LONDON — Prince Harry and Meghan’s explosive TV interview divided people around the world on Monday, rocking an institution that is struggling to modernize with claims of racism and callousness toward a woman struggling with suicidal thoughts.
During the two-hour appearance with Oprah Winfrey, Harry also revealed the problems had ruptured relations with his father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William, illuminating the depth of the family divisions that led the couple to step away from royal duties and move to California last year.
The palace has not yet responded to the interview, in which Meghan described feeling so isolated and miserable inside the royal family that she had suicidal thoughts and said a member of the family had “concerns” about the color of her unborn child’s skin.
The family member was not Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Philip, according to Harry, sparking a flurry of speculation about who it could be.
Leaders around the world were asked about the interview, and citizens of many countries had an opinion.
In Accra, Ghana, Devinia Cudjoe said that hearing that a member of the royal family was worried about the color of the skin of an unborn child was insulting to people of the Commonwealth, the grouping of Britain and its former colonies that is headed by the queen.
“That is pure racism,’’ Cudjoe said. “[The] Commonwealth is supposed to foster unity, oneness amongst black people, amongst white people. But if we are hearing things like this … I think that is below the belt.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to comment on the interview, praising the queen but saying that “when it comes to matters to do with the royal family the right thing for a prime minister to say is nothing.”
Asked whether U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife Jill had any reaction to the interview, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Meghan’s decision to speak about her struggles with mental health “takes courage” and “that’s certainly something the president believes in.”
But she said she wouldn’t offer additional comment on the situation “given these are private citizens, sharing their own story and their own struggles.”
In Nairobi, Kenya, Rebecca Wangare called Meghan “a 21st- century icon of a strong woman. She has faced racism head-on.”
Asma Sultan, a journalist in Karachi, Pakistan, said the interview “is going to tarnish the image of the royal family.”
“There is so much controversy ever since Diana’s death, so it is new Pandora box which is opened up,” she said.
Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the interview bolstered his argument for Australia severing its constitutional ties to the British monarchy. Turnbull met the couple in April 2018, four months before he was replaced by current Prime Minister Scott Morrison in an internal power struggle within the conservative government.
“It’s clearly an unhappy family, or at least Meghan and Harry are unhappy. It seems very sad,” Turnbull told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “After the end of the queen’s reign, that is the time for us to say: OK, we’ve passed that watershed. Do we really want to have whoever happens to be the head of state, the king or queen of the U.K., automatically our head of state?”
Britain’s monarch is Australia’s head of state. Turnbull was a leading advocate for Australia selecting an Australian citizen as its head of state when he was chairman of the Australian Republican Movement from 1993 to 2000.
News of the interview was reported in Chinese state media, including the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, and was widely discussed on the popular Weibo social media platform.
Tennis star Serena Williams, a friend who attended Harry and Meghan’s wedding, said on Twitter that the duchess’s words “illustrate the pain and cruelty she’s experienced.”
“The mental health consequences of systemic oppression and victimization are devastating, isolating and all too often lethal,” Williams added. “... I want Meghan’s daughter, my daughter and your daughter to live in a society that is driven by respect. Keep in your memory the fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Poet Amanda Gorman took to Twitter to express her concern.
Meghan is living the life Diana should have, if only those around her had been as brave as she was. Meghan isn’t living a life without pain, but a life without a prison.— Amanda Gorman (@TheAmandaGorman) March 8, 2021
The interview allegations are especially damaging because many observers hoped Harry and Meghan, who is biracial, would help the tradition-bound monarchy relate to an increasingly multicultural nation. In the early days of their marriage, Harry and Meghan joined William and his wife, Catherine, in projecting a glamorous, energetic image for the young royals.
That partnership was severed when Harry and Meghan left the country, saying they wanted to earn their own living and escape what they called intrusive, racist coverage by the British media.
But the interview brought that criticism into the palace itself, with the couple directing allegations of racism at an unidentified member of the royal family.
Meghan said that when she was pregnant with her son, Archie, Harry told her that the royal family had had “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”
Harry confirmed the conversation, saying: “I was a bit shocked.” He said he wouldn’t reveal who made the comment. Winfrey later said Harry told her the comment didn’t come from Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Philip, his grandparents.
The couple had faced severe criticism in the United Kingdom before the interview. Prince Philip, 99, is in a London hospital recovering from a heart procedure, and critics saw the decision to go forward as being a burden on the queen — even though CBS, rather than Harry and Meghan, dictated the timing of the broadcast.