British royals silent amid crisis over Meghan's claim of racist remark
LONDON (Reuters) - The British monarchy wrestled on Tuesday to formulate a response to Meghan and Prince Harry who accused a family member of making a racist remark about their son and courtiers of ignoring her pleas for help when she was suicidal.
Meghan and Harry’s tell-all TV interview to Oprah Winfrey has dragged the royals into their biggest crisis since the death of Harry’s mother Diana in 1997, when the family, led by Queen Elizabeth, was widely criticised for being too slow to respond.
In the two-hour show, originally aired on CBS on Sunday, Harry also said his father, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, had let him down.
More than 36 hours later, there has been no response from Buckingham Palace.
Charles, visiting a COVID-19 vaccine pop-up clinic in London, was asked by a reporter what he thought of the interview. He stopped and looked up before turning and walking off without comment.
British media said the interview - watched by 12.4 million viewers in Britain and 17.1 million in the United States - had triggered a crisis and the monarchy needed to adapt to survive, however difficult a response might be.
“It could hardly be more damaging to the royal family, not least because there is little it can do to defend itself,” The Times said in a lead article under the title “Royal Attack”.
“The key to the monarchy’s survival over the centuries has been its ability to adapt to the needs of the times. It needs to adapt again,” The Times said.
Elizabeth, 94, who has been on the throne for 69 years, wanted to take some time before the Palace issued a response, a royal source said.
Together with Charles and Prince William, second in line to the throne and Harry’s elder brother, the queen will have held meetings with their private secretaries and communications chiefs, a former senior royal aide said.
“This is pretty important and they’ve got to judge it right. I think the queen will have the last say,” said the former aide, saying it was highly likely the Palace would issue a very personal statement in the name of the queen, portraying it as a family rather than institutional issue.
Nearly three years since her star-studded wedding in Windsor Castle, Meghan gained sympathy in the United States by casting some unidentified members of the British royal family as uncaring, mendacious or guilty of racist remarks.
Meghan and Harry have also had a torrid relationship with the British press, successfully taking papers to court on occasions, and have repeatedly questioned what they say is reporting tainted by racist overtones.
Harry said in the interview he did not know where to turn when faced with such troubling media coverage and felt hurt when his family failed to call out racist reporting.
He said the royal family had an unhealthy silent agreement with the British tabloids and that the family was paranoid about the media turning on them.
“There is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations and generations,” Harry said.
For the monarchy, which traces its history through 1,000 years of British and English history to William the Conqueror, Meghan’s bombshell has been compared to the crises over the death of Diana and the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson watched the interview, his spokesman said on Tuesday, but would not be making any further comment on it.
Johnson said on Monday he had the highest admiration for the queen but that he did not want to speak about the interview. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her nation was unlikely to stop having the queen as head of state soon.
Opponents of the monarchy said the allegations made by Meghan and Harry showed how rotten the institution was - and that the Palace’s public relations machine had created a distorted image of the royals.
“Now people are getting a much clearer picture of what the monarchy is really like. And it doesn’t look good,” said Graham Smith, head of Republic, a campaign group which seeks to abolish the monarchy.
“With the queen likely to be replaced by King Charles during this decade the position of the monarchy has rarely looked weaker,” Smith said.
Some royal supporters cast Meghan, 39, an American former actor, as a publicity seeker with an eye on Hollywood stardom.
But the gravity of the claims has raised uncomfortable questions about how the British monarchy, which survived centuries of revolution that toppled their cousins across Europe, could function in a meritocratic world.
Meghan, whose mother is Black and father is white, said her son Archie, who turns two in May, had been denied the title of prince because there were concerns within the royal family “about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.
She declined to say who had voiced such concerns, as did Harry. Winfrey later told CBS that Harry had said it was not the queen or her 99-year-old husband Philip, who has been in hospital for three weeks while the crisis unfolds.
Meghan’s estranged father Thomas Markle, who she has not spoken to since her wedding, said on Tuesday he did not think the British royal family was racist, and hoped an alleged remark from a family member about the colour of the skin of Meghan’s son was a “dumb question”.