Opinion: Sussexes won over America but divided rest of the world

Katherine Chatfield
·Columnist
·6-min read

Opinion

If Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah was their way of establishing themselves as powerhouses in the US, they’ve done a great job so far. 

The US press surrounding the interview has been overwhelmingly sympathetic towards the couple. From headlines about “Harry’s Racial Awakening” in the New York Times, to social media posts from CNN political editors saying: “This is simply heartbreaking,” it’s clear the Sussexes have won the support of the American public.

Oprah Winfrey interviews Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on A CBS Primetime Special premiering on CBS on March 7, 2021.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sat down for an interview with Oprah last week. Photo: Getty Images

The interview was discussed at length on The View, a daytime chat program that’s been slated by The New York Times as “the most important political TV show in America” for its reach and influence over its daily 2.5million viewers. The hosts – for once in agreement with each other - proclaimed they are “Team Meghan,” declaring: “There's a lot of racism directed at this woman [Meghan] in a lot of different ways. She threatens a lot of people in the [British] patriarchy."

Celebs support Sussexes

Meghan has also been publicly praised by several high-profile figures, the endorsement of which will undoubtedly further her public approval. “Thank you for Meghan for your courage and leadership. We are all strengthened by you,” wrote Beyonce on her website. “Her words illustrate the pain and cruelty she’s experienced,” Serena Williams posted on Instagram. Hilary Clinton called the interview “heart-rending”, and Joe Biden has praised her for her “courage.”

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But while Meghan and Harry enjoy almost unwavering support from their new home, the rest of the world remains divided. 

The UK tabloids were – unsurprisingly given their history with the couple – not supportive of the Sussexes decision to bear all. “What have they done?” screamed one. “Experts slam Harry’s ‘unworkable’ security demands” grimaced another. 

Some Australian press took the same angle. “Meghan Markle is a menace to the royal family,” a News Corp opinion column read. 

 Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex arrive at the Creative Industries and Business Reception at the British High Commission
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle won over America with the interview. Photo: Getty Images

While some of the broadsheets in the UK and Australia were more balanced in their approach, the general sense is one of mistrust – and anger. 

“The world is in crisis. People are suffering due to the pandemic. Should we really give any more attention to an interview full of inconsistencies, claims with no substance and incorrect facts?” tweeted @UKRoyalNews.

Why the world is divided over Meghan and Harry's interview

So why is public opinion divided by country? Why are Americans siding with the couple, while the rest of the world is furiously debating the veracity of their claims?

Firstly, Meghan is, as she’s been described numerous times, “one of their own". The fairytale love story that Americans bought into on Meghan’s behalf hasn’t worked out – at least not with the in-laws - and the US is disillusioned. 

“Their” Meghan didn’t get the happy ending she was promised, and that doesn’t work with the romantic narrative they’ve invested in. 

Australians and Brits appear to be more skeptical. While there’s sympathy about how Meghan was purportedly treated and the effects it had on her mental health, there’s an undercurrent of “well, she must have known what she was getting herself into". We know the royals have form with women who don’t fall into line; we remember what happened to Diana, and Fergie. We are cynical; did Meghan really expect to be different?

The element of racism is no doubt a huge factor behind the support for the Sussexes in the US. When Meghan claimed that there had been “concerns and conversations about how dark [Archie’s] skin might be when he's born…and what that would mean and what that would look like,” there was outrage across the world. But it struck a particular nerve with Americans; the ongoing national discourse about racism which stems from the Black Lives Matter protests is at the forefront of the national conversation, and was brought to the fore in the recent US elections. 

Although Brits might be ashamed of the colonial past of the monarchy, it might not come as a surprise to them in the same way it did to those in the US. Anyone who has lived in a country with the royals as their head of state knows the institution is archaic. That doesn’t mean it’s not wrong, just that it’s not surprising.

The Oprah Effect

Then, there’s the interview itself. The set up was designed to appeal to Americans. The pseudo- therapy speak (“your truth” and “owning [what happened]”) is relatable in the US; not so much here. 

Prince Charles, Camilla, the Queen, Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate Middleton on the balcony of Buckingham Palace
The royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, as members of the Royal Family attend events to mark the centenary of the RAF on July 10, 2018. Photo: Getty Images

The Oprah Effect mustn’t be discounted either. Oprah’s influence on the American public is well documented; if she endorses something, so do the American people. If she’s shocked by what Meghan is telling her, so is the rest of the US. She was soft in parts of the interview, not pressing for more than hearsay, but for the Sussexes that was undoubtedly part of the appeal; they got to put their narrative out to an audience who was already enamoured by their host. In other words, she helped them look good.

America sees itself as the land of the free; a place where you should be able to speak freely, and speaking “your truth” is applauded. Britain is built on a repressive class system, and although the idea of speaking out against the royals is tantalising and exciting, there’s an element of mistrust against anyone who dares to do it. 

Speaking the unspoken isn’t always received well in Australia either, as has been clearly evidenced in the recent parliament rape accusations. While Americans are used to, and expect this sort of candour, it doesn’t come naturally to Brits and Aussies. Baring our souls is something still largely done behind closed doors, not in a public arena.

While Harry and Meghan would have been aiming to garner public support the world over, at least now they know their market. Understanding where their support base lies will enable them to target their next moves; their Netflix and Spotify productions can firmly skew towards the US market, and now they’ll be able to touch on everything it’s clear Americans want to hear more about. Judging by the press coverage, race and repression are big winners.

It’s unlikely the Sussexes will ever be able to return to the UK – or want to. But maybe that’s the point. Their interview was the ultimate consumer poll; now they know where their brand can succeed, there’s no point wasting time on the rest of us.

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