One person in the royal family escaped the ire of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in their devastatingly critical tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey: the Queen.
Prince Harry’s hurt at being “let down” by Prince Charles; Meghan’s claim that the Duchess of Cambridge made her cry, and not the other way around; Harry’s sadness at his rift with Prince William – all was laid bare.
But there was nothing but praise and warm words for Harry’s 94-year-old grandmother, despite her position as head of the “the firm”, the family and institution the couple says so badly mistreated them.
“I think there is a personal, and also a political aspect it to it. If they had dared attack the Queen, they would have forfeited an enormous amount of sympathy,” said the author and royal historian, Robert Lacey.
Harry revealed Charles refused to take his calls for a time last year before he and Meghan announced, from Canada, their intention to step back from a senior royal role, at which point “I took matters into my own hands”.
On Charles, he added: “I feel really let down, because he’s been through something similar. He knows what pain feels like, [and] Archie’s his grandson.
“But, at the same time, I will always love him, but there’s a lot of hurt that happened and I will continue to make it one of my priorities to try and heal that relationship.”
This excruciating public criticism is such a damaging breach of royal protocol – which dictates family members never openly criticise one another – that its harm to Charles is inestimable.
Lacey believes it could profoundly affect Charles’s future kingship, especially in the Commonwealth countries – such as Australia and Canada – who may demand choice over their next monarch.
The interview represented “an enormous clash of cultures and values, a clash of generations, a psychological clash between the stiff upper lip and the wobbly lower chin”, Lacey said.
“Will young Australians, or Canadians, for example, want a King Charles III who refused to take calls from his son when he was in emotional distress?
“We have only heard their truth. There may be other truths. But, it will resonate as a truth for many people, certainly outside this country. And, I would have thought, for young people.”
But relations with the Queen seem much calmer. Harry denied accusations, which he believes may have been leaked by palace insiders, that they had “blindsided” the Queen by making public their intentions to step down as working royals. “No, I would never blindside my grandmother, I have too much respect for her,” he told Winfrey.
His closeness to the Queen has always been evident since the loss of his own mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. Some have suggested it is the Queen who stepped into the role of stepmother, and not the Duchess of Cornwall.
Meghan, too, spoke of their closeness to the monarch: she disclosed she had phoned to inquire about the health of Prince Philip, who is in hospital.
And, in all her official statements on the Sussexes’ departure, the Queen has always stressed they remained a loved and valued part of her family.
“[The interview] speaks to the closeness that does exist between the Queen, his grandmother, and Harry,’ said Lacey.
“The Queen’s statements have all reflected the duality of this; that she has a view of what the institution demands, and she has her personal sympathy with Harry. It’s quite clear that ambivalence was present in all her conversations with him.”
He added: “His safety net for saying something so explosive about his father was that he had built-in protection with his closeness to the Queen.”
On Prince William, Harry expressed his desire to repair his relationship with his brother, saying “the relationship is space at the moment” adding he “loved William to bits” but that they were on “different paths”.
However, Meghan’s comments that Kate had made her cry in a row over flower girls’ dresses before her wedding (and had since apologised), rather than the other way around, as previously reported, will do nothing to help heal the rift between the brothers.
We won’t, predicts Lacey, see Harry and Meghan on the palace balcony very soon.
“The issues raised here are going to reverberate for a long time, because they are more than about personalities. This is first-hand testimony to a dysfunctional family,” he said.