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In the comedy As You Like It, William Shakespeare wrote that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. Right now, following the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Oprah interview, we are seeing otherwise sensible people falling over in hysteria, arguing about who said what.

Many players are busily jumping up and down, screaming and name-calling from the galleries. Cards are being pulled that mean, suddenly, you may not even question the authenticity of the actor performing for fear your name will be tarnished, that you’ll be labelled a racist or accused of lacking empathy.

Imagine being accused of a crime where, in court, the judge allowed only the prosecution case to be heard; that is exactly what has happened here.

My sister rings from the US and asks, “Have you seen the Meghan and Harry interview?”.  Twitter is going wild; America thinks the UK is a racist country. To be completely honest, although it was on the following night here, my plan was to not watch it and to take myself to bed early, but my sister raised my curiosity. Much as I am loath to quote Anne Widdecombe,  while she was on CBB in 2018 she did predict that Meghan would be trouble, and that prediction has, sadly, come true.

Despite the call for a quiet life and not to be centre stage, the LA actress who grew up never googling anyone royal has given her biggest performance to date. 17 million viewers in the US alone tuned in to a performance so passive-aggressive that, for me, it is hard to believe people were taken in. 

There is a saying, “Poop, or get off the pot” in other words, don’t make accusations and then fail to follow up with the facts. Who was racist? Who was it that locked you up in the palace, taking your passport and driving licence? And who also clearly allowed you to attend the opening of Soho House Amsterdam?

Furthermore, who exactly denied you help for your mental health? Single-handedly, by not naming names, she has stirred up an even bigger hornets’ nest than if she had simply said who was responsible. Even Oprah’s face looked confused. The judgement seems to be ferocious on anyone who dares to express even the mildest of misgivings about the veracity of her tale.

Oprah starts the interview with a “Let’s make it clear, nothing is off limits during this?” and Meghan agrees. But clearly what is meant is, as long as the questions make me, Meghan, look like the ultimate victim, then we are good to go. But it is off limits to name anyone involved that Meghan is  accusing. She will, however, give you a hint that it is not the Queen, but you won’t be getting any concrete facts out of her.

The Queen: in the clear, apparently.

Yet, in my 58 years on this planet, I have met so many people struggling with mental health, but it has also been my unfortunate experience to meet one or two who fake it for their own gain. If you choose to air your laundry in public, you must expect what you say to be evaluated and not simply taken at face value.

We are being labelled a racist country from across the pond based on an interview that, in my opinion, is more full of holes than the book “A Pictorial History of Swiss Cheese.” It is absurd that no one is allowed to rebuff the allegations without being tarnished. Imagine being accused of a crime where, in court, the judge allowed only the prosecution case to be heard; that is exactly what has happened here.

The next day on the stage in the UK was the controversial Good Morning Britain host and former newspaper editor, Piers Morgan, apparently (and, of course, unknowingly) giving his final performance. Regardless of the critics’ cynicism, on all pandemic-related matters he has been the voice of reason and has consistently held the government to account.

Enter stage right, on the same set as Morgan, the rising star and weatherman, Alex Beresford. Funnily enough, he has just changed agents. Not to digress, but I said to his former agent how well she had done with him; she had him anchoring on a prime-time show and also helped him to become the face of a successful suit company. Really, what can a new agent do for Alex that she hasn’t? Unless the aim is to hit the US market, as I think they would like him, but it is a very hard market to crack. He would need a really good angle.

From the moment the pair appear on screen there is a feeling of tension. Even before Alex speaks, Piers asks, “Is he ok?”. Piers makes it clear that Beresford is there at his suggestion. Then, it all kicks off, concluding with Piers walking off, leaving Alex for all the world to see as the hero of the hour. Who took on the big bad Morgan and defended the meek actress with mental health issues?

It could be argued that Piers was becoming a little obsessive over Meghan, but it is his right to question what he hears; a right that I would defend. It is hinted that Piers’ distaste for her occurred after he had a drink with her at the Scarsdale pub in Kensington, never to hear from her again. 

Piers, like myself, lived in LA and please note that, even though they speak English over there, it is a different country. It is not uncommon to sit at a dinner party and ask the guest next to you how they know the host, and they reply, “They are my best friend”. On enquiring how long since they have seen each other, they reply, “three years”. One would presume they were now living on a different continent for them to have not seen each other, but no, they live two hours away. 

My friends live in Dubai, and I still manage to see them five times a year – pandemic restrictions permitting. People do things differently, especially La La Land, and as Piers said himself, they all promise to call, but it’s a “now” society  So, Meghan not speaking to him after a drink in the pub is unlikely to have ruffled his feathers that much.  

Offers are pouring in from the US for Alex Beresford. Go figure.

Now, I may not be psychic, but as soon as the floor show was over, my gut told me that America would be calling for Alex; here was his angle. A week later, and the offers have been pouring in from all over, including the US, for the man that defeated the dragon, Morgan. Or, from another perspective, was it a cleverly crafted television moment making one player, Piers, even more wealthy and famous, and the other rather unknown player a big name in the US overnight? Either way, it was television gold that will go down in history. 

Wherever Piers goes, his army of loyal fans will follow. He was many people’s reason to get up in the morning. My question is, are we all being cleverly played by the players on our screens?

The funeral of Princess Diana; l-r: William, Duke of Cambridge; Earl Spencer; Harry, Duke of Sussex; Charles, Prince of Wales.

We are, for sure, a country that wanted happiness for a boy that we shed tears for as he walked behind his mother’s coffin. We rejoiced as he stood waiting for his bride to come down the aisle; his beautiful, American bride, who we all welcomed with open arms.

My bet is that, in five years’ time, Meghan will be back with Oprah with another tale. Let’s hope the fall out is not too great for Harry a clearly sensitive soul. Morgan may well be the head of a network by then, either here or in the US, if he does not enter politics. Alex will be in the US, hosting a game show or two, whilst anchoring a morning show in one of the states. 

We need to be worried about the current cancel culture; there is a witch hunt to ban anyone who appears to criticise or question those of a different race, or those from LGBTQ+ or religious groups. This is not the way forward. There is saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer”. If we cannot rebut or have chance to educate, those who genuinely hate will simply go underground and become stronger – and we need to keep a firm eye on them. Furthermore we need to be evaluated as human beings not for our race,  religion or sexuality .

I think of recent scenes in the US with Sharon Osbourne looking like she was on trial on the television show, “The Talk”. Her crime? Sticking up for her friend, Piers Morgan. A woman who I know for a fact has fought for diversity all her life is now being labelled a racist in the US. There are rumours that she was being set up by the network in hope that she was cancelled due to her large salary. 

Are we now in a world where anyone suggesting Meghan (who did a two-hour television special) may not be telling the truth should be cancelled? Yet, Meghan herself is not to be held accountable. It something we all need to think about and be afraid of. As the curtain falls on this act it is everyone’s right to review what they have seen without being thrown out of the theatre or being labelled a bigot if they have not liked what they have seen or heard . 

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

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Steven Smith

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