In one week, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s nuclear CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey became a global television event that toppled incendiary presenter Piers Morgan from “Good Morning Britain” and now leaves a sizeable question mark over Sharon Osbourne’s future as a co-host at “The Talk.”
But it’s the war of words being played out across the Atlantic that has prompted extensive pearl-clutching from British royal watchers puzzled by U.S. outlets controlling the narrative about the British royal family.
In the latest jaw-dropping development, Gayle King, a co-host on “CBS This Morning” and Winfrey’s BFF, revealed on March 16 that Prince Harry has been in touch with his father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William.
“The word I was given was that those conversations were not productive,” King declared live on TV. “No one in the royal family has talked to Meghan yet.”
To see a major update on private family conversations revealed by an American broadcaster rather than the British press is unprecedented, says royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams.
“If you’d told me, I wouldn’t have believed it,” a flabbergasted Fitzwilliams tells Variety. “This is one of the royal family’s worst nightmares.”
Katie Nicholl, royal editor for Vanity Fair and the author of “Harry and Meghan: Life, Loss and Love,” says she was “really shocked” to see the couple “using Gayle King as their mouthpiece, not least because we heard so much from them previously that we didn’t expect there to be a running commentary from their friends in the media.”
Buckingham Palace is likely “very worried” but, notably, is in uncharted territory and “won’t know how to respond,” Fitzwilliams says. “It’s not possible to know how on earth you can have a conversation with Harry and then have Gayle King report it.”
Indeed, there’s a wariness among British media about Markle and Prince Harry’s revelations in their interview with Winfrey. U.K. outlets have focused efforts largely on debunking points made by the couple regarding their son Archie’s eligibility for a title, rather than interrogating racism within the royal family or a lack of mental health support for Markle.
Nicholl argues that the couple has received their share of “sympathy” from the public — particularly among younger generations — but that British media are less willing “to just accept everything the couple have said because they’re probably more aware than any other section of the media that there are two sides to this story.
“We’ve heard Meghan and Harry’s side, but there is another side as well,” says Nicholl.
Asked whether British press are rankled by royal news originating from the U.S., the commentator insists it “doesn’t make a difference.”
“Whether it was the U.S. or any other outlet, they’re continuing to feed the narrative. It’s got the world talking and selling newspapers, so from a journalist’s perspective, why would you want to cut that off?” says the commentator.
“But from the other perspective, here is a family trying to heal a very serious rift,” notes Nicholl. “It does seem a very unusual strategy [by Harry and Meghan].”
On March 12, the results of a poll by data analytics firm YouGov revealed that the couple’s ratings have fallen to their lowest levels ever in the U.K.
Around 45% of Brits have a positive opinion of Prince Harry, while 48% see him negatively, giving a net score of -3 — a precipitous drop of 15 points from March 2, and the first time U.K. attitudes have tipped into the negative for the prince.
As for Markle, 31% have a positive opinion of her, while 58% view her negatively, giving her a net rating of -27, down from -14.
In comparison, a Morning Consult poll of 2,200 U.S. adults before the interview and 838 post-interview found the share of Americans with a favorable view of Markle surged from 45% to 67%, while Harry rose from 46% to 69%.
Chris Ship, royal correspondent for broadcaster ITV, which aired the program in the U.K., tells Variety that the impact at home is “slightly bigger” than even Princess Diana’s landmark interview with the BBC’s “Panorama” program in 1995.
“What Harry and Meghan have done has really damaged the royal family’s reputation in the U.S.,” Ship says. “You have to think: How long does that international reputation for the royal family last?”