Why is Harry and Meghan's TV interview so controversial?

By Eleanor Lawrie
BBC News

Published
image copyrightHarpo Productions - Joe Pugliese

More than a year has passed since the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they would "step back" from being senior members of the Royal Family.

Now living in the US, Prince Harry and Meghan have officially stepped down from their roles, and have recorded an extended interview with chat show host Oprah Winfrey to mark this departure.

But why is the interview controversial and what can we expect to hear?

What is Harry and Meghan's interview about?

Chat show host Oprah Winfrey attended the Duke and Duchess's wedding in 2018 and is thought to live near them in California.

Her interview with the couple will air in the US on Sunday, and in the UK on ITV on Monday at 21:00 GMT.

It's the first sit-down interview with the couple since they stepped down as working royals and moved to the US with son Archie, and is likely to contain details about their new life and their experiences in the UK.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Royal Family mark the centenary of the RAF in 2018

In clips already released, Meghan says it is "liberating" to be able to speak freely. Oprah had sought an interview with Meghan in 2018 around the time of her and Prince Harry's wedding but she was unable to go ahead with it. Meghan says at the time, she was not even allowed to speak to Oprah personally and royal staff had to be present.

An advance clip of Sunday's interview, released by broadcaster CBS, further hints at what viewers can expect.

"I don't know how they could expect that, after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that The Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us," Meghan tells Oprah.

"The Firm" is a term which the Royal Family is said to use about themselves.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMeghan and Prince Harry welcomed baby Archie in 2019

We can also expect to hear about the media scrutiny the couple face. Meghan has previously said it was a "struggle" becoming a new mother in the limelight, and has admitted: "Not many people have asked if I'm OK."

In other clips from the Oprah interview, Prince Harry draws parallels between the treatment by the media of his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, and his wife. He says he feared "history was repeating itself" before they made the decision to step back as senior royals.

Prince Harry and Meghan have had an antagonistic relationship with the British press since the start of their relationship.

Last year, the couple told the UK's tabloid press they were ending all co-operation with them, saying they refused to "offer themselves up as currency for an economy of click bait and distortion". And only last month Meghan won a privacy case against the Mail on Sunday newspaper over its publication of extracts from a handwritten letter to her father.

It's thought the interview could also touch on racism. Last year, Harry said it was only through living in his wife's shoes that he recognised the issue of unconscious racial bias. The couple also said not enough had been done in the UK to tackle racism.

Why is it controversial?

The timing of the broadcast has come during a tumultuous period for the Royal Family.

While the interview was recorded before the Duke of Edinburgh, Harry's grandfather and the Queen's husband, went into hospital, it will air as the prince continues his recovery in hospital following a procedure for a heart condition.

It also comes on the back of a more light-hearted interview Prince Harry gave to James Corden on The Late Late Show, which aired last week - again while Prince Philip was in hospital.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMeghan and Prince Harry at Trooping the Colour in 2019

Furthermore, this week has seen the Times newspaper publish a report saying Meghan faced a bullying complaint when she was a working royal. The complainant says she drove two personal assistants out of the household and undermined the confidence of a third staff member. Her spokesman said the duchess was "saddened" by the "latest attack on her character".

Amid all that, it is worth remembering the Queen rarely speaks about personal matters herself and, on the occasions when royals have publicly spoken about their private lives and family relationships, it has rarely gone down well with the palace.

Are Prince Harry and Meghan still part of the Royal Family?

Yes, but they are not working royals.

Senior members of the Royal Family are expected to undertake official duties on behalf of the Queen, such as representing the Crown on tours overseas, spearheading national events and supporting charities and organisations.

At the beginning of 2020, the couple announced they intended to "step back" from these duties alongside their move to North America, with plans to review the arrangement after 12 months.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMeghan and Prince Harry visited Australia as part of their royal duties

In February this year it was confirmed the Duke and Duchess would step down permanently, with the Queen issuing a statement to say they would no longer "continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service".

This means they must return their honorary military appointments and royal patronages, which will be shared out among working members of the Royal Family.

They will keep the titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex - bestowed on them by the Queen - but no longer be addressed as His/Her Royal Highness.

Harry is still a prince as he was born into the title, and he remains sixth in line to the throne behind his father, older brother and nephews and niece.

How did Prince Harry and Meghan's relationship develop?

When Prince Harry met Meghan in 2016, she was an actress in the successful US drama Suits. They are thought to have been introduced by a mutual friend, and to have bonded over their philanthropic work.

They announced their engagement in 2017, and married at Windsor Castle the following year in a televised ceremony watched by 18 million UK viewers, and many millions more around the world.

After stepping down from royal duties, the couple briefly moved to Canada, before settling in California, where Meghan is from and where her mother still lives.

Their son Archie was born in 2019 and Meghan is expecting their second child.

More on this story