Buckingham Palace said Tuesday that allegations of racism made earlier this week by Prince Harry and Meghan were “concerning” and would be addressed privately by the royal family.
The comments, made in a statement issued on behalf Queen Elizabeth II, are the first from the palace since the two-hour television interview with Meghan and Harry rocked the royal family. Meghan, who is biracial, said the palace had failed to help her when she had suicidal thoughts and that an unidentified member of the royal family had raised “concerns” about the colour of her baby’s skin when she was pregnant with her son, Archie.
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” the palace said. “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”
The interview, conducted by Oprah Winfrey and which aired Sunday night in the U.S. and a day later in Britain, has divided people around the world. While many say the allegations demonstrate the need for change inside a palace that hasn’t kept pace with the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, others have criticised Harry and Meghan for dropping their bombshell while Harry’s 99-year-old grandfather, Prince Philip, remains hospitalised in London after a heart procedure.
Anna Whitelock, a professor of history and director of the Centre for the Study of Modern Monarchy at Royal Holloway, University of London, said the palace’s brief message was an effort to quiet the controversy.
“It’s not very long, but it’s very precise and it has a clear intent — and that is to close this down as a family matter; to make clear that this is clearly a family in crisis, that there’s family issues to sort out, but to separate this very clearly from any criticism or discussion about the institution of monarchy itself,” she told The Associated Press. “And I think time will tell whether that’s a distinction that the public will accept.”
While the palace often tries to stay above controversy by remaining silent and riding out the storm, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s charges proved so damaging that the family was forced to respond.
The response was likely delayed by the queen’s struggle to balance her sometimes-conflicting roles as monarch and grandmother, said Angela Levin, author of Harry, a Biography of a Prince, before the statement was released. During past crises, the 94-year-old monarch has usually come down on the side of the 1,000-year-old institution she has led since 1952.
“The queen has a motto: Never complain, never explain,” Levin told the AP. “And she’s stuck with this for decades. But I think in this climate and 2021, everything goes everywhere. There’s so much social media that in this instance, she really can’t not say anything.”
Harry and Meghan married in May 2018 in a ceremony at Windsor Castle that ended with a ride around the town in a horse-drawn carriage. In the early days of their marriage, the couple were seen as the fresh young face of the monarchy for an increasingly multicultural nation.
But the story quickly turned sour. The couple stepped away from royal duties last year and moved to California, saying they wanted to escape racist coverage and unwanted intrusions on their privacy by the British media.
During the interview, Meghan described feeling so isolated and miserable inside the royal family that she had suicidal thoughts, yet when she asked for mental health assistance from the palace’s human resources staff, she was told they couldn’t help because she wasn’t a paid employee. She also said Harry told her there were “concerns and conversations” about how dark Archie’s skin would be.
Winfrey later said Harry told her off camera that the family member wasn’t Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Philip, sparking a flurry of speculation about who it could be.
Harry also revealed that the stresses the couple endured had ruptured relations with his father, Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and his brother, Prince William, illuminating the depth of the family divisions that led the couple to step away from royal duties and move to California last year. But the most explosive issue was race. The royal family has tried to address that head on, although the rest of the discussion is likely to take place in private, Whitelock said.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of soul searching within the royal family, but this is going to be very much behind closed doors and we’re not going to see dramatic statements, dramatic changes,” she said. “This is going to be about a family who are going to have to look at themselves and reflect on what’s happened and what needs to happen and what needs to change.”