Buckingham Palace

Prince William leads the desperate Royal fightback against Meghan and Harry

William’s dismissal of racism accusations reflects cautious palace optimism

“Recollections may vary” looks set to go down in history with “economical with the truth” as an elegant way of accusing someone of being wrong

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EUROPEAN PRESS GROUP

It’s an open secret in royal circles that Prince William has a furious temper. A friend of this reporter’s who used to play football with him at Eton said he would swear like a sailor at the slightest provocation. Every time he fluffed a kick, and frequently when anyone else did too, a torrent of expletives would pour forth from the mouth of the future king. As a public figure, William has had to learn to mask his emotions. His angry side is never on display. On Thursday, as he and Kate were at an engagement at an East London school, he appeared calm. But there was no mistaking the clipped and curt tones he used to respond to a shouted question from a waiting reporter who asked: “Have you spoken to your brother since the interview?”

William replied, “No I haven’t spoken to him yet, but I will do.”

He was then asked: “And can you just let me know, is the royal family a racist family, sir?”

The duke walked on past the representatives of the press (who, it should be noted, had been specifically ordered by royal handlers not to ask about the interview). Then William paused, seemed to check himself, turned back and replied: “We are very much not a racist family.”

William’s comment is indicative of a decisive — if restrained — pushback against Harry and Meghan’s explosive allegations of racist behavior by the royals in their Oprah Winfrey interview.

The royals are not directly engaging with the huge and troubling allegations raised in the interview of whether somebody queried the then-unborn Archie’s skin color, or whether Meghan received no support when she felt allegedly suicidal and sought help within palace walls. The royal family’s tactic appears to be to just ignore both of the claims.

Expect these denials to only become more and more explicit as the institution, buoyed by polling and domestic media that seem to be on its side, seeks to defend itself from what it is increasingly seeking to portray as unsubstantiated allegations of racism by unidentified individuals.

In the immediate aftermath of the broadcast, a stunned shock settled on the palace. The sense of the royals being fish left gasping for air on the grass after their pond had been dynamited was reinforced by a 40-hour silence between the first airing of the program and Queen Elizabeth’s statement.

Now, however, it is understood that those 40 hours were used to investigate just who Meghan might have had in mind when she alleged a family member had expressed “concerns” to Harry about their kids’ skin tones, and get their side of the story.

When it came, a masterpiece of economy at just 61 words, Her Majesty’s statement, while being enormously diplomatic, left little doubt that she refuted the racism allegations.

“‘Recollections may vary’ looks set to go down in history with ‘economical with the truth’ as an elegant way of accusing someone of being wrong.”

“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. 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 statement said.

“Recollections may vary” looks set to go down in history with “economical with the truth” as an elegant way of accusing someone of being wrong.

While outrage at the royals is at boiling point overseas, domestically, which is always the royals’ chief concern, there is enormous sympathy for the queen.

A significant portion of the British public are coalescing around the position that Meghan and Harry betrayed their family by attacking them so bitterly on TV. Around a third of people (36 percent) told a YouGov poll after the documentary that their sympathies lay mostly with the queen and the royal household (down 2 points compared to before the interview), while 22 percent of people (up 4 points since before the documentary) say they have more sympathy for Harry and Meghan. Over quarter (28 percent) feel no sympathy for either of the royal camps.

The only cause for concern behind palace walls is the stark age differential: younger people are pro-Harry and Meghan; older people are pro-the queen.

The press have found a profitable mine to dig in turning up a number of internal contradictions within the interview, which did contain some inconsistencies and inaccuracies. This does not mean the claims are not true, but the British press has leapt on them to invalidate what Meghan and Harry said.

Meghan’s claim that she “didn’t grow up knowing much about the royal family,” sits uncomfortably with photos of her posing with a friend outside Buckingham Palace aged 15. Her assertion that she “didn’t do any research about what [marrying into the royal family] would mean,” was greeted skeptically even by Oprah.

Her claim “that when I joined that family, that was the last time, until we came here, that I saw my passport,” clashes with her multiple foreign trips including, for example the famous New York baby shower. Some have found it hard to believe that she couldn’t get psychological help for suicidal ideation when Harry, thanks to his charitable work and his own time in therapy, has numberless contacts in the field.

However, apart from hyperbole, nobody has offered any evidence Meghan actually lied in the interview about this.

The dramatic difference between the way Harry and Meghan described the alleged racist remarks by a member of the royal family has been a gift for the palace and for Sussex-sceptics.

In the interview, Meghan said: “In those months when I was pregnant, all around the same time, so we have in tandem the conversation of, ‘he won’t be given security, he’s not going to be given a title,’ and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.” She said that the questions were asked of Harry, and he had then relayed it to her.

Harry portrayed the timeline very differently. He said he was asked “What will the kids look like?” adding: “That was right at the beginning, when she wasn’t going to get security, when members of my family were suggesting that she carries on acting, because there was not enough money to pay for her, and all this sort of stuff.”

Oprah did not press Harry on the discrepancy, but British newspapers and broadcasters have gone to town on it.

For Meghan to send an official complaint to the CEO of the ITV network about Piers Morgan right before he got fired from his popular breakfast show—for saying “I’m sorry, I don’t believe a word she says... I wouldn’t believe her if she read me a weather report”—was probably a miscalculation.

It enabled the British press to portray Meghan as hypocritically happy to use the media when it suits her purposes, but quick to use her power to shut down critical voices. The fact that Meghan’s people were not willing to confirm the truth of the story to outlets such as The Daily Beast when it first emerged from ITV (where ratings-topping Morgan has many supporters) was a further misstep.

The palace has made a series of successful plays for the moral high ground by briefing, for example, that the queen’s statement was shared with Harry and Meghan before it was issued.

Expect to read this weekend of a personal phone call to Harry from the queen. William’s call, we fear, may be further away, and may contain the phrase, “So, would you mind telling everyone it wasn’t me either?”

The palace have made it clear they are not beneath a little street fighting: the story of who made who cry during a fitting for a bridesmaid dress received another outing in The Times of London Wednesday with a “source” telling the paper: “Meghan was incredibly rude. The duchess [Kate] cried and left.”

Expect this one to run and run: Omid Scobie, the co-author of sympathetic biography Finding Freedom, wrote in Harper’s Bazaar Thursday that Meghan emailed a royal aide at Kensington Palace when they requested that Meghan sign a statement refuting allegations she had been bullied, saying: “Well, if we’re just throwing any statement out there now, then perhaps KP can finally set the record straight about me [not making Kate cry].” (Her request, sent last January, was allegedly ignored.)

As Harry pointed out in his interview, the palace spends a great deal of time every year buttering up the British newspapers. Harry may have issues of principle with it, but the largely supportive coverage the monarchy has received so far has revealed it, in the world of domestic royal realpolitik at least, to be an effective media strategy.

The claimed behavior is utterly abhorrent and sadly, many students of royal and colonial history would say, all too predictable. Let’s not forget that just last week a palace source briefed The Times of London that Meghan wanted to be royal “the Beyoncé way.”

But by not providing solid evidence for their claims of racially discriminatory behavior, by providing conflicting accounts of it and, crucially, by not naming the person alleged to have asked the particularly offensive question about skin color, Harry and Meghan gave the palace a major let-off.

“What does it say that it was so fast to investigate Meghan over alleged bullying, and not—in public right now at least—investigate with the same focus the alleged racism and disregard for her wellbeing she reportedly endured?”
There’s an increasing sense, in the U.K. if not overseas, that what on Monday looked like the biggest crisis for the monarchy in 85 years is actually nothing like a disaster on the scale of Diana. It may yet come to be seen as a desperately sad family argument grounded in intolerance and misunderstanding.

However, this is predicated on the identity of the allegedly racist member of the royal family not being revealed, the precise circumstances of that alleged encounter or encounters not being revealed, and the royal family doing nothing to investigate Meghan’s claims of being ignored at her lowest ebb. Presently, the royal family is benefiting from the mystery.

But what does it say that it was so fast to investigate Meghan over alleged bullying, and not—in public right now at least—investigate with the same focus the alleged racism and disregard for her wellbeing she reportedly endured? Is the royal family now using public opinion as a cover to not do what it should do in terms of investigating what Harry and Meghan claimed?

Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who advised the queen in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana, told The Guardian that comparisons with Diana’s death were misleading.

“The situations are very different,” he said, adding that Diana’s funeral was a national event, “Whereas this, I think, is a pretty extraordinary and a pretty explosive media frenzy, but that ultimately is what it is.”

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