Diana's former private secretary and chief of staff, Patrick Jephson, spoke about the family on CNN on Saturday, March 6, a day before CBS aired Oprah Winfrey's highly anticipated tell-all interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who is pregnant with their second child.
During the special, Meghan, 39, and Harry, 36, detailed the reasons behind their move to the U.S. and their 2020 royal exit, which was recently made permanent and which followed a growing rift between the duke and his older brother Prince William, who is second in line to the throne.
"Thirty years ago we were in a comparable situation where rifts were opening up within the royal family and it was starting to escalate," Diana's former aide told CNN. "There were a lot of unhappy people involved then. I'm quite sure there are a lot of unhappy people involved now."
"First and foremost, we should remember this is a family rift," Patrick said about Meghan and Harry's relationship with the royal family. "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."
Following her 1992 split from husband and Harry's father Prince Charles, Diana became estranged from her ex's family and became the first royal to give a tell-all interview. She famously spoke candidly about her life and feeling pressure from the media in a BBC Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in 1995, less than two years before her death at age 36.
Buckingham Palace has not commented on the interview, the third TV tell-all from a royal following Diana and former sister-in-law Sarah Ferguson, and the first major interview for a person born into the family.
The CBS special aired days after the Palace announced it is launching an investigation into claims that the duchess allegedly once bullied royal staffers, which were detailed in a recent article in The Times. Meghan and Harry have denied the allegations and many of her friends have defended her publicly amid renewed criticism of her.
"Certainly, I think the responsibility for starting to heal a lot of this damage and to put a stop to the escalation does lie with senior palace management," Diana's former aide told CNN. "I hope that there will be intervention from all well-intentioned people to help Harry and Meghan settle in their new lives and help heal the wounds that arose through the way they departed."
Comparisons of Meghan to Diana have been made for years. The duchess and Harry have criticized the tabloid media many times following negative coverage of the former Suits actress, which many people have compared to the past media treatment of the Princess of Wales. The Duchess of Sussex recently won a legal privacy claim against one major U.K. publisher, with the help of an attorney who used to work for Harry's late mother.
Like Diana, Harry and Meghan have long been dedicated to doing charity work around the world. When their royal exit was made permanent, Buckingham Palace announced that "The honorary military appointments and Royal patronages held by The Duke and Duchess will therefore be returned to Her Majesty [the queen], before being redistributed among working members of The Royal Family."
The couple later said in a statement, "As evidenced by their work over the past year, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain committed to their duty and service to the U.K. and around the world, and have offered their continued support to the organisations they have represented regardless of official role. We can all live a life of service. Service is universal."
"I think we'll be able to judge by results how they are able to execute their ambitious program of spreading compassion," Diana's former aide told CNN regarding the couple, adding that the Princess of Wales was a "pioneer of a compassionate style of royalty."
He continued, "She also had a very strong sense of duty towards the monarchy. After all, her role is very different from Meghan's. She was the mother of the next king—future king—and she was herself going to be the next queen. So she was very heavily invested in the future health of the monarchy. Meghan, perhaps less so."