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Boris Johnson, royal watchers react following revealing Harry and Meghan interview

Britain and its royal family absorbed the tremors Monday from a sensational television interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, in which the couple said they encountered racist attitudes and a lack of support that drove the duchess to thoughts of suicide.

Some 17.1 million Americans watched the interview, broadcaster CBS says

Newspapers are displayed for sale outside a shop in London on Monday, following a soul-baring television interview by Prince Harry and Meghan in which the couple said they encountered racist attitudes and a lack of support that drove Meghan to thoughts of suicide. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Britain and its Royal Family absorbed the tremors Monday from a sensational television interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, in which the couple said they encountered racist attitudes and a lack of support that drove the duchess to thoughts of suicide.

In a two-hour soul-baring interview by Oprah Winfrey, the couple painted a deeply unflattering picture of life inside the royal household, depicting a cold, uncaring institution that they had to flee to save their lives.

Meghan told Winfrey that at one point "I just didn't want to be alive anymore." She said she sought help through the palace's human resources department but was told there was nothing it could do.

Meghan, 39, admitted that she was naive at the start of her relationship with Harry and unprepared for the strictures of royal life.

The former television star, who is biracial, said that when she was pregnant with son Archie, there were "concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born."

Harry confirmed the conversation, saying: "I was a bit shocked." He said he would not reveal who made the comment, though Winfrey said he told her it was not either of his grandparents, Queen Elizabeth or her husband, Prince Philip.

Politicians weigh in

Asked about the interview at a coronavirus news conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson steadfastly refused to comment on the explosive allegations of racism and dysfunction inside the Royal Family.

Johnson said he had "always had the highest admiration for the Queen and the unifying role that she plays in our country and across the Commonwealth."

But he said that "when it comes to matters to do with the Royal Family, the right thing for a prime minister to say is nothing."

In contrast, Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, says the palace has to take the allegations seriously.

"The issues that Meghan has raised of racism and mental health are really serious issues," he said. "It is a reminder that too many people experience racism in 21st-century Britain."

In the U.S., where Harry and Meghan now live, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked whether President Joe Biden and his wife Jill had any reaction to the interview.

Psaki said Meghan's decision to speak about her struggles with mental health "takes courage" and "that's certainly something the president believes in."

But she said she wouldn't offer additional comment on the situation "given these are private citizens, sharing their own story and their own struggles."

Harry slams 'toxic' British tabloid press

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they were quitting royal duties last year, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media, and they moved to California, where Meghan was born and raised.

That split became official this year, and the interview was widely seen as their first opportunity to explain their decision.

In a clip released Monday that was not broadcast the night before, Harry reiterated that racism was "a large part" of the reason the couple left Britain — and he blamed the "toxic" British tabloid press.

"The U.K. is not bigoted," he said. "The U.K. press is bigoted, specifically the tabloids."

The younger royals have campaigned for support and awareness around mental health, but Harry says the Royal Family was unable to offer that support to its own members. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

The implications of the interview — which was broadcast Sunday night in the United States and will air in Britain on Monday night — are only beginning to be understood. Emily Nash, royal editor at Hello! magazine, said the revelations had left her and many other viewers "shell-shocked."

"I don't see how the palace can ignore these allegations; they're incredibly serious," she said. "You have the racism allegations. Then you also have the claim that Meghan was not supported, and she sought help even from the HR team within the household and was told that she couldn't seek help."

'This rotten institution needs to go'

Anti-monarchy group Republic said the interview gave a clearer picture of what the Royal Family is like — and it's not pretty.

"Whether for the sake of Britain or for the sake of the younger royals, this rotten institution needs to go," Graham Smith of the campaign group said.

Harry, born a royal prince, described how his wife's experience had helped him realize how he and the rest of the family were stuck in an oppressive institution.

"I was trapped, but I didn't know I was trapped," Harry said. "My father and my brother, they are trapped."

Meghan, he said, "saved me."

WATCH | Meghan says Royal Family failed to protect her and Prince Harry:

Meghan says Royal Family failed to protect her and Prince Harry

CBC News

3 months ago
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The Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey that things started to worsen with the Royal Family after she and Harry were married. 0:23

The younger royals — including Harry, Meghan, Harry's brother, Prince William, and William's wife, Catherine — have made campaigning for support and awareness around mental health one of their priorities. But Harry said the Royal Family was completely unable to offer that support to its own members.

"For the family, they very much have this mentality of 'This is just how it is, this is how it's meant to be, you can't change it, we've all been through it,'" Harry said.

Criticism, sympathy for the couple

The couple had faced severe criticism in the United Kingdom before the interview. Prince Philip, 99, is in a London hospital after recovering from a heart procedure, and critics saw the decision to go forward as being a burden on the Queen — even though CBS, rather than Harry and Meghan, dictated the timing of the broadcast.

In the United States, sympathy for the couple poured in after the interview. Britain could be less forgiving, since some see the pair as putting personal happiness ahead of public duty.

Tennis star Serena Williams, a friend who attended Harry and Meghan's wedding, said on Twitter that the duchess's words "illustrate the pain and cruelty she's experienced."

"The mental health consequences of systemic oppression and victimization are devastating, isolating and all too often lethal," Williams added.

Other well-known figures also reacted on social media, including filmmaker Ava DuVernay — who referenced the BBC's bombshell interview with Harry's mother, Princess Diana, in 1995 — tennis star Billie Jean King and U.S. inauguration poet Amanda Gorman.

Some 17.1 million Americans — tuning in for one of the biggest TV events in the past year — watched the interview, broadcaster CBS said on Monday.

CBS said the interview was the most watched TV special outside the annual National Football League Super Bowl in a year.

While clips of the interview have been shared online, and the British press covered the major points, much of Britain won't see the full interview until Monday night — and many will want to know how the palace addresses this saga. The palace has not responded to the interview.


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With files from Reuters

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