Harry and Meghan strike at legitimacy of the British monarchy
Oprah interview raises uncomfortable questions, not least about the issue of succession
Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and his wife Meghan has drawn comparisons with Martin Bashir’s interview with Harry’s mother Diana which rocked the royal family in 1995. But Harry and Meghan’s interview is more dangerous to the monarchy than Diana’s, on account of its content and its timing.
Parts of Meghan’s story echoed Diana’s, as she spoke about the palace’s failure to protect her from hostile media and to help her when she felt suicidal. But the couple’s allegations of racism within the royal family are much more damaging because they strike at the legitimacy of the monarchy in a multiracial, multicultural Britain.
Although Meghan had the more compelling story to tell, it was Harry who drove the knife in, volunteering that Prince Charles stopped taking his calls and suggesting that his father and brother remained “trapped” in the institution. He said there was an “invisible contract” between the tabloid press and the royals, who lived in fear of the media.
There are no good options for Buckingham Palace because if they fail to investigate the allegations of racism the questions will remain open and if they do investigate there is a danger that the answers will be unwelcome. And any spotlight scanning the royal family is bound to settle at some stage on Prince Andrew, the queen’s favourite son who has disappeared from view amid allegations about sexual exploits in the company of the late paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
A snap YouGov poll found that 47 per cent of Britons (few of whom had watched the interview by then) thought it was inappropriate, compared to 21 per cent who thought it was appropriate. But the age divide was striking, with 18-24-year-olds saying it was appropriate by a margin of 49 per cent to 12 per cent. Among the over-65s, just 9 per cent said it was appropriate, compared to 68 per cent who said it was not.
At a Downing Street press conference on Monday, Boris Johnson declined to comment on the interview but the way he did so was revealing.
“The best thing I can say is I’ve always had the highest admiration for the queen and the unifying role that she plays in our country and across the Commonwealth. As for the rest, all other matters to do with the royal family, I’ve spent a long time now not commenting on royal family matters and I don’t intend to depart from that today,” he said.
Queen Elizabeth remains popular across the generations but at 95 she is probably within the last decade of her reign. Charles’s succession was always likely to raise questions about the future of the monarchy, partly because neither he nor his wife Camilla are especially popular.
There have been calls to skip a generation so that Prince William would succeed the queen. William and his wife Catherine are popular and they currently enjoy a cordial relationship with the press.
But upsetting the order of succession is risky because it begs the question that, if Britain does not need the next king in line, does it need any?