Although last night’s much-hyped two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey was billed as an opportunity for Harry and Meghan to finally tell their side of the story, the Markle-agnostic among us might have wondered what was actually left to tell, given that they have already told their side of the story in a flurry of statements and Zoom calls, and that thing that Harry did with James Corden on a bus the other week, and also the entire book from last year that was expressly written to tell their side of the story in as much detail as possible. Nevertheless, it is now clear that the couple came to Winfrey armed to the teeth.
Even if you didn’t watch the interview, you will have found it impossible to escape the major talking points today. Meghan considered suicide, but the royal family offered no support. An unnamed family member openly fretted about the color of their son’s skin. Prince Charles stopped taking Harry’s calls. Kate Middleton made Meghan cry. They’re having a girl. They own chickens. It’s fair to assume that at least three of these things will dominate the news cycle for months to come.
Nevertheless, it is now clear that the couple came to Winfrey armed to the teeth.
The biggest scoop, no doubt, will be the accusations of racism. That the royal family has a long and ugly history is not exactly news. Indeed, when Harry last night accused the media of writing headlines with “colonial undertones” about his wife, he didn’t appear to be particularly clued in to whose family had initiated those colonies in the first place.
However, the dramatic reveal—someone was worried that the couple’s son would look too mixed-raced—accompanied by Meghan and Harry’s refusal to name names, has created something of a media game. There is now an unknown figure in the royal family who hoped that Meghan’s son would stay nice and white. Harry declared that he would never reveal the identity of this person, but said it is definitely not the Queen or Prince Philip. And this means that, things being the way they are, we will all know exactly who it is by Friday.
Still, not all the revelations landed with quite the same impact. Despite being presented with the timbre of a grave injustice, Prince Harry’s bold disclosure that he had been financially cut off from the royal family can be explained by the fact that, well, he left the royal family. As a side note, from a public-relations point of view, complaining about not being given free money and costly security while sitting in the opulent grounds of a California mansion during a pandemic doesn’t exactly make a person very sympathetic.
Similarly, Meghan’s fury that her son was not made a prince is rooted in a decision made by the boy’s great-great-great-grandfather George V, 104 years ago. Unless the couple are stripped of all their titles soon, which seems increasingly likely, Archie will automatically become a prince when the Queen dies.
Prince Harry’s bold disclosure that he had been financially cut off from the royal family can be explained by the fact that, well, he left the royal family.
The Middleton revelation, too—“I didn’t make Kate cry, she made me cry”—had a note of bitter middle-school score-settling that hinted at a pettiness quite at odds with the duchess’s public image. And Meghan’s talk of her obliviousness surrounding the royal family, not knowing the national anthem or how to curtsy, was undermined slightly by her casual referencing of obscure sovereign-title arcana.
But look, these are quibbles. The things that Harry and Meghan said last night are not going away anytime soon. What last night’s interview made spectacularly clear is that the royal family urgently needs to improve its P.R. strategy.
However many people ended up watching the interview, you suspect that it would have been far fewer had a procession of spluttering courtiers not spent an entire week blowing a very public gasket over what a tremendous rotter Meghan apparently was. The Winfrey interview was always going to be a headline-grabber, but the Palace’s pre-emptive tactic only ended up hyping it into the stratosphere. It’s the sort of thing professional wrestlers do to make sure everyone tunes into the next big pay-per-view event. It’s bizarre.
Similarly, the royals might also want to update their human-resources department. Last week, when it was claimed that several Kensington Palace staff had accused the duchess of bullying in 2018, the subsequent inaction was blamed on an H.R. cover-up. And now Meghan has claimed that the same department refused to help her at her lowest ebb, on the basis that she wasn’t a paid-up member of the family yet. If any heads will roll this week, you’d guess that this is the safest place to start. Not literally, though. We’re not France.
The Winfrey interview was always going to be a headline-grabber, but the Palace’s pre-emptive tactic only ended up hyping it into the stratosphere.
But whether or not the interview will change anybody’s mind about Meghan is another matter. The duchess is now a subject upon which everybody is already deeply, pointlessly entrenched. Winfrey could have shown us CCTV footage of Meghan rescuing corgis from a burning building and the anti-Meghan would still somehow find a way of painting her as a self-serving villain. Similarly, if Meghan had stopped the interview to show everyone her collection of freshly murdered kitten skulls, the faithful would still find a way to maintain that she’s a cross between Mother Teresa and the working concept of universal love. However you felt about the woman going in, you felt about her coming out.
Nevertheless, the fallout is just beginning. Evidently, there are plenty of embellishments and half-truths being batted around on both sides here. But now the royal family finds itself on the defensive. An entire centuries-old institution is about to retaliate from an outside attack. What happens next isn’t going to be pretty.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL