Britain’s royal family is bracing for a March 7 airing of an American television interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, widely referred to as Harry and Meghan, amid reports that the content is explosive and will make for uncomfortable viewing for the British monarch and senior royals.
The interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey was taped in California, a day before Buckingham Palace announced that the couple have decided not to return to the royal fold. They will continue to live independently in the United States, where they have struck lucrative deals to produce programming for both Netflix and Spotify and launched their own non-profit foundation.
CBS television insiders say the interview will likely widen the gulf between the couple and the royal household. And they warn it will likely go down as the most notorious interview featuring a member of Britain’s storied royal family since Harry’s mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, gave her side of the story in 1995 about the collapse of her marriage to Prince Charles.
It was during the 1995 interview that Diana explained that her husband had maintained an affair with a previous paramour soon after their wedding. “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” she said. She also admitted to having affairs herself because of loneliness and the betrayal.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who is pregnant with their second child, decided a year ago to walk away from their roles as working members of the royal family for a trial period, saying they wanted freedom to pursue their own projects and were aiming to become financially independent, something they have accomplished rapidly.
The pair, who chafed at the strictures of royal life, said they did not desire a complete severing of ties but were hoping for a bespoke half-in-half-out arrangement with Harry maintaining royal patronages and keeping his honorary military titles, including as captain-general of Britain’s Royal Marines. The titles are bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II.
Last week, the couple and Buckingham Palace, which was never happy with the bespoke arrangement, reviewed the trial separation and confirmed Friday that Harry and Meghan won’t be returning to royal duties, a decision that makes final the couple’s split from the royal family.
It was also announced that Harry will be giving up his honorary military titles, which friends of the couple say has infuriated him. The statements about finalizing what has become known as Megxit were official in tone, but they also indicated the couple and Buckingham Palace are far apart and that the rift is likely to grow.
"Some will say the Sussexes have just stamped their feet again after they didn't get what they wanted,” according to the royal correspondent of Britain’s Sky News, Rhiannon Mills. “Others will criticize the royal firm for being too traditional, too old-fashioned and unwilling to work on a compromise with the couple. One thing it has done, which neither side would want, is ramp up the stories of a rift, which will potentially be stoked further by their interview with Oprah,” she added.
According to royal reporters, Harry and Meghan did not inform Buckingham Palace that they were taping a television interview while negotiations between the couple and the royal household were ongoing — an omission that has added to alarm.
Britain’s “red-top” tabloid newspapers lost no time pivoting Sunday from the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit to Megxit.
“Have they no respect?” screamed the front page of Saturday’s Daily Mail. The paper made much of the fact that the final break between the couple and Buckingham Palace coincided with the ill health of Prince Philip, who was admitted to the hospital last week.
The Sun reported that Harry’s brother, Prince William, was left “really sad and genuinely shocked” over his brother Harry and Meghan’s “petulant” response to the queen as they officially quit the royal family. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Buckingham Palace lightly dueled in their statements about the meaning of public service.
But it is the timing of the Sussexes’ interview with Oprah Winfrey that is prompting worry in Buckingham Palace with courtiers fearful about what the couple will say and how that will rebound on Britain’s 94-year-old monarch. “We don’t need to hear any more from them now,” a palace official told Britain’s The Sunday Times. Harry is sixth in line to Britain’s throne.
The collapse of his parents’ marriage became ensnared in a media frenzy with the tabloids adding insult to injury as much as they could. Both Charles and Diana, and their staffs, were drawn in, leaking against each other to try to manipulate the press coverage of their tumultuous separation and bitter divorce, say royal commentators.
And that appears to be happening again with households and staffs briefing against each other.
Some of the couple’s friends are worried that the interview with Oprah Winfrey may end up damaging Harry and Meghan. Royal interviews have often backfired. In 2019, the Duke of York, commonly known as Prince Andrew, gave an interview explaining his friendship with the late pedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. He thought the encounter had gone well but it resulted in him having to withdraw from public life.
Diana also later said she “deeply regretted” her 1995 interview.
The couple’s bid to define a celebrity role for themselves sits badly with the royal family. Palace insiders fear an unleashed “brand Sussex” could eclipse Prince Charles and Prince William.
One of the royal family’s uppermost fears is that Harry and Meghan will become increasingly outspoken now they are unmoored from the royal household risking blowback on the British monarchy,
“Royals have to act differently from celebrities in order to ensure the standing and longevity of the institution, which relies on public goodwill to survive,” a palace official told VOA recently.