A week ago today, CBS announced that it had secured Oprah Winfrey’s exclusive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, their first sit-down, together, since their engagement. This followed news that the Sussexes are expecting their second child. The week ended with the Queen’s confirmation that Harry and Meghan would not be returning to royal duties and would be returning their royal patronages, as well as Harry’s honorary military titles. Harry and Meghan countered with a statement of their own that read like a subtle callback of Princess Diana not needing a royal title to be the queen of people’s hearts. All last week the Sussexes were making headlines especially in the UK, with royal commentators reporting on leaks coming from the palaces about how offside the Sussexes were and source quotes on Prince William’s side talking about how disappointed he is in his brother, calling the Sussexes’ behaviour “insulting and disrespectful”. Needless to say, the Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan, which was always going to be a heatscore, is now even more highly anticipated. So much that the British royals are counterprogramming.
Oprah’s Harry and Meghan special will air in the US on March 7. Hours before, in the UK, the Queen will be joined by Prince Charles and Camilla, William and Kate, and also Sophie for A Celebration for Commonwealth Day; it’ll be a pre-recorded address, in place of Commonwealth Service, that would have happened the following day, March 8. Commonwealth Service, of course, was the last time Harry and Meghan appeared as senior royals last year. And we all probably recall the cold war body language between them and the Cambridges.
The royals can point to the timing of Commonwealth Day as the priority for this broadcast and deflect any accusations of competition but… well… the fact that there are going to be two royal family televised events, just hours apart, when they’ve all been so front and centre for their drama…
Coincidence or conspiracy?
For the people who put this in play on behalf the royal institution, even though of course the ostensible focus is on the Commonwealth, the side benefit – which they are no doubt counting on, though they may deny it – is that contrast. While Harry and Meghan may or may not be doing a gossipy interview with Oprah, here’s team royal engaged in more serious matters and preserving the integrity of the Commonwealth. Strategically, even though we don’t know yet how Oprah’s interview with the Sussexes will shake out, it seems like a check in the royal family’s column, right?
But the Commonwealth is an interesting conversation to have in these times. We’ve always known that the Queen assigns major significance to the Commonwealth. I live in a Commonwealth country, Canada. Many, many, many citizens of the Commonwealth are people of colour. Go look at the Commonwealth map and member country listing. There are 19 countries in Africa alone making up the 54 countries of the Commonwealth, over 35%.
What does it look like on Commonwealth Day when the Queen and all her white royal family members are out there talking about the value of the Commonwealth? After a couple of years of not really supporting the biracial member of the family? After a year in which Black Lives Matter was an international force, including in the United Kingdom – and the British royals remained silent about the movement, with Prince William recently denouncing racism… in football but, um, not in his family?
Do we want to have a deeper discussion about the Commonwealth then? And the optics of the Commonwealth led by the Queen? Let’s do it!