It’s clear from the trailer for the Oprah Winfrey interview, starring Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, that the spirit of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, will loom large over it. “My biggest concern is history repeating itself,” Harry says, possibly referring to Diana’s tragic death in a Paris car crash in 1997. The treatment of Harry and Meghan by the press is bound to figure prominently, too—it’s been more than a year since ‘Megxit’, when the pair stepped down as senior royals, and Meghan is fresh from her legal victory over Associated Newspapers for printing extracts from a private letter to her father.
This is what we can expect from the Sussexes’ tell-all interview with Oprah on 7 March (airing in the UK on ITV at 9pm, on 8 March).
“Almost unsurvivable—it sounds like there was a breaking point,” Oprah says to Meghan in the trailer
The Sussexes have consistently shown their vulnerability in media appearances, ever since their 2019 interview in Africa with ITV newsreader Tom Bradby. It was then that she revealed that her UK friends had told her, “The British tabloids will destroy your life.” This suggests that they may talk to Oprah about mental health, a subject the Sussexes are often keen to discuss—Harry, 36, set up Heads Together, a mental health initiative, with the Cambridges in 2017.
In December 2020, the Sussexes launched their podcast, Archewell Audio, and their lineup of guest speakers indicated that they will use their new platform to discuss environmental causes, racial equality and mental health—the Oprah interview will be another chance to continue their conversation about the latter. The royal family and mental health were also addressed in the last series of The Crown, where Princess Diana’s bulimia, sadness and isolation were consistent themes. Forty years ago, those mental health problems were largely swept under the carpet, but the Sussexes want to talk openly about these important issues.
“You’ve said some pretty shocking things here,” Oprah says to Harry and Meghan
Oprah is presumably referring here to further revelations about their treatment by the press and, possibly, the ‘grey suits’ in Buckingham Palace. This might explain the timing of the leaking of Meghan’s alleged ‘bullying’. This week, The Times reported, a source “claimed that she drove two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member.” A spokesman for the Sussexes said of the allegations, “They were the victims of a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation.” The Oprah interview was pre-recorded, so the Sussexes won’t be able to fight the allegations on air.
How does Prince Harry’s James Corden interview fit with the Oprah interview?
Following Meghan’s legal victory over Associated Newspapers, the Sussexes have been on something of a media campaign: first Harry’s guest appearance with James Corden on an open-top bus in Los Angeles in February, and now the Oprah interview. In the Corden interview, there were flashes of the old, cheeky, knockabout Harry as he raced around an LA assault course and teased Corden. Almost everything Harry said was headline-worthy, from the Queen sending Archie a waffle-maker as a present to Archie’s first word—crocodile. He mentioned his feelings about the media too, saying, “We all know what the British press can be like, and it was destroying my mental health”—but any anger was eclipsed by his sunny, happy-go-lucky banter.
The Corden interview was said to be the ‘informal’ one, with Harry in jeans, trainers and a polo shirt, as opposed to the suit he is wearing in the Oprah interview. The thrill of the interview came from a prince—as he’s referred to throughout the interview—doing ‘unprincely’ things: such as going to the loo and doing an assault course.
Meghan, 39, makes an appearance, of sorts, via Harry’s mobile phone. As well as showing Harry’s relaxed, casual side, the Corden interview reinforced the Sussexes’ message about ‘public service’, which Harry frequently referred to, echoing their statement last month: “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.” This was interpreted by royal watchers as a terse response to Buckingham Palace’s statement about the pair withdrawing from royal duties: “The Queen has written, confirming that, in stepping away from the work of the royal family, it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service.”
“We all know what the British press can be like, and it was destroying my mental health”
Prince Philip’s health
The extent to which the interview has irreparably damaged the relationship between the royal family and the Sussexes remains to be seen, as it comes at a time when Harry’s grandfather, Prince Philip, is recovering from a heart operation in hospital at the age of 99. The royal family will likely be first and foremost concerned about the Duke of Edinburgh’s welfare.
And how will the public perceive the drama? The Queen has followed the COVID-19 lockdown rules to the letter by taking to Zoom, continuing her lifetime of service, praising the vaccine roll-out to NHS chiefs and encouraging people to have the COVID-19 jab. In return, the public may compare the Queen’s conduct in this period of global crisis to the Sussexes’ timing in voicing their chagrin about the media’s intrusion into their lives.
Harry Mount is author of How England Made the English (Penguin, 2013)