It’s hard to overstate just how hyped Sunday night’s CBS special interview between Oprah Winfrey and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was. Speculation over the contents of the conversation, which was extended in length a few days before airing, only grew when ‘palace sources’ began a blatantly transparent smear campaign against the couple in the week preceding its premiere. If The Firm were this ineptly cruel in their attempts to combat claims they had not yet heard then what was going to be revealed on Sunday night?
I must admit that I had tempered my expectations for the interview. It seemed unlikely to be that Harry or Meghan would go full no-holds-barred, here-are-the-receipts, burn-all-bridges, even for Oprah. And yet the interview revealed far more than most of us were expecting. The pair talked candidly, often with intense emotion, about what they described as a period of isolation, abandonment, PR machinations, and outright racism.
Meghan talked about the intense mental health crisis she faced while working as a senior royal, in large part exacerbated by the palace’s seeming refusal to protect her:
Everyone in my world was given a very clear directive from the moment the world knew Harry and I were dating, to always say no comment […] It was only once we were married, and everything started to really worsen that I came to understand that not only was I not being protected […] They were willing to lie to protect other members of the family, but they weren’t willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband.’
When asked by Oprah ‘Were you silent or were you silenced’, Meghan responded, ‘The latter.’
Oprah made note of the jarring contrast in coverage between Meghan and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge (while emphasizing that Meghan herself does not read it.) The notorious connection between Meghan’s love of avocado toast and ‘environmental devastation’ was brought up, with Meghan quipping ‘That’s a loaded piece of toast.’ But the true revelation of the ‘feud’ between Duchesses came with the now-infamous allegation that Meghan made Kate cry, a claim that was picked up by multiple newspapers and reported as gospel for months. Tatler then claimed that Kate was left in tears over an incident involving tights for Meghan’s flower girls, a story that heightened the ludicrous nature of the smear.
Well, according to Meghan, it’s even more damning. When asked whether the story was true, Meghan said no because ‘the reverse happened.’ Kate was the one to make her cry, but Meghan was also quick to stress that Kate apologized and brought her flowers after the incident. Still, the press coverage of this moment, with Kate placed into the victim role, highlighted to her the double standards at play. She lamented the inaction of the palace to call out the story that they knew was untrue. ‘Everyone in the institution knew it wasn’t true,’ she said. When asked by Oprah as to why nobody refuted the story, Meghan replied, ‘That’s a good question.’
Oprah: "So all the time, the stories out there, you made Kate cry, you and people around you knew that wasn't true … So why didn't somebody just say that?"— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) March 8, 2021
Meghan: "That's a good question."#OprahMeghanHarry pic.twitter.com/NFavVnnHVe
The growing popularity of the Sussexes seemed to be an issue for The Firm, with Meghan saying that she was told to lay low for a while, even as she hadn’t left the house in months. The lack of protection seemed to come to a boiling point during Meghan’s pregnancy, with the Duchess admitting that she had suicidal thoughts during this period. She said, ‘I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought. And I remember how he [Harry] just cradled me.’ Meghan also claimed that she tried to seek help from the palace during this moment of mental turmoil but was denied it by senior members of the royal household because it wouldn’t reflect well on the institution. Meghan then bypassed them to talk to the HR department of Buckingham Palace, but was told ‘there’s nothing we can do because you’re not a paid member of the institution.’
Things got worse when Archie was born. Meghan revealed that The Firm had withdrawn security for their son and that he wouldn’t receive a title. She also said that there had been concerns and conversations about ‘how dark his skin might be when he was born.’ Harry confirmed this revelation but both declined to reveal who had said this. On CBS’s This Morning, Oprah says that Harry confirmed that neither the Queen nor Prince Phillip said this about Archie.
“You’re not going to tell me who had that conversation?" Oprah asks after Meghan says there were concerns about her child's skin color— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) March 8, 2021
“I think that would be very damaging to them.” #OprahMeghanHarry pic.twitter.com/TGulbooO8P
Prince Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, sat down with @Oprah in their first major interview since stepping away from royal duties.@Oprah joins us exclusively with her reaction on that revealing interview. #OprahMeghanHarry pic.twitter.com/M4oqmbKGfR— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) March 8, 2021
Harry revealed that his father, Prince Charles, stopped taking his calls about the pair’s decision to step aside from royal duties. He also denied ‘blindsiding’ the Queen, as the palace claimed, noting that ‘I had three conversations with my grandmother and two conversations with my father before he stopped taking my calls’; And then he said, ‘can you put this all in writing?’ He and Charles are now talking but ‘there’s a lot of hurt that’s happened.’ Harry also said that he had been financially cut off by his family at the beginning of 2020 and that his financial security net was provided by the money left to him by his late mother. Harry also emphasized that he had spent years feeling ‘trapped within the system like the rest of my family are. My father, my brother, they are trapped.’
Truthfully, we could be here for hours listing every detail of the interview. For us Brits, you can watch the whole thing on ITV tonight, and international viewers can check their local listings.
This interview is, no hyperbole, an earth-shaking moment for the British monarchy. It’s as explosive as Princess Diana’s BBC interview from 1995, a moment that remains one of the most-watched broadcasts in British TV history. The parallels were already being drawn between Diana and Meghan the moment that the Oprah interview was announced, but there are obvious differences. For one, Meghan wasn’t alone. Her husband was right there, and he was backing her up at every turn. This was definitely more focused on Meghan but it was also a display of unity in the face of something far more insidious. The Diana interview caused a lot of damage to the monarchy and it took them at least a decade of carefully planned PR to win back the trust of even the most ardent royalists. Could this interview cause a similar fallout? Well, #abolishthemonarchy is trending worldwide.
What made the interview so powerful was not just that every revelation was astounding in its shock — especially the claims made about the fear of Archie’s skin color — but that the devastating personal cost of the monarchy’s selfishness was displayed to the world. The Firm has spent all week trying to prove how excellent an HR division it has by jumping onto those obviously inflated bullying claims made about Meghan. Now we know that a suicidal woman, pregnant with the first mixed-race Windsor, was not only denied the care she pleaded for but told to buck it up and get on with life. This is a duty of care issue, one of basic workplace safety. And we’re not just talking about the palace here but members of the family itself. Someone with blood relations to Archie was pondering aloud about how ‘dark’ he would be. The Firm can deny that all they want but that’s a claim that won’t wash away with a few Daily Mail headlines any time soon. It’s especially galling because the royals have spent a lot of the past decade championing mental health charities and campaigns. Who wants to listen to the Cambridges’ Time to Talk work when all we can think about is the image of Meghan begging for help and being told it would make the company look bad for her to be suicidal?
Meghan took pains to emphasize the difference between the family itself and The Firm, the name used by the Windsors themselves for the business of being royal. They specifically refused to point fingers at any individual, and even Harry’s lamentations over his fractured relationship with his father were cloaked in statements of love. Harry talked about the fear and entrapment of royal life, that constant battle with the press to stay on the right side of the story, and how his smothering existence was just as damaging to his dad and brother as it was to him. Curiously, William wasn’t discussed much throughout the interview. Sorry to everyone expecting a Rose Hanbury revelation to be thrown in there.
Make no mistake: this interview exposed something we’ve talked about for years on this site and something that small-R republicans have fought against for decades. The monarchy is an inherently racist and corrupt institution whose rot runs to the core. You cannot modernize something built on exploitation and supremacy. It seems pretty clear from this side of the equation that the Windsor brand doesn’t want to change either. They didn’t do it for Diana, and they wouldn’t do it for Meghan, hence Harry’s fears over history repeating itself.
It was a brilliant piece of TV, to be sure. Oprah is probably the only major media personality who could have conducted such a conversation. She’s forceful when necessary but clearly leaving the space there for Meghan and Harry to process and reveal things at their own pace. Her reactions were all too relatable too. But the interview’s real power lies in its fearlessness. Make no mistake, the British press is already in anti-Meghan overdrive. Piers f**king Morgan is ranting about it on TV today. The Daily Mail are in clickbait overdrive mining the interview for out-of-context moments they can weaponize to further their racist agenda. Boris Johnson, a wildly racist little creep who claimed that the royal family was ‘beyond reproach’, plans to address the interview tonight. One of the hosts of Loose Women tried to justify the Archie comments by saying it could have just been ‘casual racism’, as if that’s somehow better? The aim of the game has always been self-interest for the royals. A life of ‘service’ is meaningless without an understanding of the world itself, and the Windsors have never been big on staying in touch with the plebs.
It remains to be seen if we’ll see any true long-term repercussions from this interview. It seems doubtful that the royals will eat crow and admit wrongdoing. I imagine one of the younger royals will try their own ‘candid’ interview in response, nothing too b*tchy but certainly clear in its targets. But the genie is out of the bottle. You don’t get to wilfully overlook what’s happened here. There’s no turning back, not when these accusations have been made and Oprah’s letting the whole world know about them. What is there to be gained from propping up an institution that would sell you out, sell all of us out, in a heartbeat? What public mental health group will want the support of a family that left one of its own out to dry when she admitted to them that she didn’t want to live anymore? The Windsors spend a lot of time carefully stoking the fires against Diana and taking advantage of the fishbowl memory of the public, but that doesn’t work in a social media age when tens of millions of people are collecting the receipts.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.