A few hours ago, Buckingham Palace released a statement on the Queen’s behalf that read:
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
Unsurprisingly, opinions are very split on this. So far, some feel that after a two-hour interview that included allegations of racism and disclosures of suicidal thoughts, the Royal Family didn’t offer enough, while others feel this was dignified and brought family issues back inside the private sphere. A distinct thread within the former group points out that the statement put out a few days ago about following up on Palace staffs’ bullying accusations against the Duchess of Sussex was more robust than this, once again seemingly playing into the narrative that the Palace is much more open to hurting Meghan than helping her.
The last point is the easiest to address. While both statements are on Buckingham Palace letterhead, it’s only this statement that comes directly from the Queen. And it’s clear to me from reading that this reflects some level of wrangling between Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, and Kensington Palace.
Which brings me to my next point: For those that aren’t tracking, the Queen, the Prince of Wales (Charles), and the Duke of Cambridge (William) all maintain separate “households,” which means not only residences but professional staffs. That includes a private secretary (essentially a chief of staff), communications staff, personal aides, etc. Thus, when the “family” decides to jump on a conference call to net out on these things, it’s less an awkward conversation between three generations and more three distinct companies with similar shareholders trying to meet in the middle.
As such, we don’t know whether there was dissention between the various camps as to what to say, how much, and when. The statement feels very in keeping with the tone of those released last year directly following the Sussexes’ initial departure announcement and the Sandringham Summit. There’s a clearly expressed desire to keep professional issues private, which it should be noted, is obviously self-serving and understandably so. Harry and Meghan’s desire to air it all out in front of the rest of us is equally as self-serving, so ’round we go.
To me, the first line is a clear response to Meghan’s statements regarding her depression in 2019 and the use of “race” in reference to the private conversation Harry and Meghan raised in the interview. I’m not surprised we didn’t get more on either of those topics. Nor do I think it would have been the right call to issue a laundry list of rebuttals. I do think there was room to express the extent to which Meghan was welcomed into the family or to communicate an awareness that she was in a unique position within “the firm.” In other words, language that would have translated a greater appreciation or understanding of the impact this interview has had and addressed the negative reaction in some corners. Alternately, there was room for a more full-throated slap on the wrist. This gives us, well, not much of anything – akin to a “Thank you for your concern. We’ll take that under advisement.”
That’s not a criticism. It strikes a very grandmotherly tone and while it doesn’t offer much, it does make clear that the Queen has zero interest in a protracted family war (fair) and she isn’t interested in engaging, or appearing to. That’s on-brand. The benefit of this approach is that the BRF has essentially kept its powder dry. Depending on how this unfolds, there is still room for them to respond further if they need to, but I think as of right now, this is it. My only flag here is that, if there was dissention between the households, we’re going to end up with staff/family members with scores to settle who go ahead and try to get their shots in on background with reporters. We’ve already seen a little of this via Charles’s camp in the last 24 hours, though of course we can’t say definitively that those sources are directly in Clarence House.
The other point I want to make here is that waiting until Tuesday to respond was smart. There’s the cover of waiting for the majority of Britons to see it, yes, but there’s also the runway of letting the Palace see how this played out in the UK media. Specifically, the British morning shows and the London tabloids. The truly spiteful attacks against the family are coming from international titles. Yes, this is prompting significant discussion of racism in the media and through England more broadly, but this isn’t netting out in such a way that the BRF is being otherized as an inherently racist institution amidst an otherwise progressive nation. Arguably the tabloids – where there’s certainly no love lost with Harry and Meghan (and we’ll get into that in later coverage of the interview) – have the Royal Family’s back in this. The interview isn’t being accepted at face value right now, but rather fact checked. In that respect, among their core constituents, the BRF is on track to emerge from this relatively unscathed.
The rub, and this is where it gets dicey, is the interview’s staying power if it has one. Right now this is getting battled out in London, essentially, but what about the Commonwealth? The BRF looks archaic and very white to many countries and Harry and Meghan did make a good point on Sunday that Meghan’s ability to offer representation was important. Charles has already been accepted as the future Head of the Commonwealth, but it would behoove the BRF to pay more attention to the global audience, in my opinion. In other words, I hope their comms staffs keep reading the clips.
A point that has been relatively glossed over is what Harry said about his father and brother – Charles and William – being trapped. That’s not a ringing endorsement for the utility of monarchy, nor does it present a robust case for Charles’s succession, an issue that is complicated on myriad fronts. In 1995, Diana said she didn’t think Charles was up to the job and she wanted William to succeed his grandmother. Her statements about Camilla may have driven more headlines, but it’s what she said about the succession that ultimately cost her her marriage. Once you mess with the essential fabric of the monarchy, you’re on the third rail. Harry was less direct, but should the Day in Question come tomorrow, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for any number of countries to ask, “Well, if you don’t really want the job then why are you here?”
In that respect, while the Palace’s official response doesn’t play ball with the Sussexes (or us) by engaging in what was alleged Sunday night, it’s actually remarkably merciful.