Where once Britain tore itself apart over Brexit, pitting “remainers” against “leavers,” the past week has seen people enlist in warring tribes backing either the Sussexes or the House of Windsor.
For example, do you feel that Meghan, a biracial American, successful former actress and compassionate diplomat, a woman, mother and feminist, has been smeared and silenced by trash-talking TV personalities (Piers Morgan) and the “men in gray suits” who run Buckingham Palace? If so, stand here.
Or do you view Meg as a bit of a grasper, an ingrate, a California avocado-toast-eating snowflake, too quick to take offense, who stole Prince Harry from his family and is only a first-name global celebrity because she married into royalty — and then, after a scant two years of ribbon-cutting, is turning on the very monarch who made her? If so, stand over there.
Either way, there will be food for many thoughts Sunday when “Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special” airs. In Britain, the interview will be broadcast a day later, on Monday evening on ITV.
The conversation with (mostly) Meghan plays out against a backdrop of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, with questions raised over how women are treated compared with men, especially an American woman with a White father and a Black mother who marries a prince.
The interview will also land amid a public feud between the couple and the royal family, after the palace announced Wednesday that its human resources department will investigate a 2018 complaint that Meghan bullied her staff, especially young women, “to the point of tears,” pushing two personal assistants “out of the household” and undermining the confidence of a third.
A spokesman for the Sussexes called the leak about the accusation in the Times of London “a calculated smear campaign.” He said the duchess “was saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself.”
What we know about the interview’s contents is . . . not very much. There could be bombshells. There could be “meh.”
But the interview might come to define the current Meghan. It is, after all, two hours of television, and we are told Harry plays only a bit part. So that is a lot of airtime, and Winfrey is a skilled interviewer.
Royal correspondents attest that the palace is in a stir. The House of Windsor does have something to lose in all this.
The real crown did not come off especially well in Season 4 of the Netflix series “The Crown,” which portrayed Prince Charles as a self-pitying adulterer and Queen Elizabeth II as out of touch.
And then there is Prince Andrew. He, too, is trending on social media, with commentators asking why more attention isn’t being paid to the queen’s second son and his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender.
Virginia Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, has claimed that Epstein groomed her when she was a teenager to have sex with Andrew on three occasions. Why isn’t the palace investigating that, many ask.
As for Oprah Winfrey nailing the interview of the year, eyebrows have been raised. Winfrey did attend the couple’s wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018, but the three were not known to be close. Many have noted that both Meghan and Winfrey are actors.
People with knowledge of the arrangements say that no money changed hands, nor were Harry and Meghan given advance questions or control over the editing.
Still, matters are complicated. Harry and Meghan live in a mansion in Montecito, a wealthy seaside enclave north of Los Angeles. Winfrey is their nearby neighbor.
In 2019, Harry announced he was partnering with Winfrey on a mental health documentary series for Apple TV Plus.
Robert Hardman, author of “Our Queen,” said: “It’s extraordinary how any story to do with the Sussexes, you get instant pile-on, from both directions. Maybe it’s filling a kind of Brexit void as the issue that people want to get very aerated about immediately.”
“Aerated” being a Britishism that means “agitated, angry or overexcited.”
Hardman said he thinks many Britons are sorry the couple is gone. The wedding was a huge hit and a great day for the monarchy, he said, and people “feel sad it hasn’t panned out.”
But where there’s starting to be a fault line is over sympathy for “what they have been through, given what everybody else has been through over the last year,” he said, meaning the pandemic and three national lockdowns, which saw families isolated and businesses and jobs destroyed.
“In Britain, it’s, ‘Things really haven’t been that bad for you. Do you really go on air for two hours and say how awful it’s been and widen the splits in the family?’ ” Hardman said.
Morgan, the “Good Morning Britain” co-host who never tires of dinging Meghan, tweeted, “This interview is going to be Oscar-winning deluded self-serving bilge.”
Meghan’s friends have rallied to her side. One of her co-stars on the TV series “Suits,” Patrick J. Adams, tweeted Friday that he was sickened “to read the endless racist, slanderous, clickbaiting vitriol spewed in her direction from all manner of media across the UK and the world but I also knew that Meghan was stronger than people realized or understood and they would regret underestimating her.”
To stoke interest in the interview, CBS has released a handful of tantalizing “teaser quotes.”
“You’ve said some pretty shocking things here,” Winfrey says to the couple, who lost their royal patronages and honorary military titles last month after confirming they would not return to their lives as “senior working royals” but instead seek financial independence and a bit of relief from the prying eyes of the British tabloids, or so they might have hoped.
In the latest clips, Meghan tells Winfrey she doesn’t know how the palace could expect the couple to be silent “if there is an active role that the Firm” — the term the royals are said to use for the whole apparatus of the family — “is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us.”
Meghan added, “And if that comes with risk of losing things, I mean, I . . . there is a lot that has been lost already.”
Asked why she was giving Winfrey an interview now, Meghan reveals that before she and Harry relinquished their roles, palace courtiers were always hovering about, listening in and managing her PR.
Now, she said, it is “really liberating” to be “able to speak for yourself.” Meghan added, “I’m ready to talk.”
Parallels have been drawn with another bombshell interview. In 1995, Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, sat down to talk to BBC reporter Martin Bashir in what became a seismic broadcast event, watched by almost 23 million people.
In that interview, Diana spoke publicly for the first time about her unhappy marriage, which she famously said was “a bit crowded.” She and Charles subsequently divorced, and in 1997, she died in a car crash while being pursued by paparazzi.
In one clip released by CBS, Harry references his mother, who was also the subject of intense scrutiny by the British tabloids.
Sitting next to Meghan and holding her hand, Harry says: “I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for her going through this process by herself all those years ago, because it’s been unbelievably tough for the two of us.”
Harry and Meghan have dominated the British press in recent days, especially the tabloids. The front page of the Daily Express shouted: “End this now, Harry! For love of the Queen and Prince Philip, war of words must stop.”
The 99-year-old Prince Philip, meanwhile, is recovering in a hospital after a heart procedure.
It may surprise Americans, but since announcing their decision to step away from their roles as senior working royals and pursue an independent life in California, the Sussexes’ popularity in Britain has tanked.
Surveys by the pollster YouGov found that Harry and Meghan’s popularity in Britain has not recovered to the levels they saw before they decided to step back and move to North America.
But it has climbed in recent weeks following the announcement by the palace that they would not be returning and would be giving up their royal patronages.
The most recent YouGov polls find that 50 percent of Britons think the media is overly critical of Meghan, and 44 percent feel the same about Prince Harry. By contrast, only a very small percentage think the media is too hard on Prince William or his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, or the queen.