American viewers of dramas like “The Crown” and “The Queen” and documentaries like “The Royal House of Windsor” are all too familiar with the British royal family’s gift for surviving based on a quizzical blend of tradition and adaptability.
The trappings of crown and scepter, coupled with an “everyman” willingness to, for example, pay taxes (in 1992) and embrace Twitter (in 2014), are among the reasons Queen Elizabeth II remains today at 94 the most admired woman of all time.
But a Windsor willingness to evolve appeals only if it’s honest. Oprah’s bombshell-dropping interview Sunday with Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, on first reference suggests that something less than honest, even sinister, lurking within an intolerant royal family.
Black and mixed-race generation
The fairytale wedding three years ago of Harry — younger brother to Prince William, heir to the throne — and Meghan Markle, an American biracial actress, was must-see TV. In the United States alone, 29.2 million people watched the pageantry at 7 a.m. ET on a Saturday, no less.
And it was particularly enchanting for a generation of Black and mixed-race Britons who suddenly found a more accessible monarchy.
But the House of Windsor, not so much.
Harry and Meghan told Oprah Winfrey that the royal family worried about the 2019 birth of the couple’s first child, Archie. Meghan said there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be.” Family members said they did not want the mixed-race child to be a prince or princess. Harry and Meghan declined to say who in the family made these remarks.
Meghan also said she suffered suicidal thoughts during her pregnancy — a time when she was barred from leaving the residence and bullied by the press — and was denied inpatient care by a senior royal, who said it “wouldn’t be good for the institution.”
Harry described a life of privilege where he felt perpetually trapped. The couple stepped back from their roles as senior royals a year ago and fully left last month, when they announced they wouldn’t return to work and their royal patronages would revert to the queen.
Buckingham Palace in denial
Their description of a Buckingham Palace sullied by racial intolerance and mental health insensitivity — if true — suggests irreparable damage to the Windsor “institution” going forward. And this was clearly a missed opportunity for the palace to embrace Britain’s growing diversity. Thousands took part in racial justice protests in London last summer after the police killing of George Floyd, with protesters invoking the names of local victims of police violence or racial injustice.
Moreover, millions in the United Kingdom and elsewhere might benefit from a royal family willing to address emotional despair and embrace those, even within their own family, who suffer from mental health crises. That was another missed chance for Buckingham Palace to lead, rather than slip into denial over something deemed to be uncomfortable or unseemly for the institution.
The queen’s popularity is so unassailable, she might weather the crisis. Her grandson and his wife spoke warmly of her during the interview. But when she’s gone, valid questions may persist about whether the monarchy remains tragically impervious to change and truly relevant to future generations of Britons.