Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey won’t air until Monday evening in the United Kingdom, but the headlines are enough to show just how devastating it will be for the royal family. From the shocking revelations that Meghan had suicidal thoughts while she was pregnant with Archie, to how Harry was asked by a family member how “dark” their child’s skin might be, the jaw-dropping revelations have dominated news coverage around the world.
Royal experts were predicting the interview might be as seismic as Princess Diana’s 1995 sit-down with Martin Bashir for Panorama, and those expectations largely came true. “I think the interview is as major as Diana’s Panorama interview definitely, and there are similarities,” said royal author Sarah Gristwood. “It does have the sense of the Diana style burning of boats. What’s worrying for the monarchy and public perception of the monarchy is that we thought Diana’s death had triggered a big shift. Now it’s looking as though actually not enough has changed.”
In the interview Harry said he was concerned about “history repeating itself” as Meghan struggled with negative press coverage— a clear reference to Princess Diana and the intrusive media coverage she faced up until the very end of her life. Gristwood thinks that the reckoning Diana forced within the royal family might repeat itself too. “Just like Panorama, the fall-out from this feels like a moment when the royal family and the palace establishment have to think again and start re casting themselves if they’re going to be in a position, to borrow Meghan’s words, to thrive and survive in the 21st century.”
Buckingham Palace has yet to officially respond to the allegations made in the interview, but sources say the Queen, Prince Charles, and Prince William are very concerned by what Harry and Meghan revealed to what could be one of the biggest TV audiences in history. Palace aides had feared the interview would make them look out of touch, but sources say they have been shocked by the severity of the allegations. The various households will be locked in crisis meetings for most of Monday as they work out the next steps.
Though both Harry and Meghan were careful to praise the Queen, one anti-monarchy group has seized upon the interview as a reason to abolish the institution, while others have reserved their sympathy for the 94-year-old Queen, whose husband Prince Philip remains hospitalized. The Queen has not seen the interview, but was briefed by aides over breakfast Monday morning.
According to Gristwood she will be aware of the impact this could have on the latter stage of her reign as she prepares to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee in 2022, the longest-reigning monarch of all time. “Go back a hundred years and the point of the monarchy was to represent the best of the country,” Gristwood said. “This has left them looking as though they represent the worst.”
And though Harry and Meghan praised the Queen personally, they had harsh words for the royal institution—of which the Queen is the head. That “puts her directly in the crossfire,” Gristwood said. “I think she will be afraid of her legacy being tarnished. She will want to feel she has left the monarchy in a good place. It’s hard to feel that today.”
Both Harry and Meghan referenced Princess Diana repeatedly throughout the interview, and Meghan’s allegations that she was not supported as a new member of the royal family had eerie echoes of Diana’s circumstances; Meghan even said she relied on a friend of Diana’s as someone who would understand her situation. When Diana gave the Panorama interview 25 years ago, she shattered the fairy tale myth around the royal family and her marriage to Prince Charles, famously saying “there were three of us in the marriage so it was a bit crowded.”
The Oprah interview has once again called Charles’s reputation into question, with Harry revealing that his father had stopped taking his calls for a time, and that while they are now on speaking terms, “There’s a lot to work through there. I feel really let down because he’s been through something similar.”
After walking Meghan down the aisle during their wedding, and warmly welcoming her mother Doria Ragland into the royal fold, Charles enjoyed a surge in popularity and was genuinely thrilled to step in at the last minute when Meghan’s own father pulled out of the wedding for health reasons. But Harry became estranged from Charles over the couple’s plans for their future.
As Vanity Fair reported on Sunday, Harry was emailing his father to justify why he and Meghan had done the interview. Charles was said to be “in a state of despair” according to a friend.
“For Prince Harry to say that he felt let down by his father must have been a difficult thing to say and hard for Charles to hear,” Gristwood said. “Now, just at a time when by and large Charles had started to look like a more popular King than one would have guessed, here’s a major blow to his reputation. That his son felt let down by him. It’s hard to know if Harry is aware of the damage this has done. Did he actually intend to cast this damaging light on his father and his family? We don’t know.”
The palace is said to be ready to hit back after the interview, but they will take time to respond—and choose their words carefully.
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