The House of Windsor came into being in 1917. Since then, the Windsor Family has become an emblem of British rule and imperialism. Commonly considered one of the most powerful families in the world, beyond their political influence, they are celebrities in their own right. With the UK being one of the last ruling monarchies in the Western world, year after year, millions flock to the UK inspired to unveil more about their lifestyle. In 2019, the BBC estimated that the royal family generates £550 million towards the British economy per year via tourism.
From lavish weddings to grand estates, at first glance, the Windsors might seem like the fairytale family. However, when you begin to dig a bit deeper, this supposedly tight-knit family is bursting at the seams with scandal. Mass tourism is mostly fuelled by the media’s obsession with exposing what happens behind closed palace doors. Although global paparazzi succeed in hounding family members, very few reporters manage to obtain exclusive interviews. The British monarchy is notoriously difficult to infiltrate.
For the past three years, Oprah Winfrey has been chasing the elusive butterfly of securing an interview with the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle. Following a tumultuous year that saw Harry and Meghan step back from their royal duties and relocate to the US, Oprah finally succeeded. On Sunday the 7th of March, the highly anticipated interview was aired on the American news channel CBS. There were a recorded 17.1 million viewers. The following day, it was streamed on British television channel ITV, with 12.4 million people tuning in to watch.
For years there had been so much fuss and discussion around who Prince Harry would choose as his suitress, it was expected that whoever that was would receive an overwhelming amount of attention from the media. However, in the lead-up to the royal wedding in May 2018, it became clear that Meghan wasn’t going to have an easy time with the British press. During the interview, Meghan and Oprah reflected on how the tabloids had battered her from start to present. Before the wedding, they made up false stories about her, painting this monstrous image of her making her sister-in-law Kate cry when it had actually been the opposite.
Oprah then decided to compare news headlines of things Meghan had done during her pregnancy with stories about Kate. The results were quite shocking. Where Kate had been praised, Meghan had been mocked. One of the most evident was when the Duchess of Cambridge was photographed hugging her baby bump. The Daily Mail captioned the photos: “Bumping along nicely! The Duchess was seen placing a protective hand on her tummy as she exited the event”. Whereas when Meghan did the same, the Daily Mail reported: “Personally, I find the cradling a bit like those signs in the back of cars: Baby on Board. Virtue signalling, as though the rest of us barren harridans deserve to burn alive in our cars”. Not only does it highlight the blatant disparity in treatment of one of the princesses to the other, but it also reveals how deeply embedded insidious racism is within the British media.
Although there still seemed to be a fair amount that Meghan and Harry refused to reveal about the royal family and the so-called “Firm”, the interview was still pretty explosive. In particular, the two main issues that have caused widespread public concern and discussion were race and mental health. Not only did Meghan divulge the comments made to Harry regarding concern about how dark their son’s skin colour would be, but she also expressed how fragile her mental health had been during her pregnancy.
Meghan admitted to having had suicidal thoughts and felt as though she received no support from those around her. At one point, she even requested that Harry wasn’t to leave her alone because she didn’t know what she would do to herself. Meghan expressed how she had visited HR, but owing to the very intricately complex layout of the monarchy, she was not eligible to receive medical support from them. Unfortunately, she was a family member rather than a member of staff, which meant HR were not responsible for supporting her through her mental health crisis. For all of us who have battled with such feelings, we can only empathise with how trapped and alone she must have felt. Both she and Harry signalled that the deterioration of her mental health and the lack of protection for their family were the most pressing reasons for them to withdraw from their royal duties and relocate in 2020.
Both comments about race and mental health were extremely painful to listen to, especially at a time when both are so topical in British society. Even though I am not a fan of Meghan Markle, the public have no right to determine her mental health status. The widespread disbelief in her claiming to be suicidal was extremely troubling and indicative of British attitudes towards mental health. When suicide rates are at an all-time high, I expect more from the British public to demonstrate sensitivity and support for those when they are crying for help.
The British stiff upper lip phenomenon is embodied within British governance and the monarchy. Whenever a problem arises it’s swept quickly under the family’s Persian rug. Another recent example of this has been Prince Andrew’s lack of accountability concerning his role in the Epstein exposé. Despite the royal having notoriously close relations with the renowned paedophile, there still is little media coverage about this. There is even incriminating evidence against Andrew of his involvement with underage girls, yet the royal family has managed to miraculously sweep this issue away. The Oprah interview revealed that certain members of the royal family clearly receive different treatment from others.
In summary, the interview shed light on the very archaic institution that is the British monarchy. There is a difference between the family members themselves and the team that run the institution. It’s best to think of it as a family business, whereby the members are more figureheads than drivers of actual action. Although I found the interview unsettling to watch at times, I was not surprised to hear about Meghan’s mistreatment. Mental health nor race seem like topics that such an outdated institution is capable of handling adequately.