LONDON – Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s explosive interview this month captured millions of viewers across the US and UK alike.
The blockbuster program, which addresses mental health, race, finances, and the impact of the couple’s public family, has sparked ongoing media hype of intrigue over what goes on behind the palace walls.
However, the reactions to the interview revealed another gap: different cultural sensitivities on both sides of the Atlantic.
While the exiled royals in America received mostly positive press reports and comments on social media, the couple’s confessions in the UK met with more than a ton of disapproval.
Some British tabloids described the couple as “selfish”, “evil” and said the interview was harmful to the Queen as they mocked the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for violating the traditional British “stiff upper lip” attitude to expose personal family matters, the American media mogul Oprah Winfrey.
In doing so, they reduced the more than 1,000-year-old institution of the monarchy to celebrity talk show fodder.
“This interview erased any remaining sympathy I had for the couple,” Mark Graham, 52, an educational coach based in Cambridgeshire, east England, told NBC News.
“I found it very staged and calculated. In any case, one-sided and targeted.”
Graham said the “sad affair” did not harm the monarchy, it only boosted the standing and popularity of the British royal family.
For Pauline Farren, 50, originally from London but now living in Ireland, her condolences also go to Queen Elizabeth II and other kings.
“I was disgusted with them. I don’t like Meghan very much and I feel sorry for Harry,” she said. “It was extremely classless to do their dirty laundry in public after the whole royal family did for them.”
The timing is also provocative, she added.
“Prince Philip is very sick in the hospital and the timing couldn’t have been worse. We are in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “They look like spoiled, ungrateful millionaires.”
Philip, 99, was discharged from a London hospital on Tuesday and returned to Windsor Castle after a month of treatment for an unspecified infection and pre-existing heart disease.
On YouGov opinion poll released after the interview found it had hurt the two royals’ popularity. Forty-eight percent of Britons now see Harry negatively – a drop of 15 points since early March. It was also the first time approval for the prince fell into negative territory.
Meghan fared worse: Only 3 in 10 people in the UK now have a positive opinion of her, according to the survey.
On the other side of the pond, however, it seemed a different story.
“The first thought I had while watching Meghan Markle was that she was so real. I was immediately impressed with her clarity and that she was telling the absolute truth about her experience,” said Chris Pluto, 44, a line chef at a restaurant in Pittsburgh.
Pluto said Meghan had shown “courage” to talk about her sanity, an approach that resonated and sparked empathy with many Americans.
“It made me cry. I felt that experience. I felt the honesty of what she said,” added Pluto.
The Duchess said during the interview that the pressures of royal life made her suicidal at times. “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,” she said to Winfrey.
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Former First Lady Michelle Obama, singer Beyoncé and White House press secretary Jen Psaki were among Americans to applaud Meghan for speaking openly about race and mental health.
“It seems to me that the US is much more open to discussing important issues related to mental health and racism. The UK tends to look the other way,” said the British author and Meghan biographer Sean Smith said.
“Here in the UK we’ve spent far too much time discussing TV host Piers Morgan’s hurt feelings,” he added.
Morgan said on the air that he doubted some of Meghan’s comments and later stopped putting on a morning show to “spend more time with my opinions,” he said tweeted. British Broadcasting Authority Ofcom has received more than 57,000 complaints from the public about his comments to date.
For Brittney Watters, 31, a communications manager for the Fresno Unified School District in California, the royal interview was “so reliable”.
“What Meghan Markle said happened to me. I’m not a celebrity. I’m an everyday, middle-class worker,” she said.
“I’ve experienced racism and oppression. I’ve had suicidal thoughts, felt exhausted and tired of my efforts as a black woman – constantly trying to fight the system.”
Meghan said a royal insider has raised Harry “concerns” about how dark her children’s skin might be. The couple declined to name the person, but Winfrey later said that Harry had made it clear that it was neither the Queen nor Philip.
Reflecting its traditionally stoic attitude, Buckingham Palace issued a 61-word statement in response to the interview.
“The questions raised, especially those of race, concern,” it said. “While some memories can vary, they are taken very seriously and addressed privately by the family.”
Harry’s brother, Prince William, fought back the racial allegations, telling reporters in London on March 11, “We are next to no racist family.”
However, this only served to increase the appetite of the press and the general public in both countries to learn more about the family drama.
The position of the queen among the British, however, is still relatively unbroken. According to the YouGov poll, 4 out of 5 people like them. William and his wife, Kate, are still very popular – about three-quarters of Britons give them positive reviews.
London-based Adie Perkins said after the royal revelations he was certain the institution “will find a way to get over it” as “the monarchy is loved too much” but added that he made the interview “quite shocking” found and left with little sympathy for Meghan and Harry.
Not all British are royalists.
On #abolishthemonarchy Hashtag was popular on Twitter after the interview among those who support a republic.
For the biographer Smith, little could or should change about the monarchy during the reign of Elizabeth II, and attempts to pit transatlantic family members against each other are not helpful.
“In my opinion, nothing will change while the queen is on the throne … she deserves respect,” he said.
“For me, that respect includes the media not arming you as a cute little grandma against Meghan. They are both women of substance and deserve to be treated accordingly.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, write HOME at 741741, or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.