It’s all opening salvos ahead of the Oprah Winfrey interview set to air Sunday with the Sussexes, better known as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The same day in Britain, a television special will feature an address from the queen and messages from other senior royals to mark Commonwealth Day. The competing images are likely to feed the narrative that while some royals do their duty, others are out for themselves.
Reality is more complicated. But no one will win this grudge match if the Windsors’ family dysfunction continues to play out in public.
It’s been a year since Harry and Meghan made their last official appearance after stepping down from their royal roles. In recent months, they have been raising their profile: inking production deals, announcing Meghan’s pregnancy, appearing on James Corden’s late-night show. Next up: “Oprah With Meghan & Harry.”
“My biggest concern was history repeating itself,” Harry says in a promotional clip, alluding to media pressure on his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a 1997 car crash while trying to flee paparazzi.
Sensing ratings gold, CBS extended a 90-minute program to two hours — and released video of Meghan saying, “I don’t know how they could expect that after all of this time we would still just be silent if there’s an active role that ‘The Firm’ is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us.”
If we’re to believe CBS’s promotional machine, royal tea is about to be spilled.
But is it? This is not the first time Harry and Meghan have derided media bias or tabloid aggression. What’s different now is the couple’s position: After the palace rejected their request to create hybrid public-private roles, the couple opted out of official life. They moved to Canada and then California, where they bought a mansion in Montecito. Harry and Meghan have clinched producing deals with Netflix and Spotify and launched a nonprofit. Financially, at least for the moment, they can do whatever they want.
No doubt, the couple have some legitimate complaints. Whatever palace protocols Meghan may have disliked (or breached), tabloid coverage of her compared with that of other royals shows a bias against the biracial U.S.-born duchess.
The palace’s failure to aggressively call out that distortion was an unforced error — contributing to the Sussexes’ exit and, by failing to embrace Meghan, missing a potentially huge opportunity to help modernize an ancient institution. Both sides have since taken some petty shots, widening the rift.
But opening up on camera tends to create more royal problems than it solves. Fallout from Princess Diana’s tell-all interview in 1995 included Queen Elizabeth II ordering Harry’s parents to divorce; Prince Charles admitting that he had been unfaithful to Diana tanked his approval ratings; more recently, Prince Andrew’s tone-deaf interview about his ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein got him retired from public duties.
There’s a logic to the queen’s never-complain, never-explain approach: The fly-on-the-wall 1969 “Royal Family” documentary hasn’t been rebroadcast in decades because the queen realizes that oversharing on camera normalizes royalty, potentially undermining their position.
The 94-year-old queen appears to take the long view with Harry and Meghan. While refusing some of their requests, she has laced personal language into palace statements, referring to them as “much loved members” of her family.
Will they now repay the favor? Or, having achieved escape velocity, will they dish about family grudges as well?
On Corden’s show, Harry talked about Zooming with his grandparents and the waffle maker the queen sent his toddler son. Oprah viewers will be listening for family drama, such as details about reported rifts with Harry’s brother and sister-in-law, whether the couple has plans for a U.K. visit and if Harry is adjusting to the States better than Meghan fared in Britain.
“It’s really liberating,” Meghan says in another excerpt, “to be able to say, Yes, I’m ready to talk.”
If they are wise, however, they won’t tell Oprah much.