LONDON – Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s eagerly awaited Sunday interview with media mogul Oprah Winfrey are set to provide plenty of fodder for a hungry press glued to the couple’s departure from the British royal family.
According to some media experts, this is the recent shift that is redefining the relationship between the UK media and the royals. This has evolved from deference and the removal of caps to a closer scrutiny and narrative in the style of a soap opera.
A drip feed of preview clips and a war of words this week following newspaper allegations that Meghan bullied royal staff – dismissed and dismissed by her spokesman as the most recent personal attack – only added fuel to the media fire. Buckingham Palace said Wednesday it would conduct an internal investigation into allegations of bullying.
Royal interviews are historically rare and the family is carefully guarded in what they reveal to the public – but Harry and Meghan’s meeting with Winfrey comes after a period of great change for the family known to insiders as “The Firm”.
It is a far cry from when “never complain, never explain” was the unofficial motto for the interaction between Britain’s stoic royal family and the robust national press.
“I think this will be the first time they actually feel like this is an opportunity to share their authentic voices together,” Steven Barnett, professor of media and communications at the University of Westminster in London, told NBC News before the interview.
“I expect you to really target the UK press,” he added.
If so, it won’t be the first time.
In a separate interview last week, Harry told the TV host James Corden The “toxic” coverage of the British media “destroyed my sanity” and in part drove them to travel to the United States.
One of Clips The interview published prior to the Winfrey interview, which was a guest at their 2018 Windsor wedding and also interviewed the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, featured a picture of Harry’s late mother, Princess Diana speaking about the print, to which she was exposed.
Diana died in a car accident in Paris in 1997 while being followed by paparazzi. Harry said in the clip that he feared “history repeats itself” and his wife is facing intense media coverage.
When the couple dated in 2016, Harry took the unusual step of asking the media to issue a strongly worded statement to stop what he called a “wave of abuse and harassment” against Meghan.
The entry of an American, biracial actress into the bosom of a traditionalist family was initially heralded as a shift towards greater inclusiveness in Britain, but was later reported in the press that many viewed as racist.
Harry and Meghan also fought in the courtroom.
Meghan won a privacy lawsuit against a UK media company in February that released parts of a letter she wrote to her estranged father, Thomas Markle.
NBC News received no response to a request for comment from the couple’s spokesperson on what prompted the Winfrey interview or its timing.
The last high-profile royal interview was when Prince Andrew spoke to the BBC after the Jeffrey Epstein-Ghislaine Maxwell affair in 2019. This was termed a “car accident” for the reputational damage to the Windsor family and for failure to dampen speculation about its ties to Epstein. Andrew later resigned from frontline royal duties.
However, media experts say the Winfrey interview this weekend is more reminiscent of a 1995 meeting between Princess Diana and BBC journalist Martin Bashir, which has been re-examined since then.
The royal family wavered after Diana shared intimate details, saying, “There were three of us in this marriage,” referring to Charles’ relationship with his current wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
On Thursday, UK police ruled out a criminal investigation into the Diana interview after her brother complained that she might have been misled to attend.
Some observers say the Duke and Duchess of Sussex challenged the media’s traditional relationship with the royal family and angered outlets.
“‘Never complain, never explain’ has been the rule governing the relationship between the press and the royal family for many years,” said Nathan Sparkes, policy director at Hacked Off, a scandal-hacking campaign group created by British newspapers.
“What is meant in practice is that newspapers can publish what they like about the royals … and the royals just have to suck it up,” he added.
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Others have criticized the timing of the interview as Harry’s grandfather, Prince Philip, 99, remains in the hospital. For some, the couple’s use of the media to live up to their own resources, such as the revelation that Meghan had miscarried and was later expecting a second child while lamenting control, is hypocritical.
“They want to control their narrative. They will speak to the media, but they will choose,” said Marlene Koenig, author of British and European royal biographies.
Koenig said viewers of the Winfrey interview should remember “we didn’t hear their side of the story” and were referring to other members of the royal family. She also predicted that Buckingham Palace was unlikely to comment in response to the interview.
If the couple has an ax to grind with the British press, she added, newspapers probably wouldn’t take them lying down.
“The tabloids will definitely choose the carotid artery,” said Koenig when the war of words against the media escalated on Sunday.
“For the most part, British royals are not fighting back,” she added. “The ball is in Harry and Meghan’s yard right now.”
Rachel Elbaum contributed.