Yes, I’m back. How could I not be after that? We’ll do a proper catch up some other time because we need to turn to what I’m going to go ahead and decree the cultural interview of the decade and it’s only 2021. I’m not going to give a lot of grounding context – unless you’re living under a rock (and clearly you’re not because you’re reading this!) you’re well aware that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Harry & Meghan) sat down for an interview with Oprah Winfrey and it aired in the U.S. this evening in a two-hour special. I had anticipated recapping while also touching upon the buildup this past week (the bullying claims, etc.) but I’m going to have to save that for another post. There. Was. No. Filler. We have much to cover.
I’ll try not to be long-winded, but if you’ve been reading here for a while then you well know that’s not really my forte, so here we go 🙂 [Edit: Now that I’m done writing, of course this is long. Of course! Tomorrow I’ll go back through and copy edit, etc. Apologies in advance for typos but I wanted to get this up tonight since my God, what else are we going to talk about??]
First things first, this was BIG. This wasn’t overhyped, there will be massive fallout, and I would bet very good money that the Palace will respond in short order. They have to. What was said this evening, regardless of your opinion of it, was incredibly damaging and it’s airing to a global audience, the majority of which isn’t overly educated in the nuance of the British Royal Family (BRF).
Meghan’s Knowledge of the BRF
I was rolling my eyes during this segment. If we accept at face value that Meghan knew literally nothing about the Royal Family, Harry, Diana, etc. then I’m still flummoxed as to how it’s something to brag about that you entered this situation without doing any research. It’s a marriage, yes, but it’s also a job and an entirely foreign way of life. Preparing for it doesn’t mean googling Harry or reading tabloids – it means educating yourself on the institution. Biographies, real journalism, history – literally anything.
It was very telling that Meghan equated royalty with celebrity. It’s understandable that was her context, but there seemed to have been a fundamental stumbling block that marrying him meant taking on a role in which you were agreeing to represent a monarch and an institution that does mean something to millions of people. It’s a massive responsibility, and one that no one should walk into blindly. It reminded me of the reported story that William cautioned Harry to move more slowly with Meghan – frankly, that was good advice for both of their sakes.
The anecdote about how Meghan met the Queen was interesting. She clearly hesitated when referencing Royal Lodge, not necessarily wanting to mention Andrew’s name (understandably), but the picture painted was cute – Fergie running out and asking if she was ready, which is notable only because it illustrates Fergie still regularly sees the Queen, and Harry teaching her how to curtsy before walking in. I also think her reaction to not realizing that the family bows/curtsies to the Queen behind closed doors was fair – I’m not sure that I fully tracked that until the kerfuffle when Charles and Camilla married in 2005. And yeah, it doesn’t normalize the BRF.
So this segment is when I knew this was going to get wild. It’s not that Meghan said anything particularly damaging about Kate, but the candor with which she answered this question is borderline unprecedented. In short, the famous story that Meghan made Kate cry in the lead up to the 2018 wedding over Charlotte’s bridesmaid dress was not only untrue, but in fact it was Kate who made Meghan cry. According to Meghan, Kate followed up later to apologize and gave her flowers. In a vacuum, this isn’t that big of a deal – Meghan was a bride days away from getting married and newly introduced to global superstardom and Kate had given birth to Louis weeks before. If one of them snapped, it’s pretty understandable. I actually believe Meghan’s version of events.
Meghan said that she accepted Kate’s apology and forgave her, but she called the incident a “turning point” because the “Palace” wouldn’t respond to the story or let anyone who witnessed it refute the falsehood. In short, the women aren’t close but Meghan referred to her as “a good person” and both she and Harry reiterated what they said during their engagement interview about Kate being very welcoming to Meghan when she came on the scene.
Palace v. Family
One thing Meghan does well is clearly articulate that there’s a difference between members of the family and the staff that works for them. She doesn’t necessarily make that differentiation easy to follow in her answers, but I’m glad she at least said that since the majority of the audience isn’t going to understand the split. “The Palace” generally refers to the household/staff, however “the firm” and “the institution” is a bit nebulous. At various points Meghan is asked to clarify to which she is referring and I’ll highlight that throughout the following portions.
Archie’s Title & Security
And then things got really wild. Meghan says that Archie’s lack of title was at the firm’s direction, and then clarifies that these conversations included both Palace staff and members of the family. She further says that they planned to deprive him of security and that they were changing the law to withhold his proper birthright. What’s interesting about this is that everyone assumed at the time that Archie’s lack of title was Harry and Meghan’s decision and it ended up feeding into a larger narrative that they were hypocritical about privacy.
What’s also interesting about this is that Meghan is fundamentally wrong about the law, but I can glean what she’s trying to say so here goes. The rule she’s trying to reference is Letters Patent from George V that state grandchildren of the monarch are styled as princes and princesses. As such, Archie would never have been styled “Prince Archie” at birth because today he is a monarch’s great-grandchild. In theory, he would become a prince when Charles became king. Charles and his camp want to change that law so that the children of younger offspring (for example, Archie, as the son of a younger son) wouldn’t be elevated to that rank. That has nothing to do with Archie personally. Charles’s desire to streamline the Royal Family has been well-reported and public for at least a decade and the rule change wasn’t inspired by Archie’s birth, but is rather one part of a broader plan to make the monarchy more modern and less expensive.
My guess is that it’s possible the Palace made clear that they didn’t want Archie to be given the courtesy title, Earl of Dumbarton, to which he could use as the Duke of Sussex’s eldest/only son, but Meghan doesn’t say this. Instead, she says Archie won’t be a prince because he’s mixed race. Now, I believe that Meghan believes this, but this leads me back to my earlier point: How are Harry and Meghan this illiterate about how their own family works? Particularly Harry? I don’t have the ability to absolve the BRF of racism charges, but I can say that on this particular issue, Archie’s lack of title has nothing to do with him, his race, or his mother’s.
Regarding security, I understand Harry and Meghan’s concern given the intense amount of scrutiny they were under (including death threats) that their son wouldn’t have any protection. For “the Palace” they’re attempting to set a precedent, but this is an instance where they probably should have found some flexibility. Archie as an adult may well not need security (Beatrice and Eugenie are doing just fine, for example), but for the time being, he’s very much a public figure in the midst of a very controversial dynamic. On this half of the debate, I’m going to side with H&M.
Archie’s Skin Tone
Christ. This was the worst part, in my opinion. Oprah asked Meghan why she didn’t pose for “the photo” with Archie when he was born (well, she did, but not immediately after as you may recall from that particular fiasco). Meghan’s answer is that it was fear, but indirectly says that since her son was being deprived of a title and security she didn’t see why she should be expected to. Later on, we learn the state of her mental health during her pregnancy, so the fear element makes more sense. As this conversation unfolds, we also learn that ongoing logistical discussions Harry was having prompted a member of the family to express concern about Archie’s skin color. In other words, how dark would he be at birth and how would that look?
This is objectively horrible and if the Palace responds to only one thing, it has to be this. This is so, so damaging. Of course, the natural next question is who said that to Harry, but both Harry and Meghan refuse to answer. So, who was it? Well, it would have to be someone who would be having conversations with Harry in the leadup to his son’s birth, which indicates a senior royal. My guess is that we’re talking about Charles or William. I’m sure there’s going to more to this story, so I’m going to leave it at that for now.
Meghan’s Suicidal Thoughts
In the saddest and darkest portion of the interview, Meghan shares that she was suicidal during her pregnancy with Archie due to the pressure, negativity, and isolation. She states that she reached out for support and asked to be institutionalized but was told that it wasn’t possible because it would look horrible. She says she finally reached out to HR and they said they sympathized, but there was nothing they could do because she wasn’t a paid member of staff. Listening to her, I was unclear if any of her outreach was to the family itself, and Harry later clarifies that no, they never told his family.
At first, I was confused about this, thinking that if Harry went to the Queen or Charles, then surely Meghan would receive help. But having absorbed the interview as a whole, based on Harry’s later comments, I think relations with Charles – and William and Kate – were incredibly strained at this point. Harry also spoke about his own embarrassment about how badly things were going, which I think stopped him from going to the Queen.
I don’t know what help Meghan ended up receiving personally – therapy, medication, etc. – because obviously she is allowed to see physicians and therapists, but the fact that she was desperately reaching out to staff paints a bleak picture. It’s also a bizarre one for most people but underscores the unique relationship that the royals have with their household staffs. They wield power, have enormous personal information, and are also employees. It is, naturally, a breeding ground for toxicity. The allusion to Diana is obvious, and it’s the most definitive answer as to why Harry and Meghan were at such a low point at the end of their Africa tour months later and, of course, their departure early last year.
Turns out, Harry and Meghan were actually married on May 16, 2018 – three days before their public wedding. Now you know.
There was contradicting information after Harry and Meghan released their statement last January as to whether or not the Queen was blindsided. I’ll have to go back and read what I said at the time, but according to Harry he had three conversations with the Queen and two with Charles before the statement went out. He and Meghan also both said that these conversations had been ongoing for “two years,” which, if taken literally, means that they started before they were actually married. It’s also a tad confusing because Harry also talks about how they had “no plan” when they arrived in Canada, but I guess those aren’t mutually exclusive. Just…odd.
The general understanding was that while Harry and Meghan made this transition they were receiving money from Charles. Again, I would have to go back and look as to what pot of money Charles was ostensibly tapping for this allowance, but that’s what was widely reported. According to Harry, he was financially cut off by his father in the first quarter of 2020 and after those two conversations re: the statement, Charles stopped taking his calls.
Later on, Harry said that the two were now back in touch, but the relationship has been damaged. This is definitely an issue I want to revisit, but for now: Charles isn’t going to have a good week in the press.
One of the more interesting things Harry said was that while his family was welcoming of Meghan initially, things changed after their Oz/NZ tour. He clearly states that there was an issue with how well Meghan did, how effortlessly she took on the job, and the glowing coverage. In other words, they were jealous. I think it’s safe to assume that Charles is wrapped up in this, and in fact Oprah references the 1983 tour that Charles and Diana took – recently covered by The Crown – during which Charles was famously jealous of his wife’s popularity. But notably, based on phrasing and what had just been covered, I also think William and Kate are wrapped up in this.
Do I think the state of affairs in their collective relationships comes down to jealousy of Meghan? No. Do I think there’s a kernel of truth in there? Yes. More to come.
Harry says that he believes Diana would be “angry and sad” by how this situation has played out, but that the end of the day, she would have wanted him to be happy. He also says that he thinks she saw something like this “coming,” and that’s part of why he was left with such a sizable inheritance from her. Indeed, Harry was left with more money than William due in large part to the fact that William will one day have control of a massive fortune as Prince of Wales and then king. Diana was giving Harry independence. Literally. Once cut off, Harry says that he and Meghan lived off his private fortune from his mother.
After all the Charles v. Diana parenting battles, Diana may have just won the war. If that’s not poetic, I don’t know what is.
Harry says their relationship is one of “space” and “time heals all wounds.” My guess is that time won’t come into play until the wounds stop and tonight was a rillll gunshot.
Meghan speaks about how little she was prepared for this role. She says it’s not how it is in the movies, with lessons on how to sit or speak. She also says that while others in the family may have received this, she didn’t. I took this as an allusion to Kate since it’s been widely reported that Kate was given a crash course in “princess lessons” upon her engagement. It’s also a clear allusion to Diana, obviously…whether or not Meghan was tracking that is, I think, up for debate.
There’s a brief video clip of Archie playing with his parents on the beach. It’s a short moment, but it struck me that it was blurry and in black and white since the Sussexes’ 2020 Christmas card was an illustrated photo. In other words, they aren’t making their son publicly accessible. Given the comments re: his lack of title, security, and birth, I do want to pick this back up at some point.
Ok, I haven’t covered the Press or the Palace’s lack of support….but I’ve run out of steam and there’s a lot to unpack there. I’m going to have to save that for another post later this week. I’ll respond to comments here and on Instagram, so eager to hear your thoughts. And I’ll follow up soon with further thoughts/odds and ends. It’s good to be back and Happy Sunday (er, Monday morning)!