Silence 'not an option' for Buckingham Palace over Harry and Meghan

Royal expert says issues of mental health and alleged racism and alleged bullying can’t be ignored

“Harry is blowing up his family … What Meghan wants, Meghan gets”


As Buckingham Palace, no doubt still reeling from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s allegations on mental health and racism, considers its response, history should have taught that silence is not an option, said one royal expert. More than 24 hours after the Oprah Winfrey interview was broadcast in the US, senior royal aides had still not broken cover amid calls for an investigation into the couple’s claims.

The palace’s reaction will be a seen as a test of whether lessons were learned from the mishandling of the crisis after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

“The palace in the past had been very loath to come up with a knee-jerk reaction; very often they thought ‘don’t talk about it and it will go away’,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine.

“But clearly, when you are talking about mental health, alleged racism and alleged bullying, you can’t dismiss them. There are some things you can leave to one side, but these are not issues that can possibly be ignored, and a response does need to be made, just to make people aware it is being taken seriously.”

The Queen’s perceived silence in the days immediately after Diana’s death led to a furious backlash against the monarchy, with accusations of heartlessness.

While Tony Blair paid public tribute to the “people’s princess”, and flowers carpeted the entrance to Kensington Palace, there was just one short statement from the palace. Issued just hours after the Paris crash, it shared the Queen and Prince Philip’s “deep distress” at the “terrible news” and said other members of the royal family were being informed of the death.

Newspaper headlines screamed: “Show us you care”. But, it was not until the eve of Diana’s funeral that the palace sprang into action, with a highly personalized television address by the Queen.

Back then, it demonstrated the danger of silence, of leaving a vacuum to be filled by a narrative even more damaging to the institution.

“After Diana’s death, there was a huge backlash; some really sensational headlines followed between Diana’s death and funeral. That stirred people up. The people read these things and they regard the royal family as heartless,” said Little.

“Of course, we now know that the Queen, with the best of intentions, was keeping the boys [William and Harry] at Balmoral to protect them. But that was one of the rare mistakes of the Queen’s reign; not to react a bit more positively, not to be a bit more reactive to it.

“I think that won’t happen again. I think the palace will respond.”

The fact that allegations last week were made that Buckingham Palace failed to act over bullying claims against Meghan made in 2018 in relation to her alleged treatment of staff, leaves the institution in a difficult position if it does not respond. Only now has it announced a full investigation into those claims.

“It means the supposition is that so much will be just swept under the carpet and they will move on,” said Little.

“But I cannot think that will be the case this time.

“Quite how they follow this up is very hard to predict. I certainly don’t think they will strip Harry and Meghan of their titles. I think that would just be seen as spiteful. And it would be the wrong thing to do.”

Downing Street has refused to distance itself from a minister’s claim that Prince Harry is “blowing up his family” – but declined to comment after confirming the prime minister had watched the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said he had watched the two-hour interview but said he had no further comment to make. Amid crisis talks at Buckingham Palace, No 10 said it would not be drawn into any judgment on the allegations of racism made by Meghan or the state of her mental health that she described after her marriage.

Downing Street did not criticize comments from one of Johnson’s ministers – the Conservative Lord Zac Goldsmith, who accused the prince of “blowing up his family”. His comments came in a tweet in response to ITV News’s royal editor, Chris Ship, who said the couple “dropped bomb after heavy bomb on Buckingham Palace” in the interview.

Goldsmith, a minister for the environment, said it was “not ‘Buckingham Palace’ – Harry’s family” and then tweeted: “Harry is blowing up his family … What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.”

Asked a number of times whether Downing Street wished to distance itself from Goldsmith’s remarks, Johnson’s spokesman declined to do so. “You have the PM’s words from the press conference last night and I won’t be adding any further to what he said,” he said.

At the Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, Johnson said: “I have always had the highest admiration for the Queen and the unifying role that she plays in our country and across the Commonwealth. I have spent a long time now not commenting on royal family matters and I don’t intend to depart from that today.”

Labour has called for an investigation into the racist remarks apparently made by a senior royal. The party leader, Keir Starmer, has said Meghan raised “really serious issues” of racism as well as by speaking about her suicidal thoughts, for which she said the palace told her she should not seek outside help.

The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, told Sky News: “If there are allegations of racism, I would expect them to be treated by the palace with the utmost seriousness and fully investigated.”

The silence from Downing Street comes in contrast to the US president Joe Biden. The White House press secretary Jen Psaki praised Harry and Meghan’s courage when asked if the US president had watched the interview.

“For anyone to come forward and speak about their own struggles with mental health and tell their own personal story, that takes courage. That’s certainly something the president believes.”

Asked whether the prime minister believed it had taken courage for a public figure to speak openly about feelings of suicide, Johnson’s spokesman again declined to comment.

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