Meghan and Harry have burned the palace down and royal family must respond
Monday - 08/03/2021 10:07
Their two-hour Oprah tell-all did not hold back. Bombshell after revelation painted the palace as callous and downright racist. Where do the royals go from here
Here’s what I can tell you for sure: The chickens owned by Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are now the most famous birds in the world. (By this time tomorrow the lucky cluckers will probably be fending off approaches from Hollywood agents and seven figure endorsement deals.)
It would be so much easier to talk about the chickens here because, now that the Sussexes’ tell-all Oprah Winfrey TV interview has aired in the US, there is simply a mind boggling, dizzying array of heartbreaking and traumatic revelations to contend with.
Over the course of two hours, the Duchess revealed that she had been suicidal and that when she approached senior members of the royal house for help, she was told she “couldn’t [get help], that it wouldn’t be good for the institution”.
Furthermore, she claimed that during her first pregnancy there had been “concerns” raised in the royal family over the colour of the unborn baby’s skin; that Prince Charles, at one stage, stopped returning his son’s calls and the Sussexes was given no say in whether their son would have a title.
Other revelations included that Kate Duchess of Cambridge had made Meghan cry ahead of her wedding and that the couple was cut off financially after they left the UK.
It is hard to get beyond just how impossibly sad the picture both Meghan and Harry painted of royal life, of a clutch of miserable people forced into jobs they didn’t want all living in a state of permanent paralysis and fear about the press.
If anyone out there, aside from small Cinderella-loving children, still had any skerrick of belief in the supposed fairytale nature of this whole royalty business, then this special has put paid to that.
What is crystal clear here is that Harry and Meghan have just made history and that today’s lengthy sit-down will be being talked about for decades to come.
While there have been headline-grabbing, truly shocking royal TV interviews before – Diana, Princess of Wales’ 1995 Panorama appearance, Charles in 1994 admitting he had cheated and more recently Prince Andrew’s 2019 car crash of a BBC outing – this special has blown those previous endeavours spectacularly out of the water.
To start, there was the length. Clocking in at 120 minutes, never before has the world seen two HRHs speak so much.
However, clearly the much bigger Rubicon-crossing, point-of-no-return-smashing part here was the deeply personal nature of the disclosures and the sheer number of them.
While the question of what part race and racism might have played in the events that led up to Megxit was widely anticipated to be on the table, never in a million years would anyone have predicted the Sussexes would reveal that in there were “concerns and conversations about how dark [Archie’s] skin might be when he was born,” which is truly astounding and appalling.
(Before the show had even gone off air the UK’s The Mirror newspaper announced they were putting out a special late edition with a front page dedicated to this.)
So too were Meghan’s revelations about her acute, nearly unthinkable suffering in terms of her mental health absolutely heart-rending.
While Diana discussed her eating disorder, self-harm and depression when she spoke to Panorama’s Martin Bashir, they were issues that had been previously aired, most notably via Andrew Morton’s bombshell Diana: Her True Story.
While Meghan has previously mentioned her mental health, notably during a 2019 TV interview, I don’t think a soul outside of the couple’s families had any idea of the horrifying truth or the severity of what she has gone through.
The extent of just how bad things were for Meghan is simply devastating.
What even further sets this TV interview apart is Harry’s involvement. Diana and Meghan, in both fronting the cameras to reveal their treatment by the monarchy, are united in that they are both women who married into The Firm only to be confronted by the soul-crushing reality.
The Duke, of course, has grown up in this rarefied milieu and it is the only world and family he has ever known.
In taking part in this Oprah interview, this is not some insider raising objections to the strange, cold way the house of Windsor does things, this is one of their own serving up a smarting public indictment of both the family and the institution.
For him to so painfully pull back the curtain and unmask the nasty reality is a historic royal first.
What I wonder about here is, why?
Both Harry and Meghan have both suffered horribly but what I wonder is, what do they hope to achieve by sharing their pain in the public sphere?
The charges they have levelled against the palace – of callously turning their backs on Meghan when her life was hanging in the balance and of the most grotesque racism – are ones that will be impossible for the royal family to ignore or to write off.
And, while we will have to see how the UK – both the public and the press will react – these are the most damaging accusations that have ever been raised against them in public.
Internationally, the royal family’s image has just been, potentially irrevocably, stained.
Harry and Meghan would surely have known going into today that this would be the consequence of their outpouring, so that leaves us … where exactly in terms of understanding their motion?
That they wanted the world to see the darkness behind the tiaras and the fairytale? That they wanted to punish the palace for their treatment?
Was this all about catharsis? Retribution?
Because for the Sussexes, from an image and brand perspective, talking to Oprah was always going to be something of a zero sum move. Some hearts and minds might have been swayed but their dedicated supporters are now only more galvanised and their detractors are already, based on horrifying comments on social media, attacking the duo.
Harry and Meghan might have gained public vindication for their decision to step down as senior working members of the royal family last year but they have done so at the expense of potentially triggering a brutal war with the palace.
It is hard to see how the royal house could stay silent after the slew of criticisms and claims lobbed in their direction. While leading up to today there had been carefully placed quotes suggesting that the palace was focusing on Commonwealth Day and getting on with the job, the severity of the indictments they now face are such they will have to respond.
War clouds may well be brewing over Buckingham Palace.
It seems nearly impossible to the relationship between London and Montecito going in any direction after today but down; that things will only become messier, angrier, more personal and with more at stake for everyone involved.
Is this what Harry and Meghan really wanted? Is it worth antagonising his family (even if they have behaved reprehensibly) and backing them into such a tight corner so that Duke and Duchess can wholly own the narrative?
On July 1, Harry is slated to stand beside his brother Prince William and for the two men to unveil a statue they have commissioned in honour of their mother Diana. After today, will his family – and his country – welcome him back with loving, open arms?
So much damage has clearly already been done. After today, there is every chance that tragically there will be much more to come.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.