The contemplation of suicide, blatant racism, and a family of “trapped,” emotionally stunted snobs: nobody expected Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey to be as dramatic as it was, or as grim. It was less a night for popcorn and low-stakes royal dish, and more one for stricken looks of surprise. One bombshell and within-palace-walls horror story followed another, one numbing thud after another.
The opening revelation that Kate Middleton had made Meghan cry, not the other way round—as had been previously reported—was a relatively innocent aperitif. This grand guignol was just getting started.
Harry and Meghan told a similar raw story of gilded nightmares just as Princess Diana told BBC’s Panorama in 1995. We have heard it before, and assumed the institution might have changed in response to the criticism that followed. Not a chance.
It was every terrible part of being a princess/duchess in a fairytale-gone-wrong as Diana had told—with a happy ending of a kind, although the question lingering at the end, despite the principals’ smiles was: at what cost? Harry said he felt his mother’s spirit during this time, as well as living off her money having been cut off by the royal family. “She saw it coming,” he said.
The British tabloid press, and Harry and Meghan’s harshest critics, will likely find ways to dismiss their words, to criticize them anew. Perhaps, as has happened before, Meghan and Harry will be decried as rich cry-babies, entitled whiners. But these familiar attacks will be harder to make, given how the couple told their stories to Oprah. Britain will finally see this documentary tonight, Monday.
Oprah did not, as her detractors expected, simply act as a friend with a shoulder to cry on; she didn’t supply warm bathos or easy platitudes. Sure, she visited the couple’s hens. She joyfully welcomed Meghan’s pregnancy bump. But she interviewed with care and rigor. Every time Meghan or Harry waffled or said something imprecise, she asked them to be precise—especially when it came to identifying the racist or racists within the palace who demeaned Meghan, and who queried how dark Archie’s skin would be when he was born.
That person (or persons’) identity remains unknown, but the stricken expressions on Meghan and Harry’s faces, their determination not to tell Oprah, suggest someone who was very close to them, or significant within the palace. The possible darkness of Archie’s skin, the fact he would be the child of a biracial couple, apparently necessitated he would not be thought of as a prince, and that he deserved no security.
Oprah asked questions about what had gone wrong in the royal family, and was told bluntly about a catastrophe that—if true—shows just how unfit for modern purpose the royal family is.
This was such a compelling interview, brilliantly done, that two hours did not seem enough. Indeed, Oprah said more would be revealed on CBS This Morning in a few hours time, co-anchored by her best friend Gayle King. Sure, Meghan was not asked about the investigation into bullying allegations that broke after the interview was recorded and had so focused minds before its transmission, and which seem—for now at least—the least of the royal family’s concerns.
That family is very selective when it comes to opening investigations. For instance, at the time of writing there is one underway about alleged bullying by Meghan Markle of palace staff, and not one about Prince Andrew’s friendship with dead pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Here is a suggestion for a few more, after Meghan and Prince Harry’s interview.
Is it true a palace figure raised “concerns” about the “darkness” of unborn Archie’s skin? If so, whose racism was this? Why did they feel they could voice it to the baby’s father and mother? Why is this being said in the 21st century? What does it say about the royal family as an institution? Was it a royal family member, an aide, who? Will they be as thoroughly investigated, and if necessary reprimanded, as Meghan? What does the royal family have to say about this proud racism it exhibits directly to a woman of color, carrying a royal family member in her belly?
Another investigation idea. Meghan said she felt suicidal when she was five months pregnant and that she approached the palace authorities seeking help, and was effectively told to get lost—when they surely have access to all the best doctors and specialists in the land. This reminds the casual royal observer of the complete dereliction of care when it came to Princess Diana, who was also left by this family to go mad within the confines of the palace.
This investigation would focus both on both alleged cruelty and ignorance. Cruelty, because a woman is clearly struggling to maintain her psychological equilibrium. She is not only suffering, she is suffering right in front of you, and you are essentially rolling your eyes at her as if she is an inconvenience. Is this true? Who are you, the people that reportedly did this? And what are you, the institution that facilitates this behavior?
After Diana died, so much was written about the changing royal family; that it would be the wake-up call to embrace at least the vestiges of 20th and now 21st century thinking. “Progressive” was the word. Harry and Meghan’s interview showed just how bogus that PR window dressing was. This is an institution, if Harry and Meghan are telling the truth, that is incapable of change, and more than that—actively resistant to it, and vicious to those who represent change, or who herald it.
The royal family is not geared to welcoming such figures or forces. According to Harry and Meghan, the institutional instinct rather is to destroy. Prince Harry made brutally clear how deficient his father Prince Charles had been, and said—just as he felt “trapped,” so did his father and brother. The only winner in his recitation of awfulness was the queen, who Harry praised to the hilt.
If we believe the couple, their departure from the royal family was quite literally a life or death situation. Harry left the royal family to save his wife’s life, and his son’s future. And to save himself.
In her one misconceived idea, Oprah edged into the finale-of-Pretty-Woman territory, when she set up the dynamic of the couple saving each other, and it would have been easy for Meghan and Harry to go along with that, summoning up the image of Richard Gere and Julia Roberts on that apartment ladder joyfully clinging on to each other, allegedly equal saviors (but really, c’mon!).
But Meghan could not go there. She said one of her regrets was “believing them when they said I would be protected,” meaning the royal family. They had done the opposite; they had left her not only exposed, she made clear, but life-endangeringly desperate. She told them this, and they did nothing. (Buckingham Palace, of course, may respond to this litany of charges, and claim things unfolded very differently—we shall see.)
Harry and Meghan cautiously accepted the Pretty Woman dynamic Oprah offered, but their grim smiles suggested this was less a triumphant romantic ending, and more a case of lives saved by the grittiest of margins.
Let’s say Pretty Woman had ended with Richard Gere weeping with fear on the ladder because of his fear of heights, and Julia Roberts coming to help him with the aid of the emergency services—that was more the tone of the end of the Oprah interview.
When Meghan said it was “greater than any fairytale you ever read,” it sounded like she meant that this story could have ended very differently; that happiness had only just been snatched from the jaws of unhappiness and desperation.
There seem to be a number of vying forces, which will govern the future of royal relationships after this shattering interview. The royal family were right to be nervous. This morning they will likely be pondering how on earth to respond to it.
Judging by the sheer scale of anti-Harry and Meghan briefing hours before the broadcast, a war—and one without end—seemed very much on. We learned, variously, in the British Sunday papers that Meghan had exploded over a blanket shaded the wrong kind of red; that Harry was nicknamed “The Hostage” before his wedding, and that he had shouted “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets” in a row over a tiara.
The other forces, probably mindful of how this rift might look publicly, were telling certain reporters that reconciliation between the warring Harry and William might be on the cards. The Sunday Telegraph said William and Kate were hopeful for a reconciliation whatever was said in the Oprah interview, and the Telegraph said that Harry was “determined to stand shoulder to shoulder” with William at the unveiling of a statue of their mother Princess Diana, scheduled for July 1 at Kensington Palace on what would have been her 60th birthday.
Harry “desperately hopes” to attend the event and considers it “a priority,” the Telegraph said. That sense of old-school royal duty and loyalty mirrors the undertones of Queen Elizabeth’s message to the Commonwealth, broadcast earlier on Sunday by the BBC. The queen spoke of “friendship and a spirit of unity” in her address, praising examples of “courage, commitment, and selfless dedication to duty” in Commonwealth nations and territories, notably by those working on the front line, whether in health care or other public services.
“The testing times experienced by so many have led to a deeper appreciation of the mutual support and spiritual sustenance we enjoy by being connected to others,” the queen said in the gentle program—also starring Prince Charles, Kate, William, Camilla, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex—which was in marked dramatic contrast to the Harry and Meghan interview. Post-pandemic, the queen said she looked forward to “a common future that is sustainable and more secure.”
Harry and Meghan said they wanted to “move on” after the broadcast of the interview, considering it their opportunity to have their say, and now “consider the matter closed,” sources told the Telegraph. “It was something they felt they wanted and needed to do but now they have done it, they feel a line has been drawn under that chapter of their lives and they want to move on,” a friend told the paper.
After the Oprah interview, however, all of this seems entirely unlikely—unless the royal family finally opens its minds and hearts to the multi-layered dysfunctionality it so willingly fosters and tolerates. The number and nature of revelations requiring detailed and considered response by the palace are simply too many. The fact that Meghan came so close to taking her own life; the fact the color of Archie’s skin was a matter of “concern” are matters that are un-spinnable (unless the palace challenges their veracity)—as is Harry’s damning summation of his relationship with Prince Charles.
The Oprah interview is a depth charge. It can only be a roadmap to restored relations if the royal family rouses itself from its air of lost-in-time prejudices and snobbery, and answers the questions Meghan and Harry have laid at its door. As for Harry and Meghan, they didn’t seem too bothered about making friends, or making nice. Telling their truth seemed far more important, and this they did—devastatingly.