Richard Berthelsen: Oprah interview could widen royal rift
TORONTO -- The Sunday evening broadcast of Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex was difficult viewing for many. The interview brought into daylight some serious issues and a list of grievances and difficulties that the couple experienced throughout their marriage as working members of the Royal Family. For the millions of people who watched the wedding (up to 2 billion we were told), this broadcast laid bare that it was far from a fairy tale. It is hard to see how Harry and Meghan can live happily ever after with their family in the United Kingdom, even if they might now live n California.
Among the many jaw-dropping moments was certainly the news that Meghan had suicidal thoughts during her first pregnancy. This had not been previously known, and it was shocking and upsetting to hear her speak of the toll of her portrayal in the media as well as her difficulties with the Royal Household. It was sad to hear that the couple felt they had to face this on their own without assistance, given the physicians who are available to the Royal Family and with the knowledge that other members of the family have, in the past, sought help for mental health. This was a very disturbing part of the interview.
Equally disturbing, was the racism that Meghan experienced through the British tabloids as well as in public comment, and even from an unnamed member of the Royal Family concerning the skin colour of her child. This was a very damaging part of the interview, combined with the suggestion that Archie’s safety as well as his title are somehow connected. This allegation will make for exceedingly difficult watching by members of the Royal Family.
For those familiar with how royal titles work, it was hard to follow Meghan’s thinking and she seemed confused about how titles are conferred. It is surprising that there was not greater clarity around this matter given we were told the Sussexes did not want Archie to have a title in the first place. Her natural concern for the safety of a young infant is understandable, particularly given the vitriol in the dark corners of the internet around race. But security decisions are largely made based on rules established by the U.K. Metropolitan Police, not the Palace itself.
In fact, there was a lot of discussion about security during the interview, and it bears remembering that there was widespread public outrage about continuing security both in Canada and the United Kingdom once the couple made the decision to leave as working members of the Royal Family. There seems to be miscommunication and misunderstanding between the family and with Harry and Meghan about how this has unfolded considering the ongoing threats to them of living on their own in the U.S. in a private capacity.
One theme which came through repeatedly was Meghan's disappointment that she should have been “protected” more by the Royal household and its media operation. It is not clear what she expected they would be able to do, but in this area, one is left to wonder if there was a clash of cultures given her greater familiarity with how celebrities are positioned by public relations agents in the U.S. This is not the approach of the Royal Household to managing media issues, which takes a more “never complain, never explain” attitude. It seems that this unmet expectation was one of the biggest factors in the decision of the Sussexes to leave the working Royal Family and the U.K.
Prince Harry joined the interview to paint a very dark picture of his own relationship with his father, the Prince of Wales, which appears to have broken down in early 2020 around the decision to leave. He also indicated that he and his brother Prince William was “spaced at the moment” and said that he hopes that time will heal all wounds. It is not clear that this interview or the bitterness which Prince Harry expressed about financial support as well as security and other issues is going to help to mend the internal family rifts at least in the short term, particularly as they have now been expressed publicly.
Indeed, Prince Harry painted a very grim picture of a Royal Family who are trapped in the system and their roles for life. He suggested that many of them feel they are in a destructive relationship with the tabloid press and the workings of what would appear to be an unaccountable Royal Household. In fact, the only member of the family who came out of this with any positive comment is the Queen. It strains believability that the entire family shares this view, and that it can be such an unhappy place when the Queen is fundamentally head of an institution that the Sussexes are so unhappy with in every way.
The allegation that the Royal Family and the Royal Household have perpetuated falsehoods against Harry and Meghan was another bombshell allegation. Meghan suggested that the truth of the much-reported rift with the Duchess of Cambridge was well known to members of the Royal Household and they did not raise a finger to correct false media interpretations and incorrect stories. Given the statements that have been made by former members of their team in the past week about the inner workings of the Sussex offices, it seems that there may be other interpretations of these events and how staff endeavoured to protect and serve Harry and Meghan.
Meghan made clear at the outset of the interview that, as many had suspected, she had little preparation and information about what life might like in the Royal Family. She said that she had not done any research and felt that their relationship would work because of her synergy with Prince Harry around their “cause-driven work” and they would be able to “live authentically.” This seems to have been a big miscalculation.
Given what she has discovered about what life is like inside the palace walls and how the British media functions, it seems that this was optimistic and as she said, a bit naïve. Many have felt that it was the responsibility of Prince Harry to have prepared her better for what her role might be and what she might face. As he indicated later in the interview that he would not have made this break from the family were it not for what had happened to Meghan when he said, “I was trapped but didn’t know I was trapped.”
It is never easy to join a family in another culture and in another country. When that family is the reigning Royal Family encumbered by hundreds of years of tradition and custom that is even more difficult. It is a situation ripe for culture clash. As a product of North American celebrity culture, it was always going to be difficult for Meghan to fit into the U.K. with its competitive and voracious media, which thrives on conflict and invented scandal. There is no doubt that she was a new and different perspective given her background, her experience in the public eye, and she would have been able to speak to a whole segment of the British population and the Commonwealth as a biracial woman. That this did not work out is a tragedy for all concerned.
In an evening of many shocking revelations, a few tears, and some very grim moments there was at least some happy news when Meghan and Harry announced that the baby she is carrying is a girl. While this interview will not repair the damage to what is an unhappy family situation where there is now likely to be more disunity and controversy, we can only hope that the arrival of a new child will bring a sense of rebirth to their new family and some hope for the future.