Royal interviews have a long pedigree, but not necessarily a good one. “When you look at history, any time that a senior royal has sat down for an interview, ultimately it has always backfired,” said Katie Nicholl, author of The New Royals, and Vanity Fair’s royal correspondent, who has been writing about the Windsors for nearly two decades.
ITV will expect huge ratings for its interview with the Duke of Sussex on Sunday night, but Harry may pay the price in the long run.
Prince Andrew’s “car-crash” Panorama interview with Emily Maitlis fuelled a lawsuit that led to a £12m out of court settlement last year, but before that were Harry’s parents: the then Prince of Wales admitted his infidelity in an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, and Diana, Princess of Wales, cemented their divorce by detailing her unhappiness and Charles’s relationship with Camilla in a controversial interview with the BBC’s Martin Bashir.
Then there is his great-uncle, Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, who also married an American, also wrote a memoir (in 1951) then picked over his abdication and dispute with his family with the BBC’s Kenneth Harris in 1970, shortly before his death in 1972. As with all his predecessors, the question facing Harry is “what happens afterwards?”
Nicholas Owen, who was ITN’s royal correspondent from 1994 to 2000, and covered the fallout from the Charles and Diana interviews, said: “The parallels with the Duke of Windsor are amazing. But at least they conducted the rest of their lives more or less in obscurity.
“Harry and Meghan live close to Hollywood now – the thing about film stars is they constantly renew themselves by appearing in more films. After they’ve finished getting angry with the royal family, what else do they have to say?”
The six-hour Netflix documentary and 400-page memoir may be the peak, Nicholl said, adding: “The irony in all of this is that when Harry and Meghan left Britain, it was about starting a new chapter, launching themselves as global philanthropists. Yet they seem intent on dwelling on the past.”
Anyone hoping for a swift response from the royal family is likely to be disappointed: the King and the Prince of Wales have no engagements listed in the royal diary, eliminating any opportunity for a TV reporter to yell across the barricades if they knew that when he attended William’s wedding, Harry had a frostbitten penis.
The reaction in the US may be crucial – the Sussexes are more popular among young Americans. Dr Patrick Wanis, a Los Angeles-based behaviour expert, said the couple should wait to see how the American public responded. “America is a very forgiving place,” he said. “Americans go one of two ways – side with the hero or the victim. If they see them as victims, and people treated badly, then maybe they can flip the coin. But they have to let it sit.”
Part of the prince’s problem with being “the spare” was that he didn’t feel seen, Nicholl said. “He’s been very keen to find his voice and use it, and set the record straight. But I also think settling scores is a major part of it, and it also ultimately comes down to the big bucks.”
The Sussexes’ media excursions will certainly help bankroll their Archewell Foundation, which aims to “unleash the power of compassion to drive systemic cultural change”. That requires a podcast production arm, with a reported $30m (£25m) deal with Spotify, a TV production house with a reported $100m Netflix tie-up, and an advance from Penguin Random House for at least two books estimated at $20m. The couple have hired an executive from Universal’s film division to run their PR and another from Sony Pictures to head their marketing division.
“It’s expensive being Harry and Meghan,” said Mark Borkowski, a public relations consultant and author. “They’re not going to live in a two-up, two-down in Hatfield, and they need some money to fuel the amount of good work they want to do.”