World·Royal Fascinator

The Harry and Meghan interview: Beyond the turmoil and what makes a prince a prince

There have been few signals so far regarding how the Royal Family will handle the fallout from the explosive interview Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, did with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

A lot remains unresolved in wake of explosive Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, spoke about their departure from the upper echelons of the Royal Family with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey in an interview broadcast in March. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions/The Associated Press)

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While sifting through everything Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, had to say to Oprah Winfrey Sunday night, many saw parallels to other troubled times for the Royal Family.

The interview raised concerns particularly around race and mental health, and some found in it reminders of what Harry's mother, Diana, experienced, as she laid bare the lack of support she felt after her ill-fated marriage to Prince Charles.

But the Diana period, which came as the clock wound down on the 20th century, was hardly the first time of family turmoil. 

And in those earlier experiences going back decades — and centuries — there could lie hints of the House of Windsor's fate after this latest crisis.

"I don't think the history of this Royal Family, which has been written off so many times, tells you anything other than they know how to survive," said John Fraser, author of The Secret of the Crown: Canada's Affair with Royalty, and founding president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada.

"Going back, back, back, there has never been a reign that hasn't had some domestic problems."

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)

So far, there have been only the slimmest of hints of what will come next.

In a short statement issued by Buckingham Palace Tuesday, the Queen said she and her family were saddened to learn of Harry and Meghan's experiences, and that issues raised, particularly of race, would be addressed privately by the family.

In response to a question from a reporter while at an engagement at a school in east London on Thursday, Prince William said, "We're very much not a racist family,"

BBC royal correspondent Sarah Campbell said William could have ignored the question.

"Despite the Queen's statement saying the race issue would be dealt with privately, the prince clearly felt he had to push back on what has become a very public and damaging allegation," Campbell wrote on the BBC website. "Remaining silent, he felt, was not the best option."

WATCH: Prince William responds to a reporter:

Royals are 'not a racist family,' says Prince William

1 year ago
Duration 0:14
The Duke of Cambridge spoke briefly on Thursday about racial issues raised in the interview Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, gave to Oprah Winfrey. William denied the British Royal Family is racist.

In the interview with Winfrey, Meghan and Harry said there was a conversation — or conversations — with an unnamed family member in which concerns were raised about the colour of the skin of their first child before he was born.

It was perhaps the most damaging moment of the interview for the family, and one that is still surrounded in murkiness.

While Harry told Winfrey later that neither of his grandparents — Queen Elizabeth or Prince Philip — was part of that particular conversation, he refused to say during the interview who was.

"The fact that [Harry's] on the outs with his father leads everyone to believe it must have been Charles, or possibly William, and until that's dealt with, it's this huge problem if they're going to be future sovereigns," said Fraser.

He said he finds it "unbelievable" that Charles, the man who walked Meghan halfway down the aisle at her wedding, would be worried about the colour of his grandson's skin.

Meghan Markle walks down the aisle with Prince Charles for her wedding ceremony at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle in Windsor, near London, England, on May 19, 2018. (Sky News/Associated Press)

"Nothing in his life suggests that he is that callous or stupid," Fraser said.

Still, it's not clear who might have said it.

"It's been left like a timebomb," said Fraser. "How can [Charles] be the head of the Commonwealth, which has so many Black nations, until this is resolved? It's a real dilemma."

Fraser expects we will eventually learn who was involved in the conversation in question. "It's just the nature of the way things go."

But Fraser hopes it will be given a context, and that it will be worked out within the family, "at some point down the road when they've got some distance from the immediate hurt that everyone must be feeling at the moment."

Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a lawyer and human rights activist in London, says the family's circumstances are not beyond repair.

WATCH: What are the consequences of Harry and Meghan's interview:

What are the consequences of Meghan and Harry’s interview?

1 year ago
Duration 6:56
Royal commentator Roya Nikkhah and women's rights activist Shola Mos-Shogbamimu talk to Adrienne Arsenault about the revelations in Prince Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, the media reaction in the U.S. and U.K. and what, if any, changes might come out of it.

"Buckingham Palace better take this seriously, not come out with any stiff-upper-lip nonsense," she told Adrienne Arsenault, senior correspondent and co-host of CBC's The National, this week, before the statement from the palace. 

"Nobody's going to stand for it. Not for the racist comment, not for their lack of support for Meghan's mental health, suicidal thoughts, not that fact that Prince Charles apparently failed to even speak to his son….

"All of those things should be answered, and they should be answered humanely, like the Royal Family is in touch with what the public expects from it."

Maybe there is at least one more signal of efforts within the family to work things out. While the relationship between William and Harry has been deeply strained, William said Thursday he will be speaking with his brother.

Who can be a prince or princess?

Harry, Meghan and their son, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu during their royal tour of South Africa on Sept. 25, 2019, in Cape Town. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

Amid the many issues Meghan raised during the interview, one that seemed particularly troubling for her concerned conversations before Archie's birth.

"They were saying they didn't want him to be a prince or a princess — not knowing what the gender would be — which would be different from protocol, and that he wasn't going to receive security," she said.

That got a lot of people wondering about just what provisions there are for determining who becomes a prince or princess.

Under provisions of a letter patent issued by King George V in 1917, Archie, a great-grandchild of the monarch, would not at this point in his life be eligible to be a prince. 

But his cousin — Prince William's eldest son, seven-year-old George, who is in direct line to the throne — is a prince. George's siblings can be princes or princesses, too, under provisions of a letter patent issued in 2012 by Queen Elizabeth, before George was born.

Prince Louis, left, Princess Charlotte, centre, and Prince George, with their parents, Prince William and Kate, attend a special pantomime performance at London's Palladium Theatre in December 2020. (Aaron Chown/The Associated Press)

But that's where it ends for that generation of royal great-grandchildren of the monarch, as things stand now.

"None of Harry's children automatically get to be a prince except if there's some reason that the Queen would bestow it on them," said Fraser.

Grandchildren of a monarch can be princes or princesses, however, so things could change for Archie when his grandfather, Charles, becomes the monarch.

Whether Meghan's comments might refer to what might happen then isn't clear. 

There is a broad understanding that Charles is looking toward a more streamlined monarchy, with fewer working members.

"I saw that Meghan mentioned that there were plans to narrow eligibility, and I imagine that this is a reference to the Prince of Wales's stated view that the size of the Royal Family needs to be reduced," Bob Morris from the constitution unit at University College London told the BBC.

"However, he has not so far as I know given details of how it should be accomplished."

Fascinator readers write

Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah set off another crisis for the Royal Family. (Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese/handout via Reuters)

Readers of the Royal Fascinator shared their views in droves after the Winfrey interview. Here's a sampling of emails and excerpts from longer messages that reflect the wide range of thoughts offered on Harry, Meghan and what they said on Sunday.

From Linda: "I was saddened by the interview. It could have been a great opportunity for the royals to move forward and acknowledge mental health issues, but the Firm refused to take that route. Shocked to hear how the men in grey suits direct so much of the agenda."

From Susan: "Unsubstantiated accusations are very damaging. It's easy to allege things were said and then refuse to say who said them. Then it's just a case of he said, she said. But the damage is done."

From Charlie: "I feel for Harry and Meghan, and I don't blame them one bit for the decision they made for leaving the U.K. and the Royal Family in search for a more peaceful, sane and healthy lifestyle and mental health. I have never been a royal watcher or a fan of all the pomp that goes into it. I personally think Canada should abolish all that nonsense as it relates to a Governor General as the representative of the Queen in Canada (who is still our head of state). Canada should maintain close ties with the U.K., for sure, as partners, allies and friends, but this monarchy BS is a waste of taxpayer dollars."

From Margaret: "I am still grappling with the intent of the interview and tell-all. And what is to be gained by the couple? Probably more paparazzi and Hollywood-like behaviours…. The constant referral back to Diana gives one pause for thought as well. Yes, Harry was totally traumatized by his mother's death…. That said, although there are some similarities in press and media reporting, Diana was very young and naive when she joined 'the Firm,' whereas Harry and Meagan were well into their 30s when they married and should have known full well what could happen…. I do not mean to downplay or negate the comments on race/skin colour. Hopefully, there will be some conversations around that at the palace level."

Meghan, Harry and Queen Elizabeth sit with some of the Queen's Young Leaders at a Buckingham Palace reception following an awards ceremony on June 26, 2018. (John Stillwell/Reuters)

From Tina: "I felt so much of this interview resonated with the Diana era. It left me with many questions, but mostly: How on earth can a parent stop taking calls from their child? How on earth can a parent not want to keep their family safe? How on earth can a parent allow the words of racism to be spoken amongst anyone, never mind their own? How on earth can a parent knowingly watch your child go through such pain and not reach out? ... I applaud the two of them for coming out to the world and letting people be reminded, once again, of a dated monarchy who cares more about how they are perceived to the world than that of their own. One can only hope for Meghan and Harry to have a life of joy with their little family and always be safe .... and perhaps maybe Harry's wish that 'time heals all' comes true and his family come to their senses."

From Paul: "Unless I misheard Meghan, she mentioned that she was not informed/prepared with the protocols of 'the Firm.' I find this difficult to believe. She is an intelligent, successful woman with a mind of her own.... I am not naive enough to not know there would be some racial problems. But I do believe too much emphasis was placed on the racial issue. As for protection being dropped for Harry, why not? He is in a foreign country, by choice…. With all Harry and Meghan's money, they should be paying for their own protection. Remember, they optioned out of the U.K. Nevertheless, I wish them the best in their endeavours."

From Anna: "I do not feel this interview will damage the Royal Family. There are differences of opinion in all families. I do not feel the whole Royal Family should be painted with the same brush. This interview will be so hard on the Queen. My heart goes out to her."

We'll continue to include comments from readers in future editions of the Royal Fascinator.

Royal reads

  1. Harry and Meghan's interview might have some thinking it's time for Canada to retire the Queen and its connection to the monarchy, but it wouldn't be that simple to do, writes CBC's Aaron Wherry.

  2. Harry talked of an "invisible contract" between the media and the Royal Family. The BBC took a closer look at what it is. 

  3. Journalist and TV presenter Piers Morgan left British broadcaster ITV after long-running criticism of Meghan that reached a crescendo after the interview with Winfrey. (CBC)

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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