Meghan's Oprah trailer signals no-holds-barred take on 'the firm'

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Analysis: unclear if Meghan’s ire is directed at particular royals but teaser is sign ‘never complain, never explain’ era is over

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. Photograph: CBS
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. Photograph: CBS

First published on Thu 4 Mar 2021 09.29 EST

It is one brief clip, just 30 seconds long. But what the latest trailer for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s highly anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey hints at is there will be no holding back.

Meghan’s statement, that she and Harry could not be expected to stay silent if “the firm” is playing an active role in “perpetuating falsehoods” about them, appears on the face of it to be extraordinary.

“The firm” has long been shorthand for the royal family, ever since Prince Philip is said to have coined it on his marriage to Princess Elizabeth. It was used by Diana, Princess of Wales, and often not in a complimentary way.

Over the years it has acquired more negative connotations, perhaps more than Philip could have foreseen, conjuring a juggernaut of monarchy, resisting interference and obstacle.

It has been used to describe core members of the royal family. Equally, it has been used to encapsulate the wider institution of senior households and the men, and women, “in grey suits” that Meghan appears to have come to intensely dislike.

Context is everything. It remains to be seen whether Meghan is directing her ire in the teaser at the Queen, Charles, or William or at their courtiers. Buckingham Palace will discover, along with the rest of the world, only when the interview is finally aired.

If it is among the former, it surely raises the question if the couple’s already strained relationship with other members of the royal family, is now simply unsalvageable.

Those close to the couple say they do not have individual senior royals in their crosshairs. One said whenever Meghan, in private, discussed such issues, it had never been directed at individual members of the family.

It is said that she and Harry both tend to use the phrase “the firm” as interchangeable with the broader institution, the royal households and the courtiers who run the royal family’s operations.

What is now clear, though, is this interview will be wide-ranging. On the agenda will certainly be the couple’s condemnation of a “toxic” British press.

The toll, the pressure of royal life on the couple, is reflected in Winfrey’s question: “… ‘almost unsurvivable’ sounds like there was a breaking point?”

Winfrey’s comments: “Were you silent or were you silenced?” and “You’ve said some pretty shocking things here”, are all designed to whet the appetite.

Harry speaks of “history repeating itself”. Certainly, that is a feeling Buckingham Palace will share, about 25 years after his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, unburdened herself to Martin Bashir in the Panorama interview which hastened her divorce from Prince Charles.

The timing and subject of this latest trailer capitalise on the controversy surrounding allegations published in the Times of bullying by Meghan, and denied by her through her lawyers, of staff who worked for her at Kensington Palace.

Sources say the Sussexes had no control over either the clip released, or the timing of it, which was all down to CBS. In fact, the couple’s interview was filmed before those allegations were made public, designed, according to the Sussexes’ lawyers, as a smear campaign against them.

Buckingham Palace’s mantra of “never complain, never explain” may have served well in the past, but clearly would not be appropriate in this case.

The unprecedented inquiry the palace has announced into these allegations – the first such inquiry into senior member of the royal family – has not de-escalated the rising tensions leading up to Sunday’s broadcast. Anything but.