Prince Harry and Meghan’s Sunday night interview with Oprah Winfrey, most royal observers would agree, was nothing short of explosive. Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, made two especially disastrous allegations against the royal family: that someone in the family had expressed concerns about how dark her child’s skin would be, and that she had had suicidal thoughts and was rebuffed by the palace administrators, who cited optics, when she sought help. Asked if she had any regrets, Meghan told Oprah her only one was “believing them when they said I would be protected.”
While some of the most personal damage was inflicted by members of Harry’s own family—the Duke of Sussex spoke of the sense of betrayal he felt from his father, Prince Charles, who he said had stopped taking his phone calls—Meghan made it clear that the British tabloid press played a major role in pushing her to the point of contemplating suicide and ultimately forcing the two of them out of their roles in the palace. And on Monday, that same press had the task of responding to an interview that had already sparked a trans-Atlantic firestorm.
Unsurprisingly, the tabloids didn’t pivot to empathy. Instead, they voiced indignation on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, whom they portrayed as the victim of a spoiled woman’s angry tantrum. (During the interview, Meghan and Harry insisted multiple times that the queen had treated them well and was not to blame.)
No publication better represented the impulse to both protect the royal family by downplaying the claims and mock Meghan by overselling the drama than the Daily Mail, which bungled its coverage by preemptively dismissing the interview as a “sideshow” before running more than 20 stories about it on its website. On the front page, the Mail tried to stuff every new juicy detail into a single headline:
A loud banner on its website led with “I WANTED TO KILL MYSELF,” while in the print edition it led with “MEGHAN ACCUSES PALACE OF RACISM.” It called those accusations sensational, cast doubt on the rest of her claims, trumpeted the “dignified” behavior of the former Kate Middleton during all this, and questioned the cost of “Megxit.” Another headline online huffed that they were “back to basics at their $14.5 million mansion.”
The Mail wasn’t the only one pulled in two directions. The Daily Star joked about how boring the whole thing was (“Zzzz,” it yawned) while also screaming, “FIGHTS.. CAMERA.. ACTION!”
Most of the others, though, didn’t pretend this was not a big deal. Allie Hodgkins-Brown, the BBC’s home and foreign duty editor, rounded up the front pages of the day’s tabloids on Twitter, showing some consistent themes. The most common one: Meghan and Harry are selfish jerks. The Daily Mirror led with “Charles and William’s ‘immense sadness’ ” and the “anguish” of the royal family. “QUEEN: DUTY AND FAMILY UNITE US,” the Daily Express declared, focusing on pre-interview comments the queen made. “That’s public service for you, Harry and Meghan… NOT a self-serving TV chat with Oprah.”
Some of the tabloids led, reasonably enough, with the racism and suicide claims. But at least one couldn’t resist starting with the latest turn in the potentially fictional feud between Kate and Meghan.
It’s easy to criticize the British tabloids’ regularly egregious headlines, but the Kate-Meghan stories are a reminder that the palace itself appears to be a participant in these attacks. In the interview, Meghan pointed to the cozy relationship between the “institution,” as the couple calls it, and the press. “There is this invisible contract behind closed doors, behind the institution and U.K. tabloids,” Harry said. “If you, as a family member, are willing to wine, dine, and give full access to these reporters, then you will get better press. … The institution survives based on that perception.” Meghan added, “There’s a reason these tabloids have holiday parties at the palace.”
This relationship also seeps into other papers beyond the tabloids. In the days before the Oprah interview aired, the palace appeared to try to discredit Meghan in a leak to the Times of London, accusing her of bullying staff. (A spokesperson for the duchess called it a “smear campaign.”) In the Daily Telegraph—considered not quite a full tabloid—a columnist complained that “Harry and Meghan embody the woke generation” and accused them of making unfairly vague accusations of racism. A different writer compared Meghan to Wallis Simpson but said that “Meghan and Harry, who took it upon themselves to leave Britain, seem unlikely to display similar loyalty to the Crown on Oprah tonight.”
Still, the most deliciously mockable indignation came not from any print publication but from a certain famous television personality. On Good Morning Britain, Piers Morgan got into a heated argument with Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a lawyer and activist critical of the royal family, over the allegations Meghan made.
“It’s so disloyal, so disloyal,” said Morgan, who once claimed Meghan “ditched” her friendship with him “like a sack of spuds.” “What’s compassionate about spray-gunning the royal family while Prince Philip lays in hospital? Where’s the compassion for the queen and Prince Philip right now?”
“You want to deny the royal family has any racist undertones or actions simply because you’re in love with the queen?” Mos-Shogbamimu said in one clip from the heated exchange, which went viral on Monday. “You are disgusting.”
Meanwhile, more traditional journalists, including those with years of experience covering the royal family, fixated not on Meghan’s attitude but on the damage her words and Harry’s would likely inflict on the institution. Multiple journalists wrote of the “bombs” the Sussexes dropped. The BBC royal correspondent called the racism allegation “devastating” for the royal family and “heading into ‘worst-case scenario’ territory.” The policy editor at BBC Newsnight called it the “worst schism within the royal family since the abdication” and said that it was “hard to imagine a worse set of headlines for the royal family.”
Peter Hunt, the BBC’s former royal correspondent, warned that the racism claims would leave a lasting mark. “No palace spin can erase it from the collective memory,” he said.