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Tensions with palace rise ahead of Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah

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Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, may have stepped back as working members of the Royal Family. But the attention often focused on the couple now living in California was at a fever pitch this week ahead of their televised interview Sunday night with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

Headlines swirled on both sides of the Atlantic, reinforcing an impression of growing tensions and a public relations tug-of-war between the couple and Buckingham Palace. 

The American network CBS released clips from the interview, which included Harry’s worries about similarities between the treatment of Meghan and his late mother, Diana, and Meghan accusing the palace of “perpetuating falsehoods.”

In the U.K., media headlines spun particularly around a Times newspaper report of allegations that Meghan bullied palace staff, something the palace has said will be investigated.

All of this comes as Harry’s grandfather Prince Philip continues what has become a lengthy stay in hospital, which has led some to question whether the interview should be broadcast at all right now.

So far, any delay seems unlikely and any sense that things will settle down after the interview seems remote.

Harry and Meghan, shown at Canada House in London in January 2020, stepped back as senior members of the Royal Family last year. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Reuters)

“I think the winner is likely to be the media and particularly Oprah,” British PR expert Mark Borkowski said over the phone from the U.K. this week.

“It isn’t going to come out as well as [Harry and Meghan] thought, but at the end of the day, their market is the U.S.A. and North America.”

While the broadcast — initially pegged at 90 minutes and since expanded to two hours — may focus on specifics of their royal life after their marriage in 2018, it’s also widely seen as part of their effort to chart their course outside the upper echelons of the Royal Family.

“Some of the things that they’re likely to say that might rile the Royal Family might rile the British media — that’s obviously a decision they’ve made because they’re building a brand,” said Borkowski.

And their choice of interviewer would appear to have its own strategy, too.

“I think Oprah is probably the best role model for who they’d like to become in terms of what she stands for, the qualities, the philanthropy, the ideals that she espouses,” said American public relations expert Howard Bragman. 

Oprah Winfrey, whose interview with Harry and Meghan will be broadcast Sunday night, was a guest at their wedding at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, on May 19, 2018. (Ian West/Reuters)

It is a case, Bragman said over the phone from Los Angeles, “where [Canadian philosopher and communications theorist] Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ is certainly at play.”

Bragman expects “a classic Oprah interview.”

“She’s not going to be easy on them. Nobody would respect her. She wouldn’t respect herself and that’s not what she’s known for,” he said. 

“She’s going to ask the tough questions but in an empathetic way. She’s been there. Anything you’re talking about, which is giving up your privacy, the scrutiny, some of the backbiting they’ve had to deal with, she’s had to deal with these things. “

The interview Sunday evening comes a few hours after members of the Royal Family will take part in a television broadcast to mark Commonwealth Day. It will include a message from the Queen, with Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge; and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, also expected to take part.

The broadcast replaces the annual Commonwealth Service usually held at Westminster Abbey in London, which is not possible this year given the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also in stark contrast to last year’s Commonwealth Service, where senior members of the Royal Family all came together at the abbey, with much observation focusing on how Harry and Meghan were — or weren’t — perhaps getting along with other members of the family. 

Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, front, with Harry and Meghan, behind, attend the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9, 2020. (Phil Harris/The Associated Press)

From Borkowski’s perspective, the Royal Family “is still struggling” with how to deal with all that is swirling around Harry and Meghan right now.

High-profile royal interviews have a shaky track record for turning out as the interviewees might have hoped or intended. There were deep repercussions from Diana’s interview with the BBC in 1995, and from Prince Andrew’s with the BBC in 2019, in the wake of controversy over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Both Borkowski and Bragman will be riveted to Sunday’s interview, and expect a lot of other people will be, too. (Deals have been struck to show the interview Sunday or early next week in dozens of countries, ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group has said.)

“It’s still going to have a long tail,” said Bragman. “People will talk, people will look at clips, people will analyze body language, hair and outfits and they’ll tear it apart.”

Overall, Borkowski doesn’t expect it will end well.

“It’s going to fall into two categories. Americans are probably going to love it,” he said. “The Brits are going to say, how dare you.”

Borkowski suggests there might have been another way for Harry and Meghan to get their message out, as they work on building their brand, and their deals with Netflix and Spotify and so on.

“Let their content do the talking,” he said. 

Prince Philip still in hospital

Prince Philip remains in a London hospital more than two weeks after he was admitted for treatment of an infection. He has also had a heart procedure. (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

While details remain relatively scant regarding Prince Philip’s condition in hospital, Buckingham Palace has said he is recovering after a “successful procedure” for a pre-existing heart condition.

The Queen’s 99-year-old husband was admitted to hospital in London for treatment of an infection on Feb. 16 after feeling unwell.

Earlier this week, he was transferred to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, which has Europe’s largest specialized cardiovascular unit, the BBC reported. 

Philip underwent the procedure on Wednesday, and the palace said the following day that he would be staying in hospital to rest and recuperate for a number of days. On Friday morning, Philip was transferred back to the central London hospital where he had been admitted more than two weeks ago.

As is routine when it comes to matters of royal health, few details have been made public regarding Philip.

Given that, many outside the palace walls try to assess the situation in any way they can, observing how other members of the Royal Family — including the Queen — appear to be carrying on with their normal duties.

A police officer stands near King Edward VII’s Hospital, where Prince Philip returned in London on Friday. (John Sibley/Reuters)

Any comment a member of the family makes spreads quickly. On Wednesday, Philip’s daughter-in-law, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was at a COVID-19 vaccination centre in London when a volunteer asked her about him.

“We heard today that he’s slightly improving,” the BBC reported Camilla saying. “So, that’s very good news. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Philip has had various stays in hospital in recent years, including for a hip replacement just before Harry’s wedding three years ago. The current stay is reportedly the longest he has had.

What’s in a royal baby name?

Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, have named their son August Philip Hawke Brooksbank. He was born Feb. 9 at London’s Portland Hospital. (Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank via AP)

Tapping past generations for a new baby’s name is common in all families, royal or otherwise.

The latest royal baby’s name is in keeping with that practice — but the choice made by Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, represents a far less common option than monikers such as Elizabeth or George that recur with some regularity on royal birth certificates.

August Philip Hawke Brooksbank was born on Feb. 9, and his name was announced several days later.

“He is named after his great-grandfather and both of his great x5 grandfathers,” Eugenie wrote on Instagram.

The great-grandfather is Prince Philip. Hawke comes from the Brooksbank side of the family.

And August is a nod to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, whose full name was Franz August Karl Albert Emanuel.

Eugenie’s name has its own connections to Victoria, who had a granddaughter named Victoria Eugenie. 

In a video posted online the other day in connection with Eugenie’s work founding the Anti-Slavery Collective, she talked of aspirations for her child.

“I think my child hopefully will be one of those people who will continue to see the world as a place that can be changed,” Eugenie said in the interview recorded before August’s birth.

“I hope that the world will be a place where my child can have hope and continue to know that they can make a big difference.”

Royally quotable

“It is obviously difficult for people if they’ve never had a vaccine, because they ought to think about other people other than themselves.”    

— Queen Elizabeth, during a video call with health officials overseeing COVID-19 inoculations across the United Kingdom.

Royal reads

  1. Prince William and Kate urged people to get a COVID-19 vaccination during a video call with people preparing to get their shots. [BBC]

  2. Prince Harry got fresh about leaving royal duties in an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden (the host was also a guest at Harry and Meghan’s wedding). (CBC)

  3. Hortense Mancini, a mistress of Charles II, set trends ahead of her time, establishing a salon in 17th-century London where her female peers had the same freedoms as men, new research shows. [The Guardian]

  4. Another high-profile royal interview won’t be investigated by police in London. Controversy had swirled in recent months over the interview Harry’s mother, Diana, gave the BBC in 1995. [ITV]


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