Where Does the Royal Family Go After That Bombshell Meghan Markle, Prince Harry Tell-All?

Now that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have spoken their truth, revealing rifts with Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate MIddleton, can the royal family truly manage to keep calm and carry on?

By Sarah Grossbart Mar 13, 2021 8:00 AMTags

For two straight hours on the evening of Mar. 7 it felt like the entire world had their TVs (and for those outside the Eastern Time Zone, computers) tuned to the same channel. 

Twitter went wild, journalists sat agape and group text chains exploded with friends rushing to share their thoughts as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle delivered a series of jaw-droppers to Montecito neighbor and good pal Oprah Winfrey, each revelation more "Whaa??"-inducing than the next.

As for the woman of the hour, she was focused on her son's nighttime routine. 

It wasn't until after Meghan had tucked 22-month-old Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor into his crib at their 18,671-square-foot Santa Barbara, Calif. manse that she turned her attention to the revealing three hours and 20 minutes that she'd spent with the legendary queen of all media weeks earlier. 

"She was putting Archie to bed waiting on the West Coast feed and had no idea what was happening on the East Coast," Oprah shared on her follow-up CBS' This Morning segment Mar. 9. So their communication was limited to just one brief exchange. Shared Oprah, "I got a text from Meghan yesterday saying, 'How's it going?'"

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An apt question, really. 

Now that Meghan and Harry have been exactly as candid as the palace had feared, revealing there were questions from an unnamed member of The Firm about "how dark" Archie's skin might be and that the stress of the nonstop press criticism led Meghan to suicidal ideation, the aides, advisors and senior royals that make up "the institution" she name-checked so frequently are frantically trying to gather the shrapnel from all the dropped bombs. 

The Buckingham Palace statement released at close of business London time Mar. 9 was something, Queen Elizabeth II saying "the issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning." (Of note, Harry was careful to tell Oprah that neither his grandmother, nor Prince Philip, were the ones to ask about Archie's skin tone.) But it's going to take more than four carefully worded sentences and Prince William's insistence that "we are very much not a racist family," to fix the monarchy's tattered reputation. 

Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions

From the moment the sit-down was announced in mid-February, those in the palace had been bracing for impact, predicting an interview as damaging as the one Princess Diana gave to Martin Bashir on BBC's Panorama in 1995, in which she famously revealed "there were three of us" in her marriage to Prince Charles and opening up about her struggles with bulimia and depression. 

And their worst fears largely came to pass. 

"It does have the sense of the Diana style burning of boats," royal author Sarah Gristwood told Vanity Fair of Meghan and Harry's chat. Though the most detrimental aspect was how Meghan's complaints about intrusive press coverage and the palace's inability to help outline just how little things had improved in the past three decades. 

Hounded by the press up until her fatal 1997 car crash, "We thought Diana's death had triggered a big shift," Gristwood continued. "Now it's looking as though actually not enough has changed."

Though this could prove to be the watershed. Noted Gristwood, "Just like Panorama, the fall-out from this feels like a moment when the royal family and the palace establishment have to think again and start re casting themselves if they're going to be in a position, to borrow Meghan's words, to thrive and survive in the 21st century."

They might start with putting some action behind their lip service about the importance of mental health—an issue William continues to address, partnering with soccer players for his Heads Up initiative.

When Omid Scobie was writing last year's Finding Freedom, one of Meghan's friends "described how she felt when she was up against press and feeling unsupported by the institution is death by 1,000 cuts," he told E! News the day after the couple's Oprah interview aired. "It's an ancient form of torture. And for Meghan to use those words in a conversation with a friend really gave us insight into how she felt for much of that year. The royal family say they have been advocates for speaking openly about mental health, but you know some of the actions we've heard of in the past 24 hours don't support that."

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At that time, of course, they were more focused on damage control, Vanity Fair reporting that the Queen called a meeting with Charles and William—the monarchy's two future kings—immediately after being briefed on the sit-down at breakfast. 

The eventual Mar. 9 statement, insisting that the Sussexes' accusations will be "taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately," was the result of two straight days of meetings, phones calls and tense crisis talks and showed how eager The Firm was to repaint this whole situation as a family feud that should be handled behind palace walls. 

"They've taken it in house and they'll deal with it," Dickie Arbiter, former palace press secretary, told Vanity Fair, reflecting on the aftermath he dealt with following Diana's Panorama chat. "They won't shove it under the carpet. These are serious allegations and it will have been all hands on deck." 

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He expects that mantra to continue as they move on to the next order of business: Getting back to work. "If they cower behind the sofa," he explained, "that would have guilt written all over it. If there is no misdemeanor, you're out there facing the public." 

Maintaining that trademark stiff upper lip is one thing, but mending the fractured family bond will prove to be quite the challenge. 

"First and foremost, we should remember this is a family rift," Diana's former private secretary Patrick Jephson said on CNN Mar. 6. "It has taken on a lot of the trappings of a big media PR story, but at the heart of this are real people really hurting and I hope that somewhere in the midst of the current back-and-forth, somebody is putting down the seeds for eventual reconciliation, which has to come."

Though it's still not certain who will make that first move.

Attending a Mar. 11 visit to School 21 in Stratford, London with wife Kate Middleton, William told reporters he hadn't yet spoken to his younger brother in the nearly four days since the interview aired "but I will." 

Scobie noted to E! News "it was clear that Harry was very careful not to offend his brother or make matters worse," simply mentioning their relationship "is space at the moment." But Meghan's new revelations are unlikely to help close the gap.

One insider told Vanity Fair Meghan's decision to give more details about her pre-wedding fight with Kate ("It made me cry and it really hurt my feelings," she said of the bridesmaids dress-fueled disagreement) could completely erode what's left of the relationship between the brothers. "I find it hard to see how they can come back from this," a friend told the mag. "William is angry and upset, and he will bear a grudge for a very long time that Meghan has dragged Catherine into all of this." 

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Though, arguably, the person to get the worst portrayal was Charles, Harry accusing his father of cutting off both finances and communications when he and Meghan announced their intentions to leave their post as senior royals. 

"Charles certainly does not come out a winner in all of this," Harry and Meghan: Life, Loss and Love author Katie Nicholl admitted to ET. "Harry has said he felt let down by his father. It must have been a very difficult thing for Harry to say publicly, but even a difficult thing for Prince Charles to hear."

Because as Scobie told E! News, royal reporters were continuously told by those close to Charles that the future king remained on good terms with his youngest: "It was the palace that was often telling the press, including myself, that Charles was keen to fund and support Harry and Meghan." And during the lead-up to the pair's 2018 vows, the Sussexes were especially tight with Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Nicholl shared, with Charles feeling incredibly pleased to help walk Meghan down the aisle at Windsor's St George's Chapel.

"This closeness quickly turned into resentment and detachment when Charles wouldn't sit down and discuss what Harry and Meghan wanted for the future on the phone," Nicholl continued of Charles' request that the duo put their terms in writing, "and that's when we understand the relationship unraveled. But for Charles to hear that he felt let down by Harry will be very, very painful indeed." 

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Still, there's every reason to hope that father-and-son can work through their issues with Harry telling Oprah, "I will continue to make it one of my priorities to heal that relationship."

A source close to Charles told Vanity Fair that's a rehabilitation that he'd like to attempt. "He hates confrontation, and I think he appreciates things are said and done—there are hurt feelings—but he loves his son and his family more than anything."

And nothing mends families quite like a new little lady on the way.

But even if Meghan and Harry aren't hosting Charles in California this summer when they welcome their daughter, they have no regrets about spilling every last drop of tea. 

Though "there is still tension within the family and they are aware it may be that way for a long time," a source told E! News, "Meghan finally feels at peace with Harry and is excited for their private future in Montecito."

That includes their continued commitment to a life of service through their charitable organization Archewell and their side job as content creators for Netflix and Spotify. With their second act just beginning, the Sussexes feel they finally have the life they first envisioned in those giddy early days when a successful second date became a safari in Botswana and discussions about how they just might change the world.  

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"Now, because we're actually on the other side, we've actually not just survived but are thriving," Meghan marveled to Oprah, "you know this—I mean, this is miracles. I think that all of those things that I was hoping for have happened, and this is in some ways just the beginning for us." 

Ultimately, she continued, she got her prince and the happily ever after "greater than any fairy tale you ever read." 

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