Prince Harry and Meghan's controversial Netflix documentary streamed across the world on Thursday morning, airing more damaging claims about British royal family life.
The prince suggested his family did not understand the racial abuse his wife had suffered.
The six-part programme, which was available from 8am UK time, had promised to lift the lid on events that prompted the pair to quit royal life and move to the United States in 2020. It is set to place more strain on relations with King Charles III and Prince William, and risks further damage to the UK monarchy's reputation.
While there were few new revelations, reliving their relationship in such high-profile fashion will pose more problems for the royal family. The first three episodes focused on the pair's burgeoning relationship, and their interaction with the media, while the final three chapters which will be streamed next Thursday are expected to focus more overtly on criticism of the royal family.
There was fallout within hours. In the opening scene, words appear on a black background stating: “Members of the royal family declined to comment on the content within this series.”
But shortly after the show aired, confusion arose over whether the royal family had been given the right to comment.
A senior palace source said Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and members of the royal family were not approached for comment on the content of the series.
Later, both Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace confirmed they had received an email purporting to be from a third-party production company from an unknown organisation’s address and attempted to verify its authenticity with Archewell Productions and Netflix, but never received a response.
“In the absence of this verification, we were unable to provide any response. The substance of the email we received also did not address the entire series,” a source said.
However, a Netflix source insisted the communications offices for the king and the Prince of Wales were contacted in advance and given the chance to react to Prince Harry and Meghan’s claims.
As King Charles and the Queen Consort Camilla breakfasted in their own home and the Prince and Princess of Wales dealt with the school run, royal fans, commentators and the British media began binge-watching the first three episodes of Prince Harry and Meghan’s tell-all take on royal life.
The pair speak of the family's issue with Meghan being an American actress and dwell heavily on their treatment by the press, which they say “hounded them” and left them feeling scared.
He also makes reference to his teenage years when he would spend months at a time in Lesotho, Africa.
In a reference which may not sit will with King Charles, who has previously been described as a sometimes distant father, he said: “I have a second family out there, a group of friends that literally brought me up.”
Prince Harry claimed he and Meghan suffered with racism from the outset, and were not supported by his family.
“Eight days after the relationship was public I put out a statement calling out the racist undertones of articles and headlines that were written by the British press, as well as outright racism from those articles across social media,” he said.
“Some of the members of my family would say 'my wife had to go through that so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently? Why should you get special treatment? Why should she be protected?'
“And I would say 'the difference here is the race element.'”
Their treatment by the press features heavily as they make accusations about being hounded and say “salacious” stories were “planted”.
Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, complained about how the articles would try to taint her middle-class lifestyle with inaccurate reporting.
“They would take pictures of different parts of, say, Skid Row and say that was where I lived and that was where she was from,” she said.
The duchess, who is mixed race, said her ethnicity was an issue as soon as she arrived in the UK. “Obviously now everyone is aware of my race because they made it such an issue when I went to the UK,” she said. “Before then, I wasn’t really treated like a black woman.”
The show looked at some of the headlines in the UK tabloid press which included: “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton”, a play on the hit rap song by NWA about life in the tough Los Angeles suburb.
Meghan said: “Firstly, I’m not from Compton, I’ve never lived in Compton, so it’s factually incorrect. But why do you have to make a dig at Compton?”
After walking away from royal life, the pair plunged the monarchy into further crisis with their incendiary interview with Oprah Winfrey in March last year, while Prince Philip was in hospital.
The duke and duchess accused an unnamed member of the family of racism towards their son Archie before he was born, and the institution of failing to help the suicidal duchess.
The documentary referenced when Princess Michael of Kent wore a Blackamoor-style brooch to an event the Duchess of Sussex attended in 2017.
Prince Harry said: “There is a huge level of unconscious bias. It is education, it is awareness. It is a constant work in progress for everybody, including me.”
The prince then spoke about when he wore a Nazi uniform to a private party in 2005.
He said: “It was probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I felt so ashamed afterwards. All I wanted to do was make it right.”
The first meeting
Prince Harry said the fact he was in a relationship with a US actress was the largest hurdle for the royal family to clear.
He said: “The fact that I was dating an American actress was probably what clouded their judgment more than anything else at the beginning — ‘oh, she’s an American actress; this won’t last’.”
The duke's relationship with his brother and sister-in-law came under the microscope.
The siblings, who were close after their mother's death, have become increasingly estranged in recent years.
One section suggested there was an immediate frostiness with Prince William's wife, Kate, with hugging the first issue when they first met for dinner.
Meghan describes herself as “a hugger” and would hug Prince Harry whenever she saw him “to have as much of a normal life as possible”.
“Always been a hugger,” she said. “I didn't realise that that is really jarring for a lot of Brits. I guess I started to understand very quickly that the formality on the outside, carried through on the inside.”
Meghan branded her engagement interview an “orchestrated reality show”, saying: “We weren’t allowed to tell our story.”
She said the interview with BBC broadcaster Mishal Husain in November 2017 after their engagement was announced had been rehearsed.
In the documentary, the couple were asked whether they were prepped with questions they might be asked, with the duchess saying: “Yeah. But then also, like, ‘and then there’ll be a moment when they’ll ask to see the ring’.”
She added: “My point is, we weren’t allowed to tell our story because they didn’t want …”
Prince Harry injected, saying: “We’ve never been allowed to tell our story … that’s the consistency.”
Prince Harry said he and his wife were keen “not to make the same mistakes our parents did” while bringing up their children.
In part two of the couple’s tell-all Nextflix series, they spoke about how the breakdown of their respective parents’ marriages had affected their approach to raising son Archie, three, and daughter Lilibet, one.
Meghan said: “There’s so much from anyone’s childhood that you bring with you into the present, especially when you’re the product of divorce.”
Prince William and Prince Harry through the years — in pictures
Prince Harry added: “What’s most important to the two of us is to make sure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes that perhaps our parents made.
“I think most kids who are the product of divorced parents have a lot in common, no matter what your background is.
“Being pulled from once place to another or maybe your parents are competitive, or you’re in one place longer than you want to be or in another place less than you want to be. There’s all sorts of pieces to that.”
He said he did not have many early memories of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, believing he has internally “blocked them out”.
Diana died in a car crash when Prince Harry was only 12, but the duke, in the documentary, said he still remembered her “cheeky laugh”.
Royals brace for fallout
The king, the queen consort, Prince William and his wife Kate, Princess of Wales, were not expected to watch the series, but royal aides will be closely monitoring the output, and considering, if at all, how to respond.
The family will be carrying on with royal duties as normal on Thursday, with the docuseries also coinciding with the first circulation of coins bearing the king’s image in post offices around the UK ― symbolic of the adjustments still continuing since Queen Elizabeth II’s death. King Charles visited a community hub in London to meet volunteers.
A friend close to the royal family told the Press Association that the royal situation concerned “real people”.
“It’s really important to remember that these are real people,” the friend said. “This isn’t a soap opera. They are human beings and a family and there’s a great deal of sadness.”
Before the show, royal watcher Richard Fitzwilliams told The National that the prince had trapped his father in an impossible position ― respond and it fuels the flames, stay quiet and accusations cannot be challenged.
“It may be that King Charles has a decision to make as to precisely what, if any relations [he has with Meghan and Prince Harry] — what about the coronation, will they be asked [to attend]? Will they be cut off completely?”
The six-part Harry & Meghan show, billed as “unprecedented and in-depth”, is being broadcast exactly three months after the death of Prince Harry’s grandmother, with the Windsors still grieving and the king less than 100 days into his reign. The final three parts are released next Thursday.
Netflix showed the first trailer last week, as Prince Harry's brother made his first trip to the US as Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, prompting accusations of sabotage.
The timing could barely have been worse for Prince William after Buckingham Palace sacked one of his godmothers as a courtier for using racially charged language to a black British woman at a reception.
For some, the incident reinforced incendiary claims by Meghan, 41, a mixed-race former television star, that racism within the royal household was one of the main reasons for leaving.
The Sussexes, who this week accepted a Ripple of Hope award in the US for their work against racism, signed lucrative deals thought to be worth more than £100 million ($122 million) with Netflix and Spotify after quitting the monarchy over the 'Megxit' crisis as they struggled with royal life.
How the show starts
The opening credits of the documentary feature footage of Prince Harry and Meghan in their carriage on their wedding day and an image of Queen Elizabeth in a carriage.
They also show King Charles at his investiture as Prince of Wales, Prince Harry as a child with his mother, Diana, and Meghan facing into a sea of Union flags.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are shown introducing their son, Archie, to the media, Prince Harry as a young man, the couple looking lovingly at one another, and what appear to be photo-booth style pictures of the pair having fun.
The image of Prince Harry and Meghan showing Archie to the queen, watched by Meghan’s mother, is also included.
The opening credits also show Prince Harry and Meghan enjoying the outdoors with their children.
Episode one opened with words written in white on a black background that said: “This is a first-hand account of Harry & Meghan’s story, told with never before seen personal archive.
“All interviews were completed by August 2022.
“Members of the royal family declined to comment on the content within this series.”
Prince Harry said: “I think anyone else in my situation would have done exactly the same thing.”
The first episode then shifts to what appears to be phone footage, filmed vertically, showing Vancouver Island in Canada.
The duchess appears with a towel wrapped around her hair, appearing to speak into her phone camera, saying: “H is in London and I’m here.”
She shakes her head and says: “I don’t even know where to begin.”
Footage of the couple introducing Archie to the media then plays, with Prince Harry’s voice heard saying: “My job is to keep my family safe. By the nature of being born into this position and with everything else that comes with it and the level of hate that is being stirred up in the last three years especially against my wife, and my son, I’m concerned for the safety of my family.”
The duchess can then be seen again, towel wrapped around her hair, saying: “I just really want to get to the other side of all of this.”
There is a pause where she sits silently and then she appears emotional and says: “I don’t know what to say anymore.”
Netflix tweeted a 46-second clip, with the pair chatting about their first date when Prince Harry was embarrassed to be half an hour late.
In episode three, the prince admitted he shouldered the breakdown of Meghan’s relationship with her father, Thomas Markle.
The pair have been estranged since he was caught staging paparazzi photographs before her wedding.
Prince Harry said: “Of course it is incredibly sad what happened.
“She had a father before this and now she doesn’t have a father.
“And I shouldered that because if Meg wasn’t with me, then her dad would still be her dad.”
It addressed Meghan's relationship with her elder half-sister, Samantha Markle.
She said: “The UK media, I truly believe, wanted my mum’s side of my family to be the ones that all this drama could be stirred up with and they just had my mum, who is classy and quiet, and then you have the other side of my family that is just acting differently.
“My half-sister, who I hadn’t seen for over a decade, and that was only for a day and a half, suddenly it felt like she was everywhere. I don’t know your middle name, I don’t know your birthday. You are telling these people that you raised me and you are calling me Princess Pushy?”
Meghan added that she did not have a “fallout” with Samantha, saying: “We didn’t have a closeness to be able to have [one] ― and I wanted a sister.”