The sunny and warm California backdrop for the Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry didn’t prepare viewers for the darkness of some of the revelations made by the couple. “CBS Presents Oprah with Meghan and Harry,” the first interview of the pair since stepping down from their royal duties, aired on March 7 in the U.S. and will air in the United Kingdom on March 8. The two-hour sit-down interview was Meghan and Harry’s first opportunity to represent themselves instead of the monarchy and express how they truly feel. No topics were off-limits.
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Among the most shocking confessions, Meghan opened up about her mental health struggles and what she felt was like a lack of support from the royal family as she sought inpatient care. “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear, and real, and frightening constant thought,” she told Winfrey. While she said she felt welcomed by the Queen and other members of the royal family, she felt she was given little guidance or support. When she began having suicidal thoughts and asked for help, she was told that would not be possible because it “wouldn’t be good for the institution.”
Racism played a significant role in Meghan’s disarray but also in the couple’s ultimate decision to leave the royal family and the U.K. “Did you leave the country because of racism?” Winfrey asked Harry. “It was a large part of it,” he answered.
The couple revealed that some members of the royal family shared concerns with Harry about the skin color of the baby when Meghan was pregnant with Archie. Meghan said she was told her son wouldn’t be made a prince and thus wouldn’t receive security – a decision out of the protocol.
“We have in tandem the conversation of ‘He won’t be given security, he’s not going to be given a title’ and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born,” Meghan said.
In many ways, the couple’s explosive interview mirrors Princess Diana’s sit-down with BBC’s Martin Bashir back in 1995. “This for many people was built as Meghan’s Diana interview,” CNN’s royal correspondent Max Foster said Monday, adding that Diana’s interview “caused a crisis in the monarchy which lasted years, this [the Winfrey interview] could potentially do the same, it could potentially be even worse.”
This time, the issues raised by Meghan are even harder for the Palace to answer. “These are major allegations against the royal family and the Palace because they weren’t just talking about the Palace here, they were talking about family members,” Foster said. “She’s accusing them of institutional racism and that’s a massive accusation and it feels really real when you watch the two hours. It’s a very powerful interview.”
Winfrey asked Harry if it would make a difference if his family acknowledged that Meghan’s treatment in the press was different because of race. “Yeah it would make a huge difference,” he said. “There is a lot of people that have seen it for what it was.. a lot of people, like it is talked about across the world, yet the very people that don’t want to see it, or can’t see it, choose not to see it.”
Harry witnessed his wife being viciously targeted by the British press time and time again, confessing to Winfrey that “the U.K. is not bigoted, the U.K. press is very bigoted.” For Harry, the harassment from tabloids toward a loved one is nothing unfamiliar. He had seen the extent of the harm that the press could cause on someone with his own mother. And as he told Winfrey, what he saw felt like history repeating itself. Diana is seen as a woman failed by an out-of-touch establishment, a pattern similar to Meghan’s experience. But this time, it felt more dangerous he said, because of the element of race added into this already toxic mix.
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And while the royal family isn’t new to scandal, this one will be trickier – and more significant – to address. Not only is the Palace forced to reconcile with institutional racism for maybe the first time, but there is also a duty of care issue with Meghan’s struggles with suicidal thoughts. Despite this, royal experts say, the Queen will recover from the fallout of the interview. But the Palace’s response will be key.
Indeed, Meghan and Harry’s interview prompted the #AbolishTheMonarchy trend on Twitter with more than 35,000 tweets with the hashtag. There have long been calls from the sidelines to abolish the monarchy, challenging the concept of monarchy as outdated and inegalitarian. But the royal family has managed to bounce back from scandals for decades, starting with maybe the family’s worst crisis with the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. With carefully managed PR responses – sometimes simply relying on complete silence – the royal family managed to brush off most gossips.
Racism is the foundation of the royal family's accumulation strategy, not an aberration. Racism is why they sit on their millions in wealth, gold & jewels looted from Black & brown peoples today.#RacialFeudalism#AbolishTheMonarchy https://t.co/Qpy724TFah
— Lisa Tilley (@Tilley101) March 8, 2021
So will Meghan and Harry’s interview lead to the abolishment of the monarchy? Most likely not. But it once again puts into light some of the ties that the royal family still has with its dark past, or in this case, present, that needs to be addressed. All eyes are now on the royal family which has not yet publicly responded to the interview or the allegations of racism.
The monarchy is an institution that has to prove its relevancy on a regular basis because it is tax-payer funded, Omid Scobie, co-author of last year’s best-selling biography of Markle, Finding Freedom, and the royals editor of Harper’s Bazaar, says. It is also an expensive institution costing taxpayers in the U.K. $86 million in 2018-2019. Therefore, questions about the royal family’s relevancy feel legitimate, especially during a global pandemic.
“The institution of the monarchy, which I see very separate to the royal family themselves—I’m talking about the machine that keeps it running, the home of the courtiers and the aides that we talk about—I think often, that’s where the problems lie,” Scobie told Slate. “Writing about Meghan’s story in Finding Freedom, it just felt like, “Why are we here again? Why are we seeing another woman leave the House of Windsor battered and bruised and regretting ever stepping foot into it?”
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