More than 11 million Britons sat down to watch ITV’s broadcast of the Harry and Meghan interview, more than those who tuned in for their wedding barely three years ago. When it comes to TV entertainment, family turmoil grabs more eyeballs than marital bliss.
But if Harry and Meghan were expecting universal sympathy after laying out their plight to Oprah, including suggestions of outright racism from members of their family, the downgrading of their son Archie’s royal status and Meghan feeling physically trapped by courtiers, it hasn’t so far emerged.
A snap YouGov poll showed more than a third of Britons had more sympathy with the Queen and the royal household, with just 22% were sympathetic to Harry and Meghan. More than a quarter had no truck with either side. Age revealed an interesting split. Those under 25 mostly sided with Harry and Meghan, those between 25 and 50 were mixed and those over 50 were with the Queen.
The upshot is that if Harry and Meghan thought a tell-all interview in the California sunshine would cause sufficient tremors to shake up two of the institutions they expressed heartfelt frustration with – the royal family and the tabloid media – they look likely to be disappointed.
Instead, the interview has in some respects played into the culture wars so consuming debate on either side of the Atlantic.
To supporters, Harry and Meghan will always be regarded as mould-breakers, challenging racism and crusty ways of thinking while bravely trying to drag a fusty institution into the modern age. To critics, they will forever be seen as disrespectful disruptors, imperilling 1,200 years of tradition for the sake of pursuing selfish ends. There’s even a Brexit angle to the saga – some polling suggests remainers are more likely to back Harry and Meghan and leavers the Queen.
Yet as those debates rage on – with little chance of either side shifting ground – the tabloid media and the royal family are likely to go on doing more or less what they have always done.
Yes, Buckingham Palace has acknowledged that the allegations of racism are a concern and will be looked into ‘privately’. But that is a standard damage-limitation exercise more than anything else. The institution itself is unlikely to undergo a fundamental overhaul or change its broader ways.
And the tabloids, which Harry and William have battled all their lives, accusing it of hounding their mother to her grave, is highly unlikely to alter its business model.
While Meghan has had some success in recent legal claims against the Daily Mail, the paper and its Fleet Street rivals are not about to change the manner or intensity with which they cover the royals – especially when every video, picture and word about them is guaranteed to pull in audience all over the world, just as the Oprah interview has done.
In fact, coverage is only likely to deepen. The story is now not just about the royals, but about the social and cultural divisions surrounding them and highly emotive issues of race and diversity. Like Facebook’s ability to monetise content on its site, media outlets now have another prism through which to cover the royals, and the divisions and debates they provoke.