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A nation divided: How Meghan and Harry's interview caused shock waves in the U.K.

Eve Hartley
·Producer, Reporter
·7-min read

LONDON — Most Britons waking up on Monday morning had not yet watched the full version of Oprah Winfrey’s bombshell interview with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle. The program had aired Sunday on CBS for a U.S. audience but was not screened on U.K. broadcaster ITV until the next evening.

Instead, the couple’s most shocking claims — that an unnamed member of the royal family raised “concerns” over the skin tone of their then-unborn child, Archie, and how dark it might be, and Meghan’s mental health struggles — were first brought to the attention of the nation in short sound bites, which were then analyzed in a frenzy by breakfast TV hosts and social media commentators.

What followed those early reactions were scenes not seen by many in the country since the Brexit referendum: bitter, finger-pointing disputes played out both on national television and in people’s homes.

While the decision to leave the European Union split the U.K. along lines hard to define, the opposing sides that emerged in this debate — to be supportive of Harry and Meghan, or of “the Firm” helmed by Queen Elizabeth II — appeared to be a more clear-cut divide between generations.

Holly, 26, who once worked in Buckingham Palace as a tour guide and is a self-professed supporter of the royal family, was somewhat surprised to find herself in the center of “an explosive mother-daughter argument” just hours after watching the interview.

The Manchester-based pair have regularly bonded over royal moments. Whenever pictures of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s children were released, the two would text them to each other.

But this time, their monarchy-themed conversation turned sour.

“After [the interview], my mum sent me a message that said, ‘Happy news that it’s a baby girl — but I completely disagree with the rest of it,’” Holly, whose mom is 56, told Yahoo News. “She said, ‘I don’t know why they’ve done this, they’ve got what they wanted.’”

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive at the Endeavour Fund Awards in London, Britain March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry arrive at the Endeavour Fund Awards in London in March 2020. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Holly said that after their discussion, she was left feeling “wound up” and “emotionally disappointed” that her mom, who declined a request to be interviewed for this piece, didn’t seem to recognize that what she argued was an example of the “inherent systemic racism” the royal family has been accused of perpetuating.

The former Buckingham Palace guide also felt there was potential hypocrisy at play regarding her mom’s feelings toward another royal — Princess Diana — who gave an interview to the BBC in 1995, three years after she separated from Prince Charles, and who died in a Paris car crash two years later.

“I think it’s really weird generationally that parents see Diana as their best friend, and my mum thought her interview, which I think was really similar, all those years ago was outstanding and it was brave and incredible, but then don’t see the same about Meghan,” Holly said.

A snap YouGov poll after Winfrey’s interview was aired in the U.K. found there was a significant difference of opinion among generations with regard to support for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents ages 18-24 said they feel more sympathy for Harry and Meghan, while 15 percent are more sympathetic to the senior royals. Britons ages 25-49 are split: 28 percent are supportive of Harry and Meghan, while 24 percent sympathize with the senior royals.

But for people age 50 and older, the poll showed that sympathies flipped in favor of the senior royals and the queen, 46 percent to 13 percent. Poll numbers rose even further among respondents age 65 and older, with 55 percent feeling more sympathy for the queen.

“I think it was just an opportunity for the duchess to get some publicity more than anything else,” said Ajit, 51, who spoke to Yahoo News outside Buckingham Palace. “I just think it was too American. Yes, there is a role and an expectation of a role, and if you don’t like that, step out, and that’s fine, but don’t then expect anything else.”

Ajit also said he didn’t find Meghan’s accusations that a senior royal raised “concerns” over the child’s skin tone as serious.

“It’s not a racist statement. I don’t think it is at all,” he said.

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex are seen with their baby son, who was born on Monday morning, during a photocall in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle, in Berkshire, Britain May 8, 2019. Dominic Lipinski/Pool via REUTERS
Meghan and Harry with their baby, Archie, at Windsor Castle in 2019. (Dominic Lipinski/Pool via Reuters)

The age divide was something that Sarah, 28, also experienced with her “staunch royalist” father, who is 70 years old.

“My dad said, ‘Did you see that awful interview with Harry and Meghan?’” she told Yahoo News. “He said, ‘It was absolutely disgraceful the way that they were talking about the royal family. It’s just them trying to make drama for the sake of it.’”

Sarah said she tried to defend Harry and Meghan but was met with hostility.

“Harry and Meghan’s interview is now in the box of ‘We can’t speak about this without arguing,’ alongside Brexit,” she said. “On Tuesday, it was a bit awkward at breakfast, but at least so far, my mum is staying out of it.”

Migena, 26, FaceTimed her parents, who were in their home country of Albania, after the interview aired. She said the family conversation nose-dived when they began discussing the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

“My dad was saying, ‘Why do you believe her?’” she said, referring to Meghan’s comments about racism within the royal family and her mental health struggles. “I told him, ‘Why don’t you believe her? What does she have to gain from lying?’”

Migena said the argument left her feeling “triggered,” and that she believed the British press had been a factor in her father’s views of Meghan.

In the interview, Meghan described the couple’s interaction with the British press and said, “From the beginning of our relationship, they were so attacking and incited so much racism.”

In addition to disagreements happening in the privacy of people’s homes, fiery disputes have played out on national television.

Journalist and television presenter Piers Morgan looks on as he takes his daughter Elise to school, after he left his high-profile breakfast slot with the broadcaster ITV, following his long-running criticism of Prince Harry's wife Meghan, in London, Britain, March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Talk show host Piers Morgan quit “Good Morning Britain” on Tuesday. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Piers Morgan, a co-host of British broadcaster ITV’s current affairs program “Good Morning Britain,” led the charge Monday morning in airing his opinions of the highly anticipated interview.

One of the widely shared clips was Meghan’s admission about her mental state during her time with the royal family. She told Winfrey that at one point she “didn’t want to be alive anymore” and contemplated suicide while pregnant with Archie. She said she was told she couldn’t seek help because “it wouldn’t be good for the institution.”

Addressing her comments, Morgan questioned whether the duchess was being truthful about having suicidal thoughts, saying he “didn’t believe a word” of it.

The TV host’s comments were condemned by mental health charities, and an online campaign saw over 41,000 complaints lodged to Ofcom, the government-approved regulatory authority for the broadcasting industry in the U.K. One of the complaints about Morgan was reportedly from the Duchess of Sussex herself.

On Tuesday morning, the day after the full interview had aired in the U.K., Morgan stormed off the set of “Good Morning Britain” after clashing with fellow presenter Alex Beresford.

Beresford had defended the couple and hit out at Morgan, saying: “I understand you’ve got a personal relationship with Meghan Markle, or had one, and she cut you off.

“She’s entitled to cut you off if she wants to. Has she said anything about you since she cut you off? I don’t think she has, but yet you continue to trash her.”

By Tuesday evening, Morgan had left his role at ITV. His exit was both celebrated and mourned, in somewhat equal measure, as his co-host Susanna Reid addressed on the program on Wednesday.

Reid said Morgan “has many critics and he has many fans,” and “he has been a voice for many of you and a voice that many of you have railed against.”

“You will know that I disagreed with him about Meghan’s interview,” she said.

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