A year after Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in a fairy-tale wedding, she said in an extraordinary interview broadcast on Sunday night, her life as a member of the British royal family had become so emotionally desolate that she contemplated suicide.
At another point, members of the family told Harry and Meghan, a biracial former actress from the United States, that they did not want the couple’s unborn child, Archie, to be a prince or princess, and expressed concerns about how dark the color of the baby’s skin would be.
An emotional but self-possessed Meghan said of her suicidal thoughts: “I was ashamed to have to admit it to Harry. I knew that if I didn’t say it, I would do it. I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
Meghan, 39, made the disclosures in an eagerly anticipated, and at times incendiary, interview on CBS with Oprah Winfrey that aired in the United States in prime time. In describing a royal life that began as a fairy tale but quickly turned suffocating and cruel, Meghan’s blunt answers raised the combustible issues of race and privilege in the most rarefied echelon of British society.
Here are the main takeaways from the interview.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Monday refused to discuss the drama engulfing the royal family, praising the contribution of Queen Elizabeth while declining to comment on damaging claims made by her grandson Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan.
“I have always had the highest admiration for the Queen and the unifying role she plays in our country and across the Commonwealth,” Mr. Johnson said at a news conference in London.
“As for all other matters to do with the royal family I have spent a long time now not commenting on royal family matters and I don’t intend to depart from that today,” Mr. Johnson added.
Pressed to say whether he believed the royal family, aside from the Queen, is racist, Mr. Johnson again stonewalled, saying that “when it comes to matters to do with the royal family the right thing for the prime ministers to say is nothing, and nothing is the thing that I propose to say today about that particular matter.”
Earlier on Monday Vicky Ford, minister for children, also refused to comment on the contents of the interview but added in an interview with LBC Radio: “there is no room for racism in our society.”
The issues raised are sensitive for Mr. Johnson who, during his career as a journalist, used racist language on some occasions, and the claims made in the interview reverberated around British politics.
On Monday Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said that the allegations that had surfaced in the interview “need to be taken very, very seriously” because they are “allegations in relation to race and mental health.”
“For too many years we have been too dismissive and too willing to put these issues to one side,” he added.
Nadia Whittome, a Labour Party lawmaker, was more directly critical of the monarchy. “When Meghan Markle was accused of bullying, Buckingham Palace immediately announced an investigation,” she wrote on Twitter. “Now that Meghan has revealed comments about her child’s skin color, will they investigate racism in the Palace? I won’t be holding my breath.”
On the heels of the interview, many Black Britons felt a measure of vindication, after Meghan and Harry made it abundantly clear that racist abuse played a role in their decision to leave the country, but also frustration that some in Britain were still skirting the issue.
For years, Black people have been calling out the problematic portrayals of Meghan in the British press, and the failures by swathes of the British establishment to recognize the issue.
Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a lawyer and activist, has frequently spoken out about the racism directed at Meghan. In a heated back-and-forth on “Good Morning Britain,” she took Piers Morgan, the journalist and a staunch critic of Meghan and Harry, to task.
He asked for a reaction to what he called the couple “spray-gunning his family on global television” while Prince Philip, Harry’s grandfather, is hospitalized with a heart ailment.
“You want to deny that the royal family has any racist undertones or actions against the first biracial person, simply because you are in love with the queen?” Dr. Mos-Shogbamimu, who is Black, responded, as Mr. Morgan accused her of “race-baiting.”
“You can love the queen and be able to call out the actions done by the royal family when they have got it wrong,” she added.
Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, a British political correspondent, said that Meghan’s treatment — from the British media and also in her allegations of questions about her son’s potential skin color — embodied deep-rooted racism experienced by Black people in Britain. Ms. Batcheor-Hunt applauded Meghan’s “fearlessness,” and said that as a mixed-race woman, Meghan’s comments resonated deeply.
“In my family, we don’t really care about the monarchy,” Ms. Batchelor-Hunt said. “A lot of our ancestors were enslaved under the banner of the British Empire in the name of the crown.”
But allegations of racism from within the royal family, both from Meghan and Harry, had given the royals new relevance, she said.
“Seeing her speak so openly about it is really liberating,” she said, “which is why I think a lot of young people, particularly a lot of Black people, care so much.”
Many noted that the allegations made by Meghan during the interview also highlighted a blind spot in much of the British news media when it comes to race, with the ranks of royal correspondents nearly all white.
“This is a story which is predicated on race,” said Marcus Ryder, a visiting professor of media diversity at Birmingham City University. “And what we have is that we have a British media that has so far been slow to recognize that this is actually a racial story.”
Mr. Ryder also said the allegations illustrate the incongruity of a hereditary white royalty and British leaders’ stated commitment to diversity.
“We keep talking about issues of diversity, and how well does diversity sit with the hereditary principle?” he asked. “What she’s saying is that there seems to be a conflict.”
Hours after the interview was broadcast in the United States on Sunday, Britain was grappling with the shock wave rippling across the Atlantic, exposing a deep royal rift.
For some, the interview was a moment to reflect on the decidedly different public personas of Prince Harry and Meghan, as they broke with the dutiful silence expected of the royal family and brought a more American approach.
But for many Black Britons, the interview offered a scathing assessment of the royal family and resurfaced barely submerged tensions over entrenched racism in the country at large.
“It’s very hard listening to the interview not to focus on some of the salacious details and the family drama,” said Marcus Ryder, a visiting professor of media diversity at Birmingham City University. “But what we’re talking about is a major part of the British state, it’s a major institution.”
The racism allegations made during the interview could have major implications for the monarchy, he said, where payments to family members and household expenses come in part with public funds.
“Once you realize that, and divorce it from the idea of the personal family drama, what you have is a Black woman who was the first, in the modern era anyway, to enter that British institution,” Mr. Ryder said, “and makes allegations of racism at the very top.”
Meghan’s revelation that someone in the royal household had questioned whether her son would be “too dark to represent the U.K.” was a major problem, he said. (On Monday, Ms. Winfrey said that Harry had asked her to clarify that neither Queen Elizabeth II nor Prince Philip was the source of the comment on skin color.)
The Daily Mail, a British tabloid that lost a privacy case against Meghan last month, led on Monday morning with the all-caps headline: “I wanted to kill myself.” While it trumpeted Meghan’s comments about her mental health, it called the discussions about race “a sensational claim.”
Other major news outlets published biting commentary, while some social media users denounced the couple’s infidelity to the family and others firmly defended them. The reaction illustrated divisions between those who view Harry and Meghan as victims and those who disapprove of their behavior and of their willingness to criticize the monarchy publicly.
The palace has said nothing in the aftermath of the interview. It remains to be seen whether the palace will investigate Harry and Meghan’s claims as enthusiastically as it pledged to look into the claims that Meghan had bullied royal staff.
But many agreed that the interview could have wide-ranging implications for the House of Windsor.
“I’ve always said that the royal family would come out at best looking out of date, out of touch, perhaps unwelcoming,” Katie Nicholls, the royals editor at Vanity Fair, said in an interview on Sky News shortly after the broadcast. “But this is so much worse than that.”
For viewers to come together in this age and in this economy for television at an appointed time — interrupted by commercials even! — requires a high bar.
The ratings aren’t in, but tonight many watchers were reminded of the skill, empathy and just all-around mastery of communication and focus of Oprah Winfrey as interviewer. Even if it was all showbiz, even it was all an act, for viewers it felt engrossing and moving.
This is when a generation that didn’t grow up watching Oprah now realizes how she has a unique gift.
— deray (@deray) March 8, 2021
Ms. Winfrey, of course, was one of the creators of interview television when she wasn’t busy winning Tonys, Peabodys and getting Oscar nominations. “The Oprah Winfrey Show” began in 1986 and concluded, 25 seasons later, with more than 5,000 episodes, in 2011. She has said she has interviewed 37,000 people.
It was 1993 when Ms. Winfrey interviewed Michael Jackson in an event that stopped people in their tracks. (Prince Harry was not yet a teenager.) It was at the time the most-watched televised interview in history, with tens of millions of people tuning in. (The New York Times reported 62 million viewers; Ms. Winfrey claimed 90 million worldwide.)
I didn’t actually quite understand Oprah’s singular genius as a broadcaster and interviewer until I became one but she’s legit on another level.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) March 8, 2021
Journalists on Twitter paid tribute to the techniques Ms. Winfrey used in the interview, which was simultaneously intimate and charged, kind but firm. The power of her attention is riveting.
If Oprah ever interviewed me, I too would dime out my whole family.
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) March 8, 2021
It’s Oprah’s follow up questions for me. A journalism interviewing masterclass.
— Nneka M. Okona 🇳🇬 (@afrosypaella) March 8, 2021
Behind the scenes, nearly every interview ends the same way, Ms. Winfrey said in a recent interview herself. The participant, no matter how wealthy or famous, asks: “Was that OK? How was that? How did I do?”