After Oprah Interview, Harry and Meghan Slammed by British Press

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey during Sunday night's special on CBS.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey during Sunday night's special on CBS. (Paramount+)

Over 17 million people tuned into CBS Sunday night to watch Oprah Winfrey interview Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. And the content—while not entirely unfiltered (names were mostly not named)—was littered with bombshells.

Most shocking was the revelation that at least one senior royal family member expressed "concerns" about how dark baby Archie's skin might be. Most heart-wrenching was watching Meghan recall "begging" her extended family for mental health assistance and being denied, despite feeling suicidal in a manner that was "very clear and real and frightening." Then there was Harry's casual mention of the fact that his father, Prince Charles—the next king—had at one point stopped taking his phone calls.

The response on this side of the Atlantic was decisive and consistently positive. "This wasn't just celebrity gossip," Rolling Stone concluded, "but a story about mental health, about institutionalized racism and inertia, and about how images ... can lie."

CNN's Abby Philip, author Roxane Gay, poet Amanda Gorman and The View's Ana Navarro-Cárdenas—among many others—all spoke out in support. Meghan's friend Serena Williams noted in a statement on Twitter: "The mental health consequences of systemic oppression and victimization are devastating, isolating and all too often lethal.”

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Even the White House weighed in:

All of which leaves America with the overwhelming impression that this was a slam-dunk; a triumph in which Harry and Meghan spoke their truth, explained exactly why their lives in England weren't working and won a moral victory against the royal family.

The press in Britain, however, has been telling a different story entirely.

Before the interview had even aired, papers were working overtime to make Harry and Meghan look petty and cruel for finally speaking out. The day before the CBS broadcast, the Daily Mirror's front page focused on the "immense sadness" and "anguish" the interview was apparently causing Harry's father and brother. It also claimed that Charles and William had made "attempts to heal the rift." (Something later contradicted by Harry's version of events.)

That same day, Sky News' royal correspondent Rhiannon Mills tweeted: "One palace insider said to me in some ways it’s hard to understand why Harry and Meghan have done this interview when they have their new home, baby on the way, lucrative deals 'when the war is over it’s probably best to stop bombing' they said. Tonight we brace for the impact."

Also on Saturday, The Sun went even further, in a story that claimed: "Windsor Castle and Palace staff have dubbed the chat 'Moperah' after seeing whingey" previews. The article went on: "Royal staff described Prince Harry as Meghan Markle’s 'hostage' before the couple left for a new life in the States, it emerged last night."

Though initially about the upcoming interview, the focus of The Sun's story quickly shifted to claims that Meghan bullied palace staff:

Meghan was said to be furious that embroidered blankets as gifts for the guests were not the correct shade of red. Staff at the time have accused Meghan of being 'genuinely unkind' to workers. Others are said to be furious that unfounded allegations of racism could stick in their new careers.

The narrative in which Meghan is presented as a cruel and bullying tyrant is currently so present across all U.K. media that citizens are showing signs of fatigue:

The host of Good Morning Britain, Piers Morgan, made his views on Meghan abundantly clear after the above discussion aired:

That was all before the interview had even aired.

Regardless of what the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told Oprah, the U.K.'s tabloids were never going to respond favorably or sympathetically. Harry and Meghan's recent lawsuits against three of Britain's most popular newspapers—The Sun and Daily Mirror over alleged incidents of phone hacking, and a privacy case the couple just won against the Daily Mail's Sunday edition—did not set them up for positive coverage. Neither did the couple's choice to publicly instate a "zero engagement" policy against those three papers, plus the Daily Express.

However, the tone was set years ago in the way that the British press has always singled out and attacked the newest—and usually most popular—member of the royal family. It happened to Harry's mother, Diana. And to his aunt, Sarah Ferguson. And before Meghan came along, the press had reveled in mocking both Kate Middleton and Harry's ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy. Meghan would have been subject to the cruel whims of Britain's daily tabloids whether the couple had sued them or not. It certainly would have happened regardless of them sitting down with Oprah.

For decades, the U.K. tabloids have acted with impunity when it comes to the royal family. In 1992, The Sun acquired, and leaked, personal phone conversations between Harry's mother, Diana and her friend, James Gilbey. In 1993, The People shared an explicit phone conversation between Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles from 1989, when he was still married to Diana. Despite the national scandal and humiliation caused by both recordings, no legal action was ever taken against the papers. That was due in part to the royal family's unofficial motto: “Never complain, never explain.” But it left some outlets with the impression that, when it came to the royal family, no report was too violating.

Harry spent part of his time with Oprah lifting the lid off the toxic relationship between his family and the press in his home country. "I am acutely aware of where my family stands and how scared they are of the tabloids turning on them," Harry told Oprah. "There is this … invisible contract between the institution and the U.K. tabloids. To simplify, if you as a family member are willing to wine, dine and give full access to these reporters, then you are able to get better press."

It was a foregone conclusion then, that the U.K. papers would be quick to find fault with Harry and Meghan's interview, no matter what it contained. And it did, to the point of near-revelry.

The Daily Mail asked three "royal experts" to weigh in. The conclusions were, across the board, entirely negative. Russell Myers said Harry and Meghan's "lack of awareness is breath-taking." Angela Levin opined, "They have no emotional intelligence." And Robert Jobson called the interview "self-indulgent and selfish," and unconvincingly suggested that it was unfair because "the Monarchy can't fight back."

The Daily Express—arguably Britain's most fervently pro-monarchy newspaper—led their coverage with the headline: "Meghan Markle and Harry blasted by Twitter users over Oprah interview—‘Kind of stupid’." Piers Morgan said on Good Morning Britain that Harry was guilty of "spray-gunning his entire family on global TV." And The Telegraph compared Meghan unfavorably to Wallis Simpson, for whom Edward VIII abandoned the throne in 1936. "The saddest thing," the paper reported, "is that Wallis and Edward, despite being banished, were dutiful and patriotic to the end."

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If Harry and Meghan are being undutiful, the content of the Oprah interview explains exactly why—it was a matter of survival, and one that, in the end, could not be avoided. Their new lives in the U.S. are an inconvenience and an embarrassment not just for the royal family, but also for the U.K. tabloid press. Both of those historic institutions are giants accustomed to getting their own way. That Harry and Meghan have ditched them both for sunnier pastures will be the subject of bad press for years to come. That they just talked so openly about it is an indication that they no longer care.