LONDON—It’s been weeks since Oprah Winfrey conducted the mother and father of all interviews with British-born Prince Harry, 36, and his 39-year-old American wife Meghan Markle in a lush Montecito garden, not far from where Harry and Meghan (H&M), and Oprah live, surrounded by millionaires, billionaires, celebrities and Hollywood stars. It was heavily trailed: an intimate conversation between a world-famous billionaire and two woke millionaires. Fifty million people worldwide watched it; in the UK (pop. 68m) where exceptionally privileged H&M as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex once lived in stupendous splendour and luxury until last year, just 11.1m tuned in.
It’s quite possible—strategic even—that H&M already made the calculation to blow up the bridges behind them. “The pair were widely seen as wanting to use the interview as a way to launch their new public lives in the US,” opined The Guardian. What a bombshell–and damn the torpedoes! What great television—even if it had only the nutritional value of a McMuffin and caused severe heartburn afterwards!
At nearly two hours of revelations, allegations, withering takedowns and a fortissimo blast of grievances, the tell-all, no-holds-barred interview fanned the flames of gender and identity politics, wokeism and racism. It should have come with emojis. H&M took a flamethrower and lobbed it at the Royal Household (aka the Firm; the Institution), UK race relations and the media. This is the equivalent of crapping in your own backyard and dishing the dirt on the people and the family you profess to love and respect. We’re still reeling from the aftershocks and the schism that has been laid bare—in media (particularly the tabloids); the commentariat and literati; generational divides; black and white and all colors in between, the gilded and those just making do.
“News is like digital candy, dispensed 24 hours a day,” said The New York Times. This story appears to have long legs and will run and run, specially after the Palace released a compassionate but firm reply 24 hours after The Interview. “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
The reply acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations made but also seemed to suggest—in the nicest possible way, you understand— that not everything that H&M disclosed in The Interview will go unchallenged. An olive branch is extended, with just a hint of a rebuke.
If people, specially Americans, who weighed in with their tendentious comments, op-eds and citric diatribes were expecting a ferocious fightback from our royal side of the pond, they were to be disappointed. The royal family do “dignified silence” extremely well; it’s their modus vivendi. Even when they are being traduced they will not engage in public spats or give tit for tat. It is for others—royal courtiers, friends, aides, royal experts, biographers and “unnamed sources”—who will speak up. It’s not “terribly British”—downright infra dig—to air dirty linen in public, as Diana, Fergie, Charles and Andrew, who had given searing solo TV interviews at various times, had come to regret. Victorian essayist Walter Bagehot wrote: “We must not let in daylight upon the magic”; mystery being essential to British monarchy.
Ian Murray, head of the Society of Journalists, came under pressure following his statement to counter H&M’s assertions of media bias and intrusion. “UK media is not bigoted and will not be swayed from its vital role of holding the rich and powerful to account,” he wrote. Murray later backtracked with a second statement: “There is a lot of work to be done in the media and to improve diversity and inclusion.” And then he resigned. The BBC, which wears its impartiality like a crown of thorns on its head, received a memo from H&M’s PR spinners not to field “old white men” to critique The Interview.
The highly opinionated Piers Morgan walked out of his hugely popular morning TV show during a heated argy-bargy with the program’s weather reporter who accused Morgan of being obsessed with Meghan. “The damage she has done to British monarchy and the Queen, at a time when Prince Philip is lying in hospital is enormous,” Morgan said, tacks practically flying out of his mouth. He said he didn’t “believe almost anything that’s come out of her mouth” and described The Interview as “a diatribe of bilge”. Over 40,000 viewers registered their complaint against Morgan, who is now the subject of a fierce multimillion-pound bidding war among media outlets who want to sign him up pronto.
An apoplectic Nigel Farage, the former right-wing head of the Brexiteer UK Independence Party who almost singlehandedly took the UK out of the European Union, ranted: “How dare they (H&M)??!! How dare they trash the Queen??!!” The highly respected journalist Andrew Neil fulminated: “Bash the Brits on US TV! A total s…show for the UK’s global reputation! Those of us wish them no ill, but also have no interest in what they have to say, talking about things of which they have no qualifications. It would be best if they just fade into obscurity.”
Not to be outdone, over in America, Megyn Kelly, former Fox News presenter, gave interviews deriding H&M and robustly defending Piers Morgan’s right to voice his own opinions. Kelly said that American conservatives (aka Republicans) had turned against the couple for their “woke victimisation culture” but that more liberal Americans (aka Democrats) were “mad at the royal family and buying into the couple’s story hook, line and sinker.” Kelly labelled Meghan an “opportunist” who “tries to play the sympathy card”, and urged her to “get a grip on how actual people live and what actually matters in life.” She tweeted: “Give me a break. Have you ever seen such privileged people wallowing in their own (perceived) victimhood like this?”
Harry said that one of their reasons for quitting the royal family was the “lack of support and understanding” and their desire to live a quiet life away from the public gaze. Ever the gadfly, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted: “When I’m looking for a quiet peaceful life out of the public eye, the first thing I’ll do is call Oprah to do an interview.” Junior described Harry’s TV appearance as looking like a “dude in a hostage video”. His dad The Donald, who once described Meghan as “nasty”, surprisingly declined to give a comment, saying only that the duchess was “no good” and did not want to elaborate in case he was “cancelled”.
An opinion piece in The New York Times headlined: “Down with British monarchy”. There were cries of “Sink British ships”; “Queen should apologize to Meghan Markle”—as if the “special relationship” between the US and the UK, and the historical and cultural bonds between our countries suddenly counted for nought, lost in the mists of time and the attitudinizing of foreign-domiciled critics lecturing the UK on what’s wrong with our country.
“Meghan and Harry,” wrote a Washington Post editor, “had revealed in stark terms how the racism and white supremacy that the British wielded for centuries to sustain their empire remains very alive.” Bah! Humbug! Pot calling the kettle black. Tell that to George Floyd’s family. The American TV show host Jimmy Kimmel injected a note of levity when he said: “Harry said racism was a big part of their decision to leave. You know things are bad at Buckingham Palace if they came to America to get away from racism.” French bien pensants condemned The Interview, saying H&M were “acting like spoiled children”.
‘All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’
In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote: “All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Frosty relations between H&M and the royal family have almost certainly plunged into deep freeze. There was a fear that The Interview would fuel demands in former colonies—particularly in Africa and the Caribbean—to drop the Queen in 15 of the 54 Commonwealth countries of which she is the head, as their sovereign head of state. “If Meghan is telling you she suffered racism in the Palace, then she did. Anyone who suggests otherwise is not black,” wrote Nana Acheampong in The Sun. There was genuine concern that it would turbo-charge sentiments of republican-leaning parts of the populace to retire the monarchy.
The family faces a great challenge to its reputation and legacy. Her Majesty, 94, is much loved and admired. Prince Philip, her exemplary consort of nearly 70 years, whom she described as “being my strength and stay all these years”, has just been discharged from a month-long stay in hospital during which he had a heart procedure. The timing of The Interview was criticized for being highly insensitive with some people describing H&M’s behavior as an “act of disloyalty, verging on the treasonable.” There were calls to strip them of their titles, specially after Meghan claimed that she “is not attached to titles. All the grandeur surrounding this stuff is an attachment I don’t have.” Still, she was concerned that Archie was deprived of his title of ‘prince’, fearing the royal status of their son being downgraded.
Following a recent visit to a school in East London where his wife Catherine introduced her ‘Mentally Healthy Schools’ project, Prince William was asked by a journalist if the royal family is racist. He pointedly replied: “We are very much not a racist family.” A new YouGov poll taken after The Interview showed H&M’s popularity ratings falling to their lowest levels with 47% regarding the once much-loved Harry unfavorably, and 58% regarding Meghan unfavorably.
Could it be that during two years of courtship…. that Meghan did not Google Harry before they started dating?
H&M’s engagement was met with an outpouring of goodwill; their wedding captured the public’s imagination and was widely celebrated as a testament to Britain’s inclusivity. It was also a match made for tabloid heaven: a divorced, mixed-race, independent, self-assured woman with a TV career behind her, falling in love with the fun-loving Capt. Harry Wales, 6th in line to the British throne. Could it be that during two years of courtship, Meghan claims she knew almost next to nothing about Harry; that she did not Google him before they started dating? (What?! Not even the 10 years he gallantly served in the Army; his two tours of Afghanistan? Not even the Nazi uniform worn to a party? The high jinks in a Las Vegas hotel?) She told Oprah: “I would say I went into it naively because I didn’t grow up knowing much about the royal family.”
In their 2017 engagement TV interview, a clearly besotted Harry said he told Meghan about the difficulties of royal life. Addressing his fiancée, he said: “I tried to warn you as much as possible…I still have to have some pretty frank conversations to say what you are letting yourself in for. It’s a big deal; it’s not easy for anybody.” A life of indescribable privilege, wealth and luxury, but also a life of public duty and service—yeah, it’s a big deal alright.
Meghan’s tremors of feeling were palpable as she recounted to Oprah her mental health problems, feeling alone, cut adrift and suicidal, and not getting the help she said she asked from Palace staff. The Palace has a Medical Household and the Queen’s Apothecaries. “Nothing was ever done,” she said.
In 2009 William and Harry established The Royal Foundation as a launch-pad for their charitable endeavors which were predominantly mental health charities. In 2017 Harry disclosed that, supported by his brother, he had sought counselling after experiencing “total chaos” in his life. At a J P Morgan conference in Miami last year, Harry spoke about mental health and revealed that he has been in therapy for the past few years and was being helped by a mental-health professional. Royal biographer Angela Levin said: “It’s distressing to hear Meghan say she was suicidal and asked for help. Prince Harry sought help after his mother died. I can hardly believe that Harry did not help; that is a catastrophic thing to say.”
Following their engagement Meghan was roped into The Royal Foundation by William, Harry and Catherine, and the ‘Fab Four’ as they came to be known, vowed to collaborate in “making a difference together.” In 2018 they showcased their projects in a widely publicized event with mental health at the top of their agenda. The foundation granted £2m to establish Mental Health Innovations, a charity focused on mental health discussions through digital innovations. Their Heads Together campaign was founded to tackle the stigma of mental health and the provision of resources, including #OKtoSAY, a series of links around conversations on mental health. William also spearheaded Mental Health at Work, and the Fab Four later launched ‘SHOUT’ in conjunction with CrisisTextLine that offers free support to mental-health sufferers in the UK 24/7.
I find it hard to comprehend that Harry was unaware of his wife’s growing acute mental-health problems. During this time when she said she “did not want to be alive anymore”, could she not have drawn upon all the resources, experts and contacts available to them and their multiple mental health charities?
We don’t really know what was said, why, when, and to whom; the couple’s revelations have not stopped people from making conjectures and suppositions. While there are many etiquette and finishing schools for “polishing” the children of the wealthy and socially ambitious, there are no schools (that I know of) for would-be recherché princesses. Meghan told Oprah that she hadn’t received guidance on how she was expected to behave. “There’s no class on how to speak, how to cross your legs, how to be a royal. There was none of that training that might exist for other members of the family. That was something that was not offered to me, even down to the national anthem. No one thought to say: ‘Oh, you’re American, you’re not gonna know that.’”
She said she was forced to Google the national anthem, and to learn how to curtsey to the Queen. I’m beginning to wonder what she and Harry ever found to talk about!
Palace sources have told sundry media that following their engagement, Meghan was given some of the Queen’s most senior staff to help prepare her for the wedding, and to mentor her on the workings of the Royal Household, including tutoring on diplomatic protocol and etiquette; Catherine also received tutoring before her wedding to William. Unnamed sources said Meghan was also allowed to choose her own 15-strong private staff which included a former British ambassador, a former adviser in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and an Obama staffer. She also had the services of the Queen’s equerry (a senior palace officer who organizes Her Majesty’s diary and official functions), Ghanaian-born Lt. Col. Nana Kofi Twumasi-Ankrah of the Household Cavalry.
Additionally Meghan was helped by the Queen’s former deputy private secretary, Samantha Cohen, a 20-year veteran of the Royal Household. Lady Susan Hussey, one of Her Majesty’s most senior ladies-in-waiting, was also tapped to help Meghan navigate the ways and means of royal life.
“It is very disingenuous (of Meghan) to make such a sweeping generalisation. There was a brilliant team of very experienced and loyal aides to help them. Sadly she and Harry were willing to listen to no one, and that is the honest truth,” said an insider to The Daily Mail.
‘…. that there was a wonderful and vital job for her to do in terms of pursuing and developing her particular personal principles of female empowerment, racial diversity and social change’
The acclaimed biographer Robert Lacey, speaking to The Times, said: “It’s easy to be wise after the event, but now we can see that someone should have sat down with Meghan and explained precisely that she was being brought into the institution where she would occupy a relatively minor ranking in terms of royal precedence, but that there was a wonderful and vital job for her to do in terms of pursuing and developing her particular personal principles of female empowerment, racial diversity and social change.”
Meghan also told Oprah that “when I joined the family that was the last time until we came here that I saw my passport, my driver’s licence, my keys. All that gets turned over. I didn’t see that anymore.” How then was she able to take foreign vacations, visiting 12 countries during her time as Her Royal Highness—including Botswana, South Afrida, Ibiza, Como, Morocco, Australia, New Zealand? In February 2019 she flew to New York for her baby shower; and flew there again to watch her friend Serena Williams play in the US Open Tennis Championship; to Rome to attend a wedding; to Amsterdam for a three-day visit.
Harry told Oprah he was “trapped” in the system. “My father, my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave.” This is a very ad hominem thing to say and, last time we looked, Charles and William appear to be thriving in their gilded cages. Royal biographer Hugo Vickers in an interview dismissed this whinge saying: “They are working within the system and what I think is terribly disappointing is that Harry and Meghan could have gone on working within the system because the Queen actually gave them the whole of the Commonwealth to deal with; they had so many opportunities but it didn’t seem to be quite good enough for them.”
Diana and the Queen Mother (Queen Elizabeth’s late mother) left Harry an inheritance said to amount to some £23m. Through Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall, Harry was also said to have been receiving an allowance of about £2.5m a year. Meghan, from her acting career, is thought to have brought £3m to the marriage. In The Interview Harry said his father cut him off financially. This was contradicted by someone close to Charles who told The Sunday Times: “It was a surprise to hear he’d been cut off, given the bank statements. The Prince of Wales continued to provide Harry and Meghan with financial support after their move to America while they found their feet.”
It may be that the money spigot was turned off when the Sussexes adamantly insisted they wanted to be financially independent in their new life. Fortunately their prospects grew infinitely rosy once they signed up multimillion-dollar deals with Netflix and Spotify, and from a project Oprah and Harry are working on together to highlight mental health.
In and amid this slew of disclosures was the incendiary one of racism. “In those months when I was pregnant,” Meghan said, “we have in tandem the conversations of ‘he (Archie) won’t be given security because he would not be a prince. He’s not going to be given a title, and also concerns about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.” The protection of members of the royal family, by the Metropolitan Police in conjunction with the Home Office, is made on the basis of a threat assessment conducted by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre. Only the Queen and the most senior members of the family in the direct line of succession receive automatic protection. The police ceased providing security to H&M when the couple decided to step down from their royal roles while in Canada on an extended vacation last year—before which they were being given round-the-clock taxpayer-funded security. And then they moved to the US.
A Scotland Yard source familiar with these security arrangements debunked the claims of automatic security entitlement as “utter nonsense”. There are royals in the line of succession and minor royals who do not get security. Meghan appears to have conflated the question of Archie being given the title of “prince” with being granted security. A Home Office source told The Times: “A baby that can’t crawl wouldn’t get protection in its own right; it doesn’t need it; the baby doesn’t go anywhere independently.”
As for titles: King George V, in 1917, took action to prevent the “unending accumulation of princes and a baffling range of Highnesses in Britain” by setting limits to who should be titled “prince” or “princess”. Archie is not (yet) entitled to be a prince until the Queen dies; as a grandchild of the succeeding monarch, i.e., Charles, he would then become His Royal Highness and a prince. As for the line of succession, every time Catherine is delivered of a baby, Harry drops in the royal pecking order. Work is under way to create a more “slimmed-down” monarchy with fewer senior working members, designed to reduce the burden on the taxpayer who funds the Sovereign Grant to the family.
Purported discussions that Meghan heard about what the unborn Archie’s skin color would be sparked nationwide conversations on the children of mixed-race couples—a fast-growing demographic in the UK. I married an Englishman and before our son’s birth 37 years ago, friends, relatives, work colleagues and I speculated—warmly and affectionately—about what his skin tone would be, the color of his eyes. It seemed a natural thing to talk about and all things being well, you really just want your child to have the requisite number of fingers and toes, to be normal, healthy and well. Meghan’s comments also seemed to contradict Harry’s recollection of having this discussion with someone, before the wedding, and not during his wife’s pregnancy.
Even Meghan’s 76-year-old father, Thomas, made light of this in a TV interview: “The thing about what color will the baby be or how dark will the baby be, I’m hoping it’s just a dumb question from somebody, it could be that simple, somebody just asked a stupid question rather than someone being racist. I married a beautiful black woman and had a beautiful child. If she turned out dark, it wouldn’t have been a problem.”
Estranged from his daughter, he also said: “I was laying in a hospital bed after having a heart attack and I had to tell them that I couldn’t come to the wedding. I never heard from them again.” He has yet to meet Harry and his grandchild; he said he felt Meghan had “let me down as well, and considering the Queen’s age and Philip’s age, they (H&M) certainly should have waited or tried to wait” before doing The Interview.
Today one in 10 members of Parliament is non-white
The United Kingdom is an open, modern, multicultural, multiracial country—perhaps not always entirely at ease with itself, but then these days which country is? The Queen’s loyal and peaceful 69-year reign has given the country stability—something other peoples would dearly love to have. Meghan’s allegations of racism have been described in a Times leader as “so shocking that they posed a direct challenge to modern Britain’s image of itself.” Today one in 10 members of Parliament is non-white; four of the great offices of State are held by members of ethnic minorities. Many more people of color hold high ministerial posts than in the entire European Union. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the son of East African Asians; he is the favorite to succeed Boris Johnson as our Prime Minister. Our media and entertainment industries are a growing rainbow band of races, colours and talents.
I’m in no position (nor do I want to be) to make an informed judgment on what H&M call their “truth” or “lived experience”. The overhyping of the fallout is beginning to feel like blood sport. I watched The Interview with an air of amused—if skeptical and cynical—detachment. H&M appeared and sounded like prisoners of their own advantages—a whiny couple obsessed with titles, allowances, money and security. It’s becoming difficult to criticize the Sussexes’ remarks without being accused of racism, or being “cancelled” in a hothouse world of grievance and wokeness, where lies and misinformation can flourish equally and easily with the truth.
“Meghan may feel entitled to tell ‘my truth’, but while her version of it may represent her honest perception, unless or until established by evidence the reality is that it amounts to no more than unproved assertion, made worse by having been provided pre-emptively and without explanatory context,” wrote Bernard Weatherill, Queen’s Counsel (a very senior barrister).
The royal calendar features two imminent important and potentially charged occasions which will require the presence of Harry in England
“Unhappy houses are a very good incubation for stories,” wrote the author Edna O’Brien. Plus they make good copy. Relations between H&M and the Firm may have curdled and soured in the last few days, but will probably be conducted in civilized disagreement with over 5,000 miles between them, not played out in public nor accompanied by running commentaries, in the hope that the tremulous furor dies down.
In another twist of events Jason Knauf, the Sussexes’ former communications secretary, made a complaint of bullying in 2018 against Meghan to seek better protection for staff. In an email to a senior courtier he wrote: “I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two personal assistants out of the household in the past year” and humiliated another. Knauf described her behaviour as “totally unacceptable” and “she seems intent on always having someone in her sights.”
The complaint was passed on to the Palace’s HR department but went no further until last month (well before The Interview) when Buckingham Palace said it would be holding an in-house inquiry into the matter. In the last week, however, it had been reported that the Palace has decided to hire independent investigators and lawyers instead to handle the claims. Meghan has denied all allegations.
An insider told The Sunday Times: “There are some harrowing stories to tell.” The Sussexes lost three members of staff just six months after their wedding. “To lose three in a few months is starting to look like a stampede,” said an aide to The Sun. The royal biographer Robert Jobson reported that Harry told staff: “Whatever Meghan wants, Meghan gets.”
The royal calendar features two imminent important and potentially charged occasions which will— precluding the birth of Harry’s baby daughter—require the presence of Harry in England: Prince Philip’s 100th birthday in June and the unveiling of Diana’s statue in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace on July 1. The brothers have apparently already spoken; Charles and Harry too have spoken. (Wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on those walls?) Perhaps it’s the start of a reset—in the foothills of an incipient new cold war.
“Time heals all things,” said Harry winding The Interview down. Wistfully, he added: “Hopefully.” Pax.