What the Oprah interview means for the monarchy

8 March 2021

9:27 PM

8 March 2021

9:27 PM

An institution that weathered and survived the abdication crisis and the aftermath of the death of Diana Princess of Wales is now left reeling by a two-hour long programme on primetime American television. It’s a broadcast in which the grandson of a queen and his wife made crystal clear that marrying into the British royal family in the 21st century is no fairytale.

The claim of racism is one that will endure. No Palace spin can erase it from the collective memory. The charge is that one of Harry’s relatives asked him, when Meghan was pregnant with Archie, ‘how dark his skin might be when he is born’. Harry told Oprah the conversation ‘was awkward’ and left him ‘a bit shocked’. The couple haven’t revealed the identity of the royal who posed the question — a toxic one for an institution that provides the constitutional head of state for a multicultural United Kingdom and fifteen other countries. Just as damaging is Harry’s hurt at his family’s failure to come to his aid and condemn some of the media coverage that was racist, when his relationship with Meghan was made public.

The charge sheet against the House of Windsor, post-Oprah, is a long one. On the basis of Meghan’s account, it’s an ancient institution that has had painful lessons inflicted on it and it hasn’t learnt from them. With her son by the departed duchess’ side for part of the show, the spectre of Diana hung over this programme. Despite the mental health problems experienced by the late princess, Meghan has now told the world that she experienced suicidal thoughts when she married a prince, and she received no help.

Also cut adrift, in his telling, was Harry by his own father who stopped taking his son’s calls. The only person to emerge relatively unscathed is the Queen — apart from the minor matter that she is the head of the family that has been subjected to such a battering in this broadcast.

It’s a one-sided account of Megxit that will incense those who insist they did try to help the newest Windsor navigate her royal role. But their voices can’t compete with one amplified by an audience with Oprah.

Meghan’s naivety about what she was marrying into is striking. Harry’s failure to adequately prepare her is laid bare. It was Fergie, of all people, who had to come to Meghan’s aid and teach her how to curtsy, before a private meeting with her husband’s grandmother.

Harry and Meghan will likely view this interview as a cathartic moment. No longer ‘trapped within the system of the monarchy’ they have bypassed the British press, settled scores and painted an optimistic picture of their future.

The immediate future of the Windsors they left behind is less rosy. They’ll be hoping furiously that just like in 1936 and 1997 they will recover and return the focus to their definition of what duty should look like. But make no mistake, the institution of the British monarchy has been damaged by this interview. Republicans will hope it’s lasting; monarchists will be praying that it’s passing.

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