Changing times means the Queen can't stay silent after Meghan race allegations

Royal biographer says monarch's taciturn strategy can't survive in modern era

Queen Elizabeth must not stay silent on Meghan Markle's allegations of racism or she risks allowing damage to Britain's royal family to set in, experts warned.

The monarch is known for her personal motto of 'never complain, never explain' and usually stays tight-lipped on controversial public relations matters.

However, royal biographer Angela Levin says that strategy will now be severely tested following the Sussexes' interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday.

"She’s stuck with this for four decades. But I think in this climate and 2021, everything goes everywhere. There’s so much social media that in this instance, she really cannot not say anything”, said the author of Harry, a Biography of a Prince.

So far, Buckingham Palace has refused to comment on the furore, with the Queen reportedly wanting more time to consider her response to the bombshell interview.

Prince Charles visited a Covid-19 vaccination centre in London on Tuesday, the first time he has been seen in public since the interview was aired, but would not be drawn on the issue.

In their tell-all, Prince Harry and Meghan told Winfrey that an unnamed member of the royal family expressed concerns about “how dark” their then unborn son Archie’s skin tone would be.

The comments were not made by the queen or the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Harry said.

The monarch's reticence has echoed her widely criticised response to the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

Britain's press lambasted the royal family for being cold and uncaring when the Queen initially refused to drop the Royal Standard to half mast and took nearly a week to release a public statement expressing her grief.

Royal biographer Andrew Morton said the fallout from the interview would “shudder down through the generations in the same way that Diana’s did”.

Mr Morton drew parallels with Diana’s infamous Panorama interview in 1995, in which she accused royal aides of being ‘the enemy” and questioned Prince Charles’ suitability to be king.

“We are having a re-run of so many things, that Harry’s concerned about Meghan, that she would suffer the same fate as his mother,” he told ITV.

“We have forgotten nothing, remembered nothing.”

Communications guru Sven Hughes, who has carried out strategic reviews for royal households, said the monarchy will need to adapt quickly to the changing cultural landscape.

“They need to start dancing and dancing quick," he told Sky News. "It’s not acceptable to not respond when someone accuses you of racism."

Speculation over who made the comments regarding Archie’s skin tone inevitably left Charles or William as potential possibilities.

“There is no way this cannot get solved before they become king", he added.

He added that this is an opportunity for the royals to 'evolve' to be relevant for the next generation.

Buckingham Palace should get rid of the 'grey suits' who Princess Diana and Meghan were strongly opposed to, Mr Hughes added.

"I would suggest they want to freshen up the team around them. They have people thinking in an old school way about how you deal with the media."

The Victorian-era motto 'never complain, never explain' is believed to have been coined by former British prime minster Benjamin Disraeli and later adopted by the Queen Mother.

It is sometimes understood to mean that people in positions of power shouldn't complain about their circumstances, and undermine their own credibility when they respond to criticism.

The reaction to the revelations in political circles is also beginning to divide along party lines, with Labour calling for an investigation and the governing Conservative Party largely siding with the palace.

Foreign Office minister Zac Goldsmith said the claims were aimed squarely at “Harry’s family” and appeared to blame the duchess for the situation.

“Harry is blowing up his family,” he said. “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.”

Buckingham Palace has yet to respond to the claims after they were broadcast more than 24 hours ago.

The Times reported on Tuesday that the queen "refused to sign off a prepared statement that officials had hoped would de-escalate tensions by highlighting the family’s love and concern for the couple”.

British newspapers on a stand after the US television interview by Oprah Winfrey with Harry and Meghan. EPA
British newspapers on a stand after the US television interview by Oprah Winfrey with Harry and Meghan. EPA

Despite blanket coverage in Britain, The Telegraph reported that the royal family’s “instinctive response was to wait, to say nothing, and to see how the situation developed”. The queen was first told of the racism claim at 7.30am on Monday, the paper said.

The Daily Mail said the queen then spoke with her son Charles and grandson William.

“There is a strong sense of needing to retain a dignified silence and show kindness and compassion,” a source told the paper.

“There’s a lot people want to say but no one wins with a tit-for-tat battle.”

In their interview, the couple spoke about a range of topics, including racism, mental health, Prince Harry’s relationship with his family, and press intrusion.

Prince Harry described feeling "really let down" by his father Prince Charles, who had stopped taking his phone calls for a while. He said both Charles – the queen's heir – and Harry's elder brother William were "trapped" by the conventions of the monarchy.

"They don't get to leave. And I have huge compassion for that," he told Winfrey.

Meghan, who is mixed race, described herself as "naively" unprepared for life in the pressure cooker of the royal family.

But she said she was denied help for a mental health crisis and became the target of lies in an incident involving her sister-in-law. She said her depression was exacerbated by concern about the skin colour of her unborn son.

"I ... just didn't want to be alive any more. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought," she said.

Buckingham Palace is yet to respond to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's racism claims. AP
Buckingham Palace is yet to respond to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's racism claims. AP

Asked if she had had suicidal thoughts while pregnant with son Archie, the duchess replied: "Yes. This was very, very clear."

The duchess said she ultimately contacted one of Princess Diana's best friends for support. "Who else could understand what it's actually like on the inside?"

A YouGov poll taken on Monday, before the interview aired in the UK but after highlights had been shown, found 33 per cent of people did not have any sympathy for Meghan and Harry, while 12 per cent had a lot of sympathy.

A similar YouGov poll carried out after the interview aired, suggested the UK is split along age lines over who they back between the Sussexes and the Royal Family.

It found 36% of people said they sympathised more with the Queen and the Royal Family, while 22% said they sympathised more with Harry and Meghan.

However, when the respondents were broken down into age groups, it shows 48% of 18 to 24-year-olds sympathised more with the Sussexes, while only 9% of over-65s sided with the couple.

During the two-hour interview, Meghan suggested her son was not made a prince because of his race – although rules set by George V meant he was not entitled to be one. Because Archie is not a prince, the duchess said he was not entitled to security.

Speaking of her conversations with the palace, the duchess said: “We haven’t created this monster machine around us in terms of clickbait and tabloid fodder.

.
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“You’ve allowed this to happen, which means our son has to be safe.”

Prince Harry expressed anger that no one in his family came to his wife's defence amid negative press coverage, even though 72 British Members of Parliament condemned the “colonial” coverage of the duchess.

He repeatedly drew parallels to the criticism his wife faced to the scrutiny his mother, Princess Diana, endured in the lead-up to her death in 1997.

“I saw history repeating itself . . . then you add race in, and you add social media in,” he said.

Despite the toll on her mental health, the duchess claimed Buckingham Palace refused to let her seek medical treatment.

“I went to human resources and I said I really need help because at my old job there was a union and they would protect me,” she said.

“They said, 'My heart goes out to you and I see how bad it is, but there’s nothing we can do to protect you because you’re not a paid employee of the institution.'”

For the first time, she rebuffed a widespread story that she had made Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and the wife of Harry's brother Prince William, cry in the lead-up to her wedding. Instead, she claimed, Kate had made her cry.

But despite Kate apologising, the rumour was allowed to persist, she said, calling the claims "the beginning of a real character assassination" and "a turning point" in her relations with the royal family.

"I came to understand that not only was I not being protected but that they were willing to lie to protect other members of the family."

In a lighter moment, the couple, who announced in February that they are expecting their second child, said they are due to have a baby girl in the summer.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki praised Harry and Meghan’s courage when asked if US President Joe Biden had watched the interview.

“For anyone to come forward and speak about their own struggles with mental health and tell their own personal story, that takes courage,” she said.

“That’s certainly something the president believes.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said the allegations made by the duchess must be taken seriously.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had the “highest admiration” for the queen, but refused to be drawn on the allegations.

"I’ve always had the highest admiration for the queen and the unifying role she plays in our country and across the Commonwealth," he said.

"I’ve spent a long time not commenting on royal family matters and I don’t intend to depart from that today."

Updated: March 9, 2021 10:05 PM

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