LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II offered the beginning of an apology Tuesday, issuing a statement that "the whole family was saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan," after her grandson and his wife gave an explosive interview to Oprah Winfrey charging racism and rejection by the monarchy.
In a remarkable admission, the queen said that “the issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning.” The word “concerning” in Britain means more than it does in America. It means “worrying.” Meaning the queen was not blowing this off.
But the queen also suggested that the royal family did not fully support the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s account of how they were treated or what was said.
“While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately,” her majesty said.
The queen closed by saying, “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members,” a refrain she has used several times since the couple decamped from Frogmore Cottage at Windsor Castle to their new lives in a seaside mansion in sunny Southern California.
Her majesty’s subjects — and a global TV audience — were gobsmacked by the accusations that a royal relative commented on the skin color of biracial Meghan’s unborn son and that “the Firm,” as insiders call the institution, rebuffed her pleas for help when she felt suicidal.
Royal correspondents reported that the palace held “crisis meetings” after the interview aired in the United States on Sunday night.
The delay of any response raised eyebrows.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the queen’s 61-word statement was posted 40 hours after the U.S. broadcast and “was notable both for its brevity and its unwillingness to take the Sussexes’ shocking narrative as gospel.”
The newspaper also suggested that the queen’s assertion that the matter of race will be discussed “privately” could underscore the royal family’s “never complain, never explain” stance against airing dirty laundry in public.
That attitude was on display earlier Tuesday, when Harry’s father, Prince Charles, made his first public appearance since the Winfrey interview, visiting a vaccine pop-up clinic at a church in north London.
The masked heir to the throne joked with those getting their coronavirus jabs, but when a reporter from Sky News “asked the royal what he thought about the interview . . . he did not reply and was ushered out of the building.”
Hannah Yelin, a senior lecturer in media and culture at Oxford Brookes University, expected that the queen’s statement wouldn’t be enough to defuse the scandal.
“The statement that eventually came was vague enough to cover a multitude of sins,” Yelin said. “While I’m sure that the queen’s goal is to draw a line under things, I expect that it was too brief to be the end of it. This is the biggest celebrity news story in years, and the allegations are serious. Few will be satisfied with so little.”
Before the Tuesday evening statement by the queen, Diane Abbott, the longest-serving Black member of Parliament and a leader of the Labour Party, joined the chorus demanding a response. On the BBC, Abbott wondered if the royal family “learned anything over the 25 years since what happened to Princess Diana. It doesn’t seem as if they have.”
Diana, Harry’s mother, was killed in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi. In a precedent-breaking BBC interview in 1995, filled with echoes that reverberate today, Diana confessed that after the birth of Prince William, she felt depressed and became bulimic and self-harming. She said the palace considered her unstable and a threat to the monarchy, but, she said, “Every strong woman in history has had to walk down a similar path, and I think it’s the strength that causes the confusion and the fear.”
Abbott told the Guardian newspaper, “For a lot of Black and mixed-race women, when they can look at what we’re now hearing, what’s happening to Meghan, they can realize: If this can happen to her and if it could be so crushing and humiliating to her, I can face up to how that sort of thing makes me feel.”
Activists for mental health expressed disappointment that public commentators wondered aloud if Meghan was really as fragile as she claimed.
And quickly one of Meghan’s harshest critics fell.
TV host Piers Morgan resigned late Tuesday from “Good Morning Britain,” ITV announced, after a flood of complaints to a British media watchdog.
On Monday morning’s broadcast, Morgan said that he “didn’t believe a word” Meghan told Winfrey about mistreatment by Buckingham Palace, specifically her assertion that she felt suicidal and was offered no help.
Morgan also rejected claims by Meghan and Harry that the British news media is racist.
He stormed off the set Tuesday — and quickly returned — after a colleague challenged him over why he seemed to always “trash” Meghan.
An ITV spokesperson said: “Following discussions with ITV, Piers Morgan has decided now is the time to leave Good Morning Britain. ITV has accepted this decision and has nothing further to add.”
Until a few years ago, Buckingham Palace was loath to comment on anything controversial. Its public relations strategy was hunkering down.
But it defended Prince Andrew, the queen’s son, in the wake of his scandalous friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and allegations by a woman who said she was groomed by Epstein to have sex with the prince.
One of Meghan’s complaints was that the palace didn’t offer her protection from tabloid attacks, though it was willing to speak out on behalf of other royals.
A YouGov opinion poll of 4,656 people conducted after the Winfrey interview aired Monday night in Britain found the public divided, 32 percent vs. 32 percent, over whether Harry and Meghan were treated fairly or unfairly by the royal family. The remaining 36 percent said they did not know.