This is a special edition of Royal News, a new weekly newsletter from CNN bringing you the inside track on the royal family, what they are up to in public and what’s happening behind palace walls. Sign up here.
London (CNN) – “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
Meghan’s powerfully honest admission in her conversation with Oprah is likely to be as explosive as Princess Diana’s sit-down with the BBC’s Martin Bashir back in 1995 – which helped spark a crisis that took the monarchy years to recover from.
The Duchess of Sussex’s words could potentially be even more seismic than the late Princess of Wales’s because the questions she raises are harder for the palace to answer.
Harry told Oprah: “What I was seeing was history repeating itself, but more, perhaps – or definitely far more dangerous, because then you add race in.”
For Meghan, the feelings of loneliness and isolation that drove her to suicidal thoughts were only compounded when, in her last months of pregnancy, she was told their newborn would not be given a title. Being a prince or princess was of little consequence to couple – except that that withholding a title meant their child wouldn’t have the security that comes with it.
“It’s like, okay, well, he needs to be safe,” Meghan explained. “But if you’re saying the title is what’s going to affect their protection, we haven’t created this monster machine around us in terms of clickbait and tabloid fodder. You’ve allowed that to happen, which means our son needs to be safe.”
How to get help:
Meghan then disclosed that there had been “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.” Visibly shocked, Oprah pressed the Duchess, who explained Harry had several conversations with unnamed royals.
“It was really hard to be able to see those as compartmentalized conversations,” Meghan continued. When asked by Oprah if the concern was that “if he were too brown that would be a problem,” Meghan said she wasn’t “able to follow up with why.”
“But that – if that’s the assumption you’re making, I think that feels like a pretty safe one, which was really hard to understand,” she added.
Harry refused to elaborate on the specifics of the conversation later during the interview and only added that “at the time, it was awkward. I was a bit shocked.” The Duke did offer that it wasn’t the first time the subject had been raised; in fact, it had been broached “right at the beginning.”
“There were some real obvious signs before we even got married that this was going to be really hard,” Harry added.
CNN has reached out for comment from the palace but had not heard back by the time of publishing. However, any statement will be viewed by many as a response to the charge of institutional racism.
Then there’s the claim the monarchy failed in its duty of care for Meghan when she had “very clear and very scary” thoughts of suicide. Meghan says she tried and failed to appeal to a senior staff member and the palace’s human resources department, but wasn’t offered any support.
“I went to the institution, and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help. I said that ‘I’ve never felt this way before, and I need to go somewhere.’ And I was told that I couldn’t – that it wouldn’t be good for the institution,” the Duchess revealed.
It was only after they were married that Meghan truly appreciated what she had taken on.
“Not only was I not being protected but that they were willing to lie to protect other members of the family, but they weren’t willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband,” she said.
Meghan used a story that leaked many months after her wedding as an example. The report claimed Meghan had made Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, cry during a dress fitting for the flower girls but the Duchess of Sussex said it was actually the other way around.
“The narrative about, you know, making Kate cry, I think was the beginning of a real character assassination,” she said. “And they knew it wasn’t true. And I thought, well, if they’re not going to kill things like that, then what are we going to do?”
Meghan said it was a stressful time and opted not to elaborate further as Kate had apologized and all was forgiven between them but “what was hard to get over was being blamed for something that not only I didn’t do.”
The tete-a-tete with Oprah was billed, in the weeks leading up to it, as a bombshell broadcast and it did not fail to deliver. When compared to Diana’s interview, it will easily go down in history as being as (if not more) disruptive, given the shocking revelations around race and the prevalence of social media today.
For many Black and mixed-race people both in Britain and around the world, Harry’s choice in life partner really held meaning. For some, the fact that a biracial woman was marrying into the royal family was something they never imagined, and it made the family more relevant.
To now discover that the perceived optics surrounding the color of their future children’s skin was being considered will horrify people. The question now is: How will the palace respond? And, more importantly, will it take any action on the accusations of racism leveled at it? It’s already faced questions about its relevance, it must now rebuild trust and show that it can hold itself to higher standards.
The royal family was able to survive the Diana scandal because it restored the public’s faith in the institution – aided by the world’s interest in her two sons, William and Harry, and the women they married. What “The Firm” does next, in response to this profound interview, and the revelations in it, will determine if it can long-term overcome the damage sustained from losing Harry and Meghan – two of its most loved senior royals – from its ranks.
The duty of any monarchy is to represent all its subjects but some people will feel today that it no longer applies to them.
NEWS OF THE WEEK
A Commonwealth Day coincidence
It was business as usual for the Queen on Sunday – despite the looming Harry-Meghan interview – as she and other members of the royal family united for Commonwealth Day. Elizabeth paid tribute to communities across 54 countries – commending them for coming together in response to the pandemic.
“Whilst experiences of the last year have been different across the Commonwealth, stirring examples of courage, commitment and selfless dedication to duty have been demonstrated in every Commonwealth nation and territory, notably by those working on the frontline who have been delivering healthcare and other public services in their communities,” the Queen said in a pre-recorded address from Windsor Castle.
The day is usually celebrated with a service at London’s Westminster Abbey. This year’s event was canceled due to Covid-19 and replaced with special celebratory programming on British TV. While it has struck some as odd that the commemorations and the Sussexes’ Oprah interview fell on the same day, the timing is purely a coincidence of TV scheduling, we’ve been told.
However that won’t stop people from drawing comparisons. After all, last year’s Commonwealth service was the last engagement Harry and Meghan participated in before stepping back as senior royals. Much was made at the time of the apparently frosty reception Harry and Meghan received. And in 2018, the Commonwealth service was also the setting for Meghan’s first official engagement where the monarch was in attendance, a couple months before she tied the knot with Harry.
Prince Philip on the mend?
The Duke of Edinburgh was transferred back to King Edward VII’s Hospital last Friday following a “successful” procedure for a pre-existing heart condition at St Bartholomew’s Hospital earlier this week. This has been the longest hospital stint for the Queen’s 99-year-old husband to date. He was first admitted to King Edward’s on February 16 “after feeling unwell,” where it was later confirmed he was being treated for an infection. He was moved to St Bartholomew’s last Monday.
While undoubtedly there has been much concern for Philip due to his advanced age, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall said his condition was “slightly improving” after his transfer, despite his treatment hurting “at moments,” according to PA Media. And as the Duke recovers from his operation, he was clearly in the thoughts of those in Buckingham Palace, which shared a family photo of the Queen and her husband smiling as they posed together in the library of Balmoral Castle in Scotland in 1976 to mark World Book Day.
FROM THE ROYAL VAULT
The royals have been the subject of countless movies, TV shows and documentaries but it’s their rare one-on-ones that are often the most revelatory.
In 1995, Diana participated in an explosive interview for the BBC’s Panorama program. Prince Charles and Diana had separated three years prior and Charles had sensationally admitted to having an affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles after years of tabloid speculation in a documentary released in 1994. But it was Diana’s simple utterance “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded” that turned her sit-down interview into of the most-watched moments in UK broadcasting history.
More recently, the Panorama interview was back in the news after the BBC launched an internal inquiry amid allegations that journalist Martin Bashir had used dishonest practices to acquire the interview with the Princess of Wales. However on Thursday, British police announced they were not going to pursue any further criminal investigation into the claims after obtaining legal advice from their lawyers, independent counsel and from the Crown Prosecution service.
A WORD FROM THE ROYALS
The Prince of Wales praised the response of the Commonwealth’s people during the pandemic and took the opportunity to highlight the crisis’ link to climate change. Standing alone for his pre-recorded message at Westminster Abbey, he was one of several senior royals who paid tribute to the Commonwealth over the weekend.
What do you think about Harry and Meghan’s decision to speak to Oprah? Drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. And let us know what you think about our trial run of the newsletter.