue” chickens.

“I just love rescuing!” Markle said.

The most gripping part of the interview was Markle’s confession that the stress and isolation of her royal life led her to contemplate suicide. “I just didn’t want to be alive any more,” she told Winfrey. “I thought [suicide] would have solved everything for everyone.”

Markle said she asked a senior member of staff for help but was told: “There’s nothing we can do to protect you.” Rather than checking into a hospital, as she had hoped, she went to an official event that evening with her husband because, she warned him, “I can’t be left alone”.

The pair sought to draw a distinction between the members of the royal family and the institutional scaffolding of the monarchy. Both repeatedly heaped praise on the Queen, with Markle at one point recalling a fond memory of the beloved head of the royal family sharing a blanket with her during a frigid trip.

“The Queen has always been wonderful to me,” Markle said.

But they were critical of the faceless functionaries who run “the Firm”, as the royal family is known, accusing staffers of refusing to protect Markle, in particular, from a venomous tabloid media that was determined to cast her as a villain.

The ex-royals alleged that officials fretted about the skin colour of their son Archie before he was born
Meghan Markle’s biracial identity influenced everything, with the ex-royals alleging that officials fretted about the skin colour of their son Archie before he was born © PA

As an example, Meghan cited a sensational story that the demanding bride-to-be had brought sister-in-law Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, to tears during a dress-fitting session. In fact, she said, it was the other way round — but nobody from the palace would correct the record.

“The narrative about making Kate cry was the beginning of a real character assassination,” she said.

The issue of race infused everything, with Markle eventually concluding: “I realised it was all happening just because I was breathing.”

Markle said that while she was pregnant there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.

Prince Harry saw their 2018 Australia visit as a turning point. Markle’s charming performance, he argued, had reminded his family of another glamorous — but troublesome — young bride who shone on a similar tour Down Under in 1983: his mother Diana, Princess of Wales.

“That brought back memories,” Harry said.

Markle’s biracial identity — and social media — had made their plight even worse, he argued.

Prince Harry expressed hurt that his father had not done more to support him, but also a measure of sympathy for a man born into a form of gilded captivity. “I’m acutely aware of where my family stand and how scared they are of the tabloids turning on them,” he explained.

“My father and my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave,” he added.

But Harry did. He and Meghan are now living in California splendour down the road from Winfrey, straddling the worlds of British royalty and American celebrity — with their chickens.

“This year has been crazy for everybody,” Prince Harry said. “We did what we had to do.”



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Analysis

Brazil tries to reset relations ahead of Joe Biden’s climate summit

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When John Kerry lauded Brazil’s “recommitment” to ending illegal deforestation, the US climate tsar was inundated with replies from sceptics who warned that the Jair Bolsonaro administration was not to be trusted.

Brazilian diplomats are battling that same scepticism days ahead of a climate summit hosted by Joe Biden, which American officials have painted as a pivotal moment for relations between the US president and the rightwing Bolsonaro government.

In Brasília, top foreign policy officials say the Brazilian government has embarked on a new approach to the environment, pointing to its commitment in a letter to Biden last week to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030 as a signal the nation was ready to embrace a more “positive” role.

The message, however, has been greeted cautiously by the nation’s western interlocutors, who fear Bolsonaro — a mercurial former army captain who counts the Amazon rainforest’s illegal loggers and miners among his voter base — could change tack at any moment.

Their concern has been exacerbated by the more pugnacious approach of Ricardo Salles, Bolsonaro’s environment minister, who is pushing western nations to provide billions of dollars in financial aid to Brazil’s environmental efforts, even before the country begins to tamp down on surging levels of deforestation.

Deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest has risen to its highest level in more than a decade © Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty

Labelled “blackmail” by some environmentalists, the approach has spurred friction with western countries, which Brazilians diplomats are seeking to ease ahead of the virtual two-day summit beginning on Thursday.

“There has been a change in the government’s position. There has been a political decision to be positive and ambitious on the 22nd of April,” said Paulino Franco de Carvalho Neto, an ambassador at Itamaraty, Brazil’s foreign ministry.

“We are ready to co-operate with other countries,” he said, adding that the new approach had been adopted recently and came from Bolsonaro.

Leonardo Cleaver de Athayde, Brazil’s lead climate negotiator, said the shift in Brazilian policy was evidenced by “Bolsonaro’s commitment to ending illegal deforestation by 2030, [which] is a new and very significant political development and should be acknowledged as such”.

Franco also pointed to progress in negotiating a “side letter” with the EU to propel the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which has been stalled over environmental concerns, as well as the appointment this month of a new Brazilian foreign minister, Carlos Alberto França, who highlighted climate issues in his first speech.

The destruction of the Amazon has emerged as a key sticking point in Brazil’s relations with western countries over the past two years.

Since the beginning of the Bolsonaro administration in 2019, deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest has risen to its highest level in more than a decade, sparking concerns about the impact on climate change.

Last year more than 11,000 sq km of rainforest was razed, an area seven times the size of London, although it was still below the historic peak Brazil reached in 2008.

“We know we need to make important adjustments. We have a good history on sustainable development. Now is time to come back to this track,” said a senior official at Itamaraty.

The rhetoric, however, has failed to impress environmentalists, who said the goal to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030 was merely a rehash of a pledge made by the previous administration under Dilma Rousseff.

A group of US senators have also lobbied Biden to take a firm line in the talks with Bolsonaro.

“In recent weeks, the Bolsonaro administration has repeatedly expressed interest in working with the US on environmental issues. But, until now, it has demonstrated no serious interest in working with the multiple actors within Brazil who would play essential roles in any serious efforts to save the Amazon rainforest,” according to the letter signed by 15 senators, including Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

“Given [its] record of unmet climate commitments, it is our view that any US assistance to Brazil related to the Amazon should be conditioned on the Brazilian government making significant and sustained progress in two critical areas: reducing deforestation and ending impunity for environmental crimes.”

US diplomats said the environment was now their number one bilateral issue with Brazil, which officials at Itamaraty have also acknowledged. Many at the foreign office hope the appointment of França, a traditional career foreign service diplomat, as minister will help ease relations with Washington.

However, current and former diplomats say there are limits to what he can achieve.

“The new minister represents a return to professionalism in dealing with foreign affairs. But his challenge lies beyond the foreign office’s reach,” said Rubens Ricupero, a former environment minister.

“In order to build better relations with the Biden administration he depends on people he does not control: Salles in environment and Bolsonaro himself. If there are no real changes in policies in these areas the best the new minister can achieve is damage containment.”

Climate Capital

Where climate change meets business, markets and politics. Explore the FT’s coverage here 



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Taiwan seizes chance to host foreign reporters kicked out of China

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Taiwan is courting journalists fleeing China, spotting an opportunity to boost its visibility and build international support as concerns mount that Beijing is flirting with the idea of invading the country.

Last year, more than 20 journalists made the journey across the Taiwan Strait from China. Many had published articles critical of human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang and the government’s early handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

They came at the invitation of the Taiwanese government, a move that has infuriated China, which claims the island as part of its territory.

Jojje Olsson, a freelance journalist living in Taipei since being denied re-entry to Beijing in 2016, said that Beijing’s reaction to critical reporting carried risks for the regime.

“China is shooting itself in the foot by expelling lots of journalists,” he said. When reporters come to Taiwan, he argued, “they are exposed to views that don’t reflect well on China”.

Steven Butler, the Asian head at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said that “Beijing is surely very unhappy about journalists moving to Taiwan”.

China, he added, was sensitive to the foreign media being in Taiwan, citing a case two years ago involving a prominent newspaper that was warned against setting up a regional headquarters in Taipei. 

Beijing said the newspaper’s offices in the Chinese capital would be forced to close if it went ahead with its expansion plans.

Michael Smith of the Australian Financial Review, who was forced to leave China in September after being questioned by state security officials, said Taiwan’s consulate officials in Sydney “made it very clear that we [journalists] were welcome”.

He declined the invitation but many others accepted.

Last year, journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post arrived in Taiwan after being expelled from China, which Beijing said was a response to Washington’s blacklisting of its state media reporters.

They were joined three weeks ago by RTÉ’s Yvonne Murray and her husband John Sudworth of the BBC following threats of legal actions over his reporting on Xinjiang. 

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment from the Financial Times.

Hong Kong had been the city of choice for journalists covering the Chinese state from afar. Western journalists booted out of China after Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 decamped to the British colony, leaving behind reporters from the Soviet bloc.

Veteran BBC correspondent John Sudworth left China late last month after facing an ‘intensifying propaganda campaign’ targeting the broadcaster and him personally © BBC

Seventy years later, Olsson said Taiwan was assuming Hong Kong’s former role. The introduction of China’s sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last year meant that the territory no longer afforded protection from Beijing. 

“There is no other place in the world that follows developments in China as closely as Taiwan,” argued Olsson, adding that finding out what the Chinese Communist party was up to was a matter of existential concern for the Taiwanese.

Taipei’s early detection of the pandemic is a case in point. Taiwanese officials were alerted to the novel coronavirus circulating in Wuhan through close monitoring of Chinese social media and introduced containment measures before any other foreign government. 

Taiwan boasts expertise in China across its government and private sector, and shares a language and timezone. But reporting from across the Taiwan Strait has its limitations. Journalists have experienced difficulties securing interviews and personal stories that present a more nuanced picture of China.

Their jobs have been additionally complicated by the absence of news assistants — China-based journalists and researchers employed by international media — who face more severe legal consequences and lack the privileges of a foreign passport.

Reporters have also been forced to operate without the support of a bureau, as media executives are wary of provoking China by opening offices in Taiwan. Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster, was the last foreign media outlet to do so in 2018. Tokyo and Seoul are viewed as alternative east Asian headquarters, industry insiders said. 

The size of Taiwan’s economy is another factor that has given foreign outlets pause. Despite being home to some of the world’s most important technology companies, only a handful of news organisations provide consistent coverage of the Taiwanese market, which is often overlooked by foreign investors.

But China’s escalating military posturing towards Taiwan has kept the island in global headlines, as the two sides battle to dominate the international narrative around its contested status.

Beijing has used its economic and political might to entice Taipei’s few remaining diplomatic allies to switch recognition, undermining Taiwan’s sovereignty with promises of investment deals.

But by welcoming foreign journalists, the Taiwanese government has also exposed itself to critical coverage of the marginalisation of its aboriginal communities and migrant workers as well as a sluggish vaccination rollout. Journalists, after all, as one Taiwanese politician joked to the FT, “are hard to control”.



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Defund the police: how a protest slogan triggered a policy debate

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Eleven months ago “Defund the police” was a slogan that appeared on placards at protests; now it is being debated by American city councils.

Polls show only a small portion of Americans support the idea of defunding the police, a flexible phrase that can mean redirecting funds to social services or outright elimination of the department. Yet as lawyers prepare to deliver closing arguments on Monday in the trial of the officer accused of murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis, and in the wake of yet more deaths at the hands of police, what was previously a fringe concept has become part of mainstream US political discussion.

Minneapolis has three proposals to diminish the police department’s power that supporters are attempting to place on the ballot in November. Two would replace the police department with a department of public safety, with the police as one division of it. The third would place the police department under the control of a 13-member civilian commission, with the power to hire the police chief and discipline officers for misconduct.

Austin, Texas cut its police budget in August by 35 per cent, with 5 per cent taking immediate effect. Seattle cut the police budget by 20 per cent in December. City councils have cut police budgets in nearly two dozen other cities, although mostly because the pandemic has battered municipal finances.

“People will look back at this year and say this was a real turning point,” said Alexander Weiss, a consultant who has advised police departments in Chicago and New Orleans, in reference to police accountability.

People march near the Colorado State Capitol to protest the deaths of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo © Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Floyd’s death last May set off protests around the world at the disproportionate number of people of colour killed by police. A key demand for many activists was to abolish police departments entirely, or cut their funding and redirect it to social services. In Minneapolis, nine city council members stood on a stage and pledged to defund the police. When Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered that the words “Black Lives Matter” be painted on a city street blocks from the White House, demonstrators used the same yellow paint to add: “Defund the Police”.

With more people killed by police in the past three weeks, the demands to defund have escalated. Chicago community organiser Rey Wences told non-profit news outlet Democracy Now! that following the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo last month by a Chicago police officer: “What we’re asking for is the same thing we’ve been asking for years . . . Defund the police and invest in our communities.”

In 2017, state and local governments around the US spent $115bn on police — some 4 per cent of state and local direct general expenditures — according to the Urban Institute. That share has stayed constant for the past four decades, even as the rising cost of healthcare means other big-ticket items, such as elementary education, now constitute a smaller portion of municipal budgets.

Most of the money is used to pay salaries and benefits to police officers, so cutting more than 15 per cent of a department’s budget often means cutting the size of the force, Weiss said.

Police officer pay has increased as police unions have grown in power and unions are some of the defunding movement’s most dedicated opponents. After Austin City Council in August voted to cut the police budget by $150m, the Texas Municipal Police Association put up a billboard outside the city, saying, “Warning!!! Austin Police Defunded Enter at Your Own Risk”.

Critics have warned that crime will rise if police budgets are cut. The number of homicides did rise in most US cities last year. Although the reasons are unclear, that increase seems to be unrelated to police budget cuts, which in most cases had not yet taken effect.

Some Democrats have been critical too. President Joe Biden said in a meeting with civil rights leaders that talk of defunding the police was how Republicans “beat the living hell out of us across the country” in the November elections.

An Ipsos/USA Today poll released last month found that 18 per cent of Americans support defunding the police, and only 11 per cent support abolition. About 57 per cent support fully funding their own local police department, while 43 per cent support redirecting some of that money to social services.

Richard Auxier, a tax and budget expert at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said that since police budgets were set by local governments: “there are literally thousands of them across the country, . . . and they all have their own politics”.

The politics have been particularly intense in Minneapolis. Three of the councillors who took the pledge in June backed away from it. The Minneapolis Charter Commission, a previously obscure body, killed an attempt last year by council members to place a proposal on the ballot that would replace the police department with a new public safety agency. The Minneapolis City Council launched a second attempt in January.

Activist Antonio Williams is a canvas director for the Yes 4 Minneapolis coalition, which is trying to land an initiative on the ballot that is similar to the city council’s. (A third group, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, also is pursuing a ballot initiative.) So far more than 20,000 residents have signed the Yes 4 Minneapolis petition.

A demonstrator holds Daunte Wright’s portrait during the seventh night of protests over his shooting by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on Saturday © Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

Williams said some of the residents he had spoken to thought the petition’s language went too far, while others thought it did too little. He sees all those conversations as a first step in the process of persuading someone to sign, then to show up at the polls in November to support the initiative.

For him and other activists, the killings of Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center police officer, or of Toledo in Chicago, add no urgency to their cause, because it has always been urgent. But perhaps for some, the fact that Wright’s death occurred while former police officer Derek Chauvin is being tried for Floyd’s death, when the world is watching Minneapolis, underlines “a dire need for some change”.

“It’s going to continue to happen all over the country until policing as we know it and see it is done away with,” said Williams.

Certainly Floyd’s death “galvanised” the city’s residents on the issue of police misconduct, Williams said. He doubts the signature drive could have succeeded 11 months ago. “The conversation could have been had for sure, but the next step, the commitment, the action part of it?” he said. “I don’t see it happening.”





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