Prince Harry is sharing more details about his strained relationship with older brother and heir to the throne Prince William, such as how his stepping back from the royal family created a “wedge” between them, and how their royal offices dealt with the press. The Duke of Sussex elaborates on that latter part in episode 4 of Netflix’s Harry & Meghan, charging that Prince William’s communications office leaked or traded stories about him and Meghan Markle to the media, even though they “promised” never to do that to each other.
Trading news stories, Harry says in episode 4, is a long-running practice between the offices representing royal family members and the press.
“I have 30 years experience of looking behind the curtain and seeing how the system works and how it runs. I mean, just constant briefings about other members of the family, about favors inviting the press in. It’s a dirty game. You know, there’s leaking, but there’s also planting of stories. So if the comms teams want to be able to remove a negative story about their principle, they will trade and give you something about someone else’s principle. So the offices end up working against each other. It’s a kind of this weird understanding or acceptance that happens.
“And you can always say, ‘I didn’t know about this,’ or ‘Don’t be ridiculous, this would never happen. Are you suggesting that I condone this?’ It’s like, ‘No. But what I am asking is have you done anything to stop it?’ And the answer is no.”
This is also something Harry and William witnessed while growing up as royals, especially when it came to how their parents’ divorce played out in the news. “William and I both saw what happened in our dad’s office, and we made an agreement that we would never let that happen to our office,” Harry says. (Their joint royal offices officially split into Sussex and Cambridge halves in March 2019.)
Prince William, Meghan Markle, and Prince Harry in 2018.
However, many noticed that after Harry and Meghan were so warmly embraced by the public during the royal wedding and their royal tour of Australia, there was an influx of negative tabloid stories about them. It’s even suggested that the disparaging headlines were a response to Harry and Meghan becoming more popular than William and Kate, the future king and queen.
“When some people in the institution around the family started to see that a new couple could destabilize the power dynamics, whether actively talked about or not, the aim was to put them in a box or make them irrelevant,” James Holt, their former spokesperson, says in the doc.
Absurd reports surfaced, “criticizing Meghan for every little thing,” Holt says, things that Princess Kate was not scrutinized for. Stories ranged from Meghan wearing clothes that “broke royal protocol,” to criticizing how she held her baby bump, to rumors that she was “at war” with Kate or that she exhibited “diva behavior” at the palace.
Harry suggests the headlines came from William’s staff trading stories with the press. He was hurt. “I would far rather get destroyed in the press than play along with this game or this business of trading,” he says. “And to see my brother’s office copy the very same thing that we promised the two of us would never ever do, that was heartbreaking.”
Often while discussing his—and especially Meghan’s—treatment in the press and lack of support from the royal household, Harry draws comparisons to his mother Princess Diana’s own experience.
“I can’t think what my mom went through all those years ago by herself,” Harry says in episode 6. “To see this institutional gaslighting that happens, it’s extraordinary. And that’s why everything that has happened to us was always going to happen to us, because if you speak truth to power, that’s how they respond.”
Meghan also adds that sitting down with Oprah, much like this docuseries, was their way of making their side of the story known. “That interview, it was less about setting the record straight and more about filling in the blanks that other people were filling in for us,” she says. “Whatever we were creating and whatever new path we were trying to forge, we couldn’t do that without some clarity.”
Erica Gonzales is the Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage on TV, movies, music, books, and more. She was previously an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There is a 75 percent chance she’s listening to Lorde right now.
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