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It took two days, but when the queen’s statement finally arrived, it was unequivocal.
Without actually calling Prince Harry and Meghan Markle liars, the statement—issued in the queen’s name and personally signed off by her after 36 hours of intense discussions between Prince Charles, the queen, Prince William, and their senior staff—made it clear the queen and royal family do not accept the claims the couple made in their blockbuster interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” the statement said (carefully implying that this was the first time they had heard the whole story). “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. Whilst some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”
The iron fist is well concealed by the velvet glove of genteel and restrained language, but those four key words—“some recollections may vary”—make it very clear that the palace are denying the accusations made against them.
In doing so, the palace is putting the explosive ball back into Harry and Meghan’s court, by silently challenging them to name the family member who had “concerns” about the darkness of the unborn Archie's skin, and precisely describe that situation. The palace may also be referring to Meghan’s claim that she received no support over her mental health issues, which led her to contemplate suicide.
One thing is clear: the palace has no intention, yet at least, of bringing those details into the public realm. And so all the unanswered questions remain, with the palace making clear they will not be rushed into saying anything. There will be no apology, no hand-wringing personal statement from the queen.
After Diana’s death, the monarchy played rabbit-in-the headlights; it froze, did nothing and hoped it would all go away. Eventually Tony Blair had to tell the queen (politely, respectfully) to get on TV and address the nation. This the queen did, and people hailed a new era of a more open monarchy.
Fast forward 23 years, and it seems the old-school shutters are down once again. Harry and Meghan’s explosive interview has led some to think the monarchy could be imperiled, and others that the palace should be forced to answers the couple’s explosive claims. But no. This time they are not going to allow themselves to be run down by an oncoming media juggernaut.
Reportedly the family, knocked for six by the unexpectedly furious and bitter detail of the couple’s interview, had spent the last few days wrestling with the natural desire to push back at being called racists, and weighing against that the consideration that any statement denying racism could provoke the Sussexes into naming the member of the royal family who raised “concerns” about their son’s skin color.
“There is a lack of trust,” an insider told the Evening Standard. “A denial could lead the Sussexes breaking their vow and naming the member of the royal family who discussed their son’s skin color.”
The traditional “never complain, never explain” palace strategy has been married in this new statement by a desire to push back—firmly, and ever so politely—against the accusations of racism and lack of caring made by the couple.
The palace says it will address the issue “privately.” The implicit condemnation of Meghan and Harry’s very public airing of the Windsors’ dirty laundry is also obvious. But compare this statement, not making clear the palace is actually doing anything, with the rush to announce an inquiry into Meghan’s alleged bullying of staff last week.
The palace seems more emphatically focused on the latter than what the Sussexes alleged. Has it uncovered who the family member was who made the alleged remarks? Is the statement challenging the claim that it did happen?
It is said that a pre-prepared, generic statement which reiterated the queen’s personal affection for Harry and Meghan was torn up by the monarch on Monday morning, after she read reading briefing notes compiled by courtiers who had stayed up all night watching the show (which ran from 1 a.m.-3 a.m.).
The Telegraph reported that Sir Edward Young, the queen’s private secretary, and his Clarence House counterpart Clive Alderton, stayed up to watch the program Sunday night, while other staff, including the Duke of Cambridge’s household, watched on their laptops from home. They were ahead of the curve, but the queen wisely decided this was no time for haste.
Instead, we have these 61 words which essentially leave any clarification to Meghan and Harry. No doubt the Sussexes thought they were being honorable when they declined to name the individual who made comments about their children’s likely skin color. They likely saw exonerating Philip and the queen the same way.
In fact, they put everyone else under a cloud of suspicion, leading to this statement by the palace. Expect a flurry of anonymous briefings in the next few days picking holes and magnifying inconsistencies and contradictions in the claims made by the Sussexes to Oprah.
In the meantime, we may be sure the royals will adhere to one of their other maxims: “Keep calm and carry on.”
In service of reassuring, not-much-to-see-here continuity, schedules were stuck to Tuesday. Prince William made a supportive phone call to an NHS hospital. Prince Charles bravely ventured into the outside world Tuesday, and the issue of diversity was clearly on his mind.
Visiting a vaccination center, he chatted to a woman in the queue who said she was from Nigeria. He said to her: “Oh fantastic, yes, I’ve been there. Lots of different ethnic groups. Do give them my kind regards next time you speak to them.”
It was an absurd and tin-eared comment, and if he was the CEO of a private company, the shareholders would be looking for his head after the events of the past week.
But that’s the point. Meghan may call the Monarchy “The Firm”, but it’s not any other business. It’s a vast sinecure, underpinned by the twin pillars of huge land holdings and the unwritten British constitution.
The monarchy is not, in any meaningful way, accountable. Sometimes they choose to pretend to be; pay a little income tax, for example, while keeping the much more valuable death duties exemption.
The palace has always prized acting slowly, and their forceful response today is likely or have been guided by the British public having a different, much more critical reaction to Meghan and Harry following the interview than Americans.
Around a third of people (36%) told a YouGov poll after the documentary that their sympathies lay mostly with the queen and the royal household (down 2 points compared to before the interview), while 22% of people (up four points since before the documentary) say they have more sympathy for Harry and Meghan. Over quarter (28%) feel no sympathy for either of the royal camps.
The difference in age is the stark differential: younger people are pro-Harry and Meghan, and older people are pro-the queen.
Plenty of people hate Piers Morgan’s fierce anti-Meghan invective (which has now led to him leaving ITV), but some Brits—especially older people— identify closely with the monarchy, and, odd as it may seem, may have taken personal offense at Harry and Meghan’s claims it is racist.
The national support for the queen—and, indeed, the oft-reviled “institution”— is the big difference between now and 1997, and perhaps the key to why the royal family is, right now at least, emboldened not to be pushed to say or do anything it is not comfortable with. Whatever has been said since the Oprah interview, whatever the fevered opinions on TV and online, the palace seems focused on doing things its own way.
Harry and Meghan, the queen seems to be saying, it’s over to you.