Harry, Meghan's Oprah interview to define future royal relations

Joe Jackson, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 05 2021 02:33 AM

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, shake hands with members of the crowd during a walkabout in Parliament Square in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, July 11, 2018. Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters/File

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan's potentially bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey this weekend could shape the couple's future relations with the British royal family, experts say.

The pair's relationship with the centuries-old institution has turned increasingly acrimonious since they stepped back from the royal frontline last year.

Meghan, 39, is expected to share grievances about her treatment by the monarchy and the media, including allegations of racism, and has accused royals of "perpetuating falsehoods" about her.

The interview was filmed weeks ago but pre-broadcast clips of her comments were made available just hours after the Palace took the unusual step of confirming it would investigate newspaper claims Meghan had bullied royal staff.

The escalating war of words has fueled fears that already frayed ties could snap completely, with every word, look and gesture likely to be picked over in endless detail.

Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said it was "short-sighted" of Harry and Meghan not to inform the monarchy of the decision to talk to Winfrey.

That left it "blindsided" and "will almost certainly cause the royal family embarrassment", he told AFP.

"We know the press and probably courtiers are likely to be excoriated.

"However, if they get personal and criticize other members of the royal family, it will define their relationship with them for the foreseeable future." 

- 'Never complain, never explain' -

Buckingham Palace announced last month that the couple had permanently ended royal duties, a year after their shock announcement to "step back" from their roles.

Since relocating to the United States -- in a move dubbed "Megxit" by the British press -- they have embarked on several lucrative commercial ventures alongside continuing charitable work.

The Oprah interview has echoes of the explosive 1995 tell-all by Harry's late mother princess Diana in which she candidly discussed her failing marriage to Prince Charles and their infidelities.

Publicly discussing private matters jars with Queen Elizabeth II's purported mantra "never complain, never explain", to keep the royals' unique place in British society.

Harry and Meghan are seen as media-savvy and have previously done well-received interviews but Fitzwilliams noted other family members' rare media sit-downs have been "catastrophes". 

The queen's second son Prince Andrew resigned from royal duties shortly after he defended his friendship with the late US financier and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein in a disastrous 2019 interview.

Harry's father Prince Charles fared badly in a 1994 tell-all in which he admitted to committing adultery.

In contrast, Diana's interview -- watched by a record 22.8 million people -- was widely seen as garnering her public sympathy.

Harry -- sixth in line to the throne -- and Meghan's popularity in Britain has fallen steadily over the last three years and remains well below that of the queen, according to polling.

Omid Scobie, co-author of last year's best-selling biography on the couple, "Finding Freedom", said it was unlikely confiding in Oprah would change many minds.

Britons "have already picked their camp at this point", he said.

But he predicted audiences could "at least come out of it a little bit more enlightened" as to why they left.

"This will be a place for them to share their side of the story and given that we... have spent the last three years talking about it, I'd say it's only fair that they have a couple of hours to do the same," he added.

- 'Bad timing' -

Harry, 36, has blamed press intrusion for contributing to his mother death in 1997 and told Oprah he and Meghan quit Britain in part because he was worried about "history repeating itself".

But the timing of the broadcast, shot at their sprawling Montecito mansion in California, is awkward. 

The primetime outing airs on the same day the queen and other senior royals appear on television as part of Commonwealth Day celebrations.

More problematically, the queen's 99-year-old husband, Harry's grandfather Prince Philip, has been in hospital for nearly three weeks and is recovering from a successful heart procedure.

Fitzwilliams said that should have prompted Harry and Meghan to ask Winfrey -- a personal friend who attended their wedding -- to pressure CBS to delay.

"It would be appropriate, despite the difficulties this would cause, for this interview to be postponed," he said.

But royal expert Penny Junor told the BBC it was "just bad timing" and that a delay was highly unlikely.

"Is there ever going to be a perfect time to show... a documentary like this?" she asked. "I'm not sure there is."

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