Meghan and Harry’s Oprah interview is the next stage of a Royal comms nightmare

By Andrew Adie

So here’s what we know, their ‘wide-ranging’ interview with Oprah has been filmed and will be aired on Sunday 7th March on CBS – Meghan will do the first half, reflecting (presumably with some candour) on life within The Royal Family, Prince Harry will then join her to talk about ‘the future’.

CBS has said that the interview will ‘be covering everything from stepping into life as a Royal, marriage, motherhood, philanthropic work to how she is handling life under intense public pressure’. So pretty much everything.

The interview was announced at around the same time as the confirmation that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would not be returning to Royal Family duties. The tensely worded, and now infamous, response to that announcement ‘service is universal’ sets a simmering backdrop to what would already have been a highly charged interview.

While the Palace has tried to deal with the situation factually and by stressing that the Sussex’s remain loved members of The Family, the media is full of reports and comments from sources that suggest significant tensions.

For the Royal communications team it is the ultimate nightmare in narrative control and brand protection. Although not a situation that they are strangers to. The concept of ‘setting the record straight with a TV interview’ must strike the fear of God into any Palace official. The track record is not exactly glorious.

However, the Oprah interview is just the start of the next stage of the nightmare for the Palace communications team.

With their deal with Netflix reportedly worth as much as $150 million covering several years of projects, and a new life in their £11 million Montecito home, the new centre of gravity for Harry and Meghan has been established and the friends, confidants and advisors that seem to be part of their new US court look to be highly media and brand savvy. Both Meghan and Harry are powerful, eloquent, determined people with a mission and seemingly a burning desire to win respect and independence. They’re not going to disappear quietly.

Back in the UK, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge continue their journey with drive and a fierce display of duty. Their apparent determination to step into the role as future King and Queen by respecting traditions but taking their own modern, open, approachable twist and championing areas that are important to them, such as the environment, mental health and children’s health and education, deserves respect which in normal times would (you’d think) get them a solid place in the nations’ hearts.

But these are not normal times and Harry and Megan present an undeniably glamorous, more modern, more exciting, dynamic and ambitious alternative, not quite the King across the water but a far more challenging alternative to the usual Royal ‘spare’.

So what to do? Even if they’d like to, the Palace communications team can’t simply ignore Harry and Meghan, the Netflix deal, Invictus Games and other as yet to be disclosed projects mean they will continue grabbing headlines.

It appears likely that the Royal communications team are going to get predictably frustrated as their worthy but rather UK focused announcements are trumped by high profile and celeb filled news from over the Atlantic.

Ultimately I suspect they may hope that the tale of the two Princes will be rather like the tortoise and the hare. Harry has raced into the sunset, the fast-paced glamour and headline grabbing initiatives have built and boosted their brand appeal (even if it leaves many unanswered questions) and all the indications suggest that they are deeply serious in their desire to live a life of service.

But the dogged determination and constant grind of ‘sweating the small stuff’, visiting hospitals, opening schools and factories, supporting charitable and national initiatives that make a difference, could see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge earning, and arguably deserving, greater long-term admiration and love.

Harry and Meghan also have a rather more prosaic challenge, they just aren’t wealthy enough. The likes of Bill and Melinda Gates can live a life of service by funding huge initiatives, Harry and Meghan are more financially constrained and their role is more likely to be that of convenors and agitators for change. I’m not suggesting that this makes what they do less worthy, The Invictus Games is a clear example of how to get that right. However it comes with risk, the missionary zeal of the convenor can begin to grate unless delivered with benefits for all and backed by a belief in the authenticity of the project and the motivations behind it.

In the future there may be a rapprochement between Prince William and Prince Harry which could have the benefit of uniting two ‘courts’ and two followers on both sides of the Atlantic, maybe reinvigorating a new level of the Special Relationship? Or alternatively distance may make the differences and challenges all the greater, and that is assuming that the Oprah interview merely causes a few ripples, which seems optimistic. 

For a brand perspective, the two communications teams will be working intensely, trying to get ahead of one another’s agenda, understand and gauge how the different camps react and taking a decision about whether to fight back and engage in briefing and counter briefing or whether to exercise iron self-control and a dignified acceptance that both sides have separate missions and each need their moment in the sun.

The challenge at the moment is that both camps appear some way apart and to the third party viewer there doesn’t appear to be an obvious mediator who is currently able to bridge the divide. While we wait for that (hopeful) moment of resolution, the rest of us get to engage in a new chapter in the extraordinary story of Royal Family TV ‘confessionals’. For the sake of the Palace communications teams, and arguably our Monarchy, let’s hope the allure of the camera begins to diminish.