Ellie is doing a Master’s in Climate Change: Environment, Science and Policy. She also did her undergraduate degree at King’s in History and International Relations. She has a keen interest in women’s participation in global politics, as well as environmental politics.
[Featured Image: A still from the Harry & Meghan interview, showing the Duke & Duchess in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. Source]
Like many people across the nation and the globe, I was transfixed by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, when it aired in the UK on Tuesday 9th March. I think it’s no coincidence it went out on International Women’s Day in the US and the day after in the UK. Like the BBC Panorama interview with Diana in 1995, the Oprah interview will go down in the history books as a major moment for the royal family.
Here again, was a woman who had married in to Britain’s royal family only to become disillusioned with the reality of royal life and treaty poorly by those she thought would protect her. Like Diana, Meghan attempted to expose the truth and reclaim her voice which the institution had silenced. Both the interviews touched on mental health and how a life of intense media scrutiny had brought the women to breaking point, but no help came when they asked for it. The parallels between Meghan and Diana are so strong that it begs the question: how did this happen again?
Of course, there is one major difference between the experiences of Meghan and Diana: race. Maybe we should have seen it coming, but the commentary on Meghan in the UK tabloids has been a lot more villainising than coverage of Diana and has undoubtedly been racialised. From the moment Meghan and Harry’s relationship became public racism has been rampant, but especially so after their marriage. It is blatantly obvious from the contrasting coverage of Kate and Meghan. Kate “tenderly cradles” her bump, whilst Meghan “can’t…keep her hands off” it. Perhaps the most overtly racist headline was the Mail Online’s description of her as “straight outta Compton”.
Then the latest insight from the Oprah interview about a royal family member expressing “concern” about Archie’s possible skin colour is horrific and demonstrates just how prevalent racism is within the institution. Whether the royal family member meant it to be racist or not is irrelevant, it is racist and provides confirmation to all the Twitter trolls who expressed concern about Meghan supposedly ‘tainting’ the royal blood. If you need an example of colonialism still existing in our society, that’s it right there. In addition, as Meghan expressed in the Oprah interview, the royal family is supposed to be the head of the Commonwealth and the majority of which is not white. But the second there’s a royal family member who’s not 100% white, it’s somehow viewed as dangerous? I would not be surprised if any Commonwealth country decided they no longer wanted to be a member because of that.
The way Meghan was treated by the UK media and the royal family is awful. The fact that any person could be exposed to such blatantly racist, demonising press every day until it drives them to a point where they no longer want to be alive anymore, is a terrible reality that we need to face. We desperately need to learn from cases like Caroline Flack and Meghan that the people the British tabloids target are real humans, and are irrevocably harmed by their actions. But also, the royal family needs to learn and make changes immediately if the monarchy is to survive. The racism, mistreatment of yet another woman who married into the family and Harry’s statement that his father and brother are “trapped” in the system, all add up to serious trouble for the monarchy. Personally, as a British citizen I would be sad to see the monarchy go, but I would be more concerned if it carried on without taking this opportunity to listen and seriously reflect on how to improve going forward. Having no duty of care for royal family members isn’t good enough anymore.
That being said, many of the issues lie with the institution rather than the family members themselves and subjecting others to the same intense scrutiny that made Meghan suicidal, is not the answer. The Oprah interview was extremely important in giving Meghan a platform to voice her experience, which she had not been allowed to do before. But it’s also important that we allow other family members to voice their experiences.
In the interview Meghan also admitted her naivety going into her relationship with Harry. She claimed to have never researched Harry whilst they were dating. She also said she thought the royal family was like a celebrity family and didn’t realise that she was supposed to curtsey to the Queen when she first met her. It’s understandable that as an American she would have little knowledge about the royal family. However, surely when she decided to have a public relationship and later marry Harry, the logical thing to do would be to find out as much about the royal family as possible? It’s basically like signing a contract for a job that spans the rest of your life, without doing any research about the job beforehand.
Of course it in no way excuses the way she was treated once she joined the royal family, but maybe she would have been better prepared and realised the need to protector herself sooner, if she had researched the family. Finding out what happened to Diana alone could have forewarned her of the dangers. But then again, the responsibility to understand the full extent of what she was agreeing to wasn’t just on her, it was also on Harry. Maybe he didn’t realise how difficult it would be for her or maybe he was worried he would lose her if she knew everything, but Meghan was failed by him and everyone else in a position to explain all the archaic rules of the institution.
It’s undeniable that Harry has suffered a great amount from the situation too. Having lost his mother due to the aggressive tabloids at the age of 12, he must have been terrified of history repeating itself. Due to his lifetime struggle with mental health, his wife admitting to him that she was suicidal must have been heart-breaking and petrifying for him. Now his relationships with his father and brother have deteriorated too. Meghan gave up everything for him and now he has given up everything for her.
What has transpired so far is deeply upsetting. But important lessons need to be learned from it. Changes need to be made to the press, royal family and the toxic relationship between the two, so that hopefully the same mistakes won’t be made with the next generation of royals. In 2021, no woman should be tormented and silenced the way Meghan was, royal or not.
 ‘The Panorama Interview’ Transcript, BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/politics97/diana/panorama.html; Oprah.
 ‘Here Are 20 Headlines Comparing Meghan Markle To Kate Middleton That May Show Why She And Prince Harry Left Royal Life’, Buzzfeed News, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ellievhall/meghan-markle-kate-middleton-double-standards-royal.
 ‘Mail publisher had agenda of ‘offensive’ stories about Meghan, court told’. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/apr/24/meghan-and-harry-listen-in-as-case-against-mail-on-sunday-starts.
 ‘Oprah with Meghan and Harry’, ITV, aired Tuesday 9th March 2021 at 9pm. Available from: https://www.itv.com/hub/oprah-with-meghan-and-harry/10a1332.
 ‘Caroline Flack: TV presenter dies at 40’, BBC News, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-51517973
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