By Bevan Shields
In good times and in bad: Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex surrounded by family on their wedding day. Credit:AP
The royal mantra of “never complain and never explain” has worked pretty well for the Queen during her 68-year reign. Its simple principle is that the monarchy functions best when its inner workings are kept from the masses. The golden rule for survival was first adopted by the Queen Mother and has been passed all the way through to the new generation of royals led by Prince William.
But it seems that Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, never got the memo. Or if they did, the couple opted to throw it out a window at their $19.3 million nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom home in Montecito, California.
A discarded newspaper outside Buckingham Palace after the interview went to air. Credit:AP
Supporters viewed the two-hour interview as a brave declaration of independence and alarming insight into the dangers of stuffy institutionalism. To critics it was the height of selfishness and an undignified attack on the monarchy which is still an integral part of the British psyche.
Oprah asked 179 questions on Sunday and the answers came thick and fast: Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, had apparently made Meghan cry following an argument about a flower girl’s dress. The royal family was jealous of Meghan’s popularity during her 2018 tour of Australia. Harry complained his family “cut me off financially” even though he inherited tens of millions of pounds from the Queen Mother and Princess Diana and the couple have signed mega deals with Netflix and Spotify. Racist undertones in press coverage of Meghan was a factor in their decision to leave the United Kingdom. And Charles stopped taking Harry’s calls while their exit was being negotiated.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex enjoyed strong popularity after their 2018 wedding but have taken a hit since.Credit:PA
Some dubious accusations quickly fell apart. Meghan’s outrage that Archie was unfairly denied the title of a prince was deeply flawed: he was never entitled to it under a century-old convention but will be made a prince when Charles assumes the throne. The withdrawal of British taxpayer-funded security for the US-based couple was an inevitable consequence of their decision to leave the family and had been well flagged for months prior. And the idea that Meghan was thrown into royal life without any help ignores the reality that Australian Samantha Cohen, the Queen’s former assistant private secretary, was brought in to mentor Meghan and help the former actor adjust to her new role.
A genuine bombshell was the allegation that an unidentified senior member of the royal family held concerns about how dark Meghan’s baby’s skin would be. One name – a surprising one – is doing the rounds as the potential culprit. Buckingham Palace used a 61-word statement to note “recollections may vary” and stress the issue will be dealt with privately by the family.
“The accusations against the royal family about racism are incredibly damaging,” Junor says. “I’m white so what do I know, but I find them very hard to swallow.
“If offence has been taken by a remark here or there, I would be very surprised if offence had been intended. From what I know of the family, I’ve never seen any hint of racism and neither have the people who have worked with them.”
A visibly annoyed Prince William hit back on Thursday, saying “we are very much not a racist family”. Peter Hunt, a royal commentator and former BBC royal correspondent, quipped: “It’s a very vivid sign of how bad things are for the royals that a future head of state of a multicultural country has to insist his family aren’t racists.”
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex with newborn son Archie in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle.Credit:AP
Meghan’s disclosure that she was on the verge of suicide while pregnant but palace officials rebuffed her plea for help was also highly distressing. Janina Gavankar, a friend of Harry and Meghan who watched the Winfrey special with them when it went to air, went on breakfast television this week to suggest this part of the story may be far from over.
“After reading this short statement that came out from Buckingham Palace I thought two things,” said Gavankar, who Meghan had authorised to speak.
“On one side I thought I’m so thankful [the royal family] are finally acknowledging the experience. But on the other side I know that the family and the staff were well aware of the extent of it. And though their recollections may vary, ours don’t because we lived through it with them.And there are many emails and texts to support them.”
None of these emails or texts have seen the light of day – yet.
Churchill warns the public might never know the truth of what really went on.
“The whole thing is contrived. This was essentially two actresses sitting across from each other presenting their version of the truth – or the truth they want you to hear – in the manner they want you to hear it,” Churchill says.
“No member of the royal family will have their say back – it’s just not how they operate. They never have and they never will. The institution has had its say in a statement but it is also just as crafted and skewed towards what they want you to hear.
“The evidence is flawed on so many levels. That’s not to say they are lying, it’s not to say one side is right or wrong. Neither side is going to give you an accurate portrayal of what actually happened.”
For now both sides have pulled back to see where the fallout lands. However Gavankar – Harry and Meghan’s friend – has already flagged a potential escalation. In her TV appearance Gavankar said the clan was feeling “free” and in a “new era” where they could speak up.
“Meghan has always been a very open person. She’s always shared parts of herself but that all changed when she joined the family. We watched as a wall was built around her – she was very isolated and even though that wasn’t her choice she was being completely slaughtered for it.”
The last time ”never complain and never explain” frayed at the edges was after Diana’s death in 1997, when the Queen’s stubbornness to address the national trauma posed an existential threat to the monarchy. The Queen shifted her response just in time and the rift was patched over.
But the same dynamics do not exist now because people in Britain are overwhelmingly behind the 94-year-old Queen (especially with her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip in hospital) and Buckingham Palace is therefore under very little public pressure to respond to Harry and Meghan’s claims in detail.
Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George pose for a photo to mark the start of the new decade.Credit:Buckingham Palace/AP
“I think we are looking at a major crisis of understanding here, since these invitations are coming to me from young and thinking people who frankly do not see things in the way that the palace establishment does.
“People are always talking about ‘is this the end of the British monarchy?’ and it is clearly not the end of the monarchy in Britain. But I do think it raises significant question marks over the future of the Commonwealth monarchies, which really are anomalies. I can’t see them lasting forever.”
Lacey predicts the fallout could trigger more royal tours of Australia to “patch up the cracks” but notes there are now fewer senior members available to do that.
What now for Harry and Meghan? Leading US reputation and brand strategy consultant Eric Schiffer suspects the couple will be thrilled with the interview and won’t regret it.
“They are choosing the world over England. They want to be an international brand – not a UK-focussed brand.”
Schiffer says the encounter between Oprah and the duke and duchess will do wonders for their reputation in the lucrative US market, where views on them had been mixed.
Prince Harry and Meghan were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey at an unidentified friend’s property in California.Credit:Harpo Productions
“Before this interview people were probably split between thinking they were a pair of shamelessly hypocritical prima donnas dancing around Hollywood getting big cheques, and others who saw them as this sort of modern-day fairytale that wasn’t perfect but represented and aligned with how Gen Zs see the world. There was also another group in America that didn’t enjoy Harry and Meghan’s interventions into US politics.
“They will be viewed much better here now. They have broadened their appeal. So the way they approached it was strategically brilliant.
“I’m pretty sure there will be some dancing going on in Montecito this week.”
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