LONDON (Reuters) – Prince William denied on Thursday that Britain’s royals were racist after Meghan, wife of his younger brother Harry, said one unnamed member of the family had asked how dark their son Archie’s skin might be.
Meghan, 39, made the allegation during an explosive tell-all interview that she and Harry, 36, gave to Oprah Winfrey and which was aired on Sunday, plunging the British monarchy into its biggest crisis since the 1997 death of Princess Diana, William and Harry’s mother.
On a visit to a school in east London, William said he had not talked to Harry since the interview was broadcast just over three days ago.
“I haven’t spoken to him yet but I will do,” William, 38, said.
Asked by a reporter if the royal family was racist, William said: “We’re very much not a racist family.”
In the two-hour show, nearly three years after their star-studded wedding in Windsor Castle, Meghan said the royals had ignored her pleas for help while she felt suicidal.
Harry said his father, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, had let him down and that he had felt trapped.
On Tuesday, Buckingham Palace issued a statement on behalf of 94-year-old Queen Elizabeth, the princes’ grandmother, in which she said the family were saddened by how challenging the couple had found the last few years.
But it was the couple’s accusation that one of the royals had made a racist comment which has dominated coverage and has the potential to cause lasting damage to the 1,000-year-old monarchy.
WHO SAID IT?
Meghan, whose mother is Black and father is white, said while she was pregnant with Archie there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”
Neither she nor Harry said who had made the remark, although Winfrey later clarified that Harry had said it was not the queen or her 99-year-old husband Philip, who has been in hospital for three weeks while the crisis unfolds.
“That conversation, I’m never going to share,” Harry said during the interview. “But at the time, it was awkward. I was a bit shocked.”
In the statement from the queen, the palace said issues of race were concerning and would be treated very seriously, but pointedly stated “some recollections may vary”. The Palace has said that it was a family matter that should be dealt with privately.
The interview, watched by 12.4 million viewers in Britain and 17.1 million in the United States, has proved divisive among the British public.
For some, Meghan’s accusations confirmed their belief that the monarchy is an outdated and intolerant institution, while others decried it as a self-serving assault that neither Elizabeth nor her family deserved.
The crisis over Meghan and Harry comes a year after his uncle Prince Andrew was forced to quit royal duties following a disastrous TV interview to explain his friendship with late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in a U.S. prison while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Polls show the division has fallen mainly down generational lines, with those aged over 65 backing the queen and the senior royals, while younger people supported Harry and Meghan.
The divided response – part of what commentators say is a wider “culture war” waging on social and traditional media – was exemplified by reactions to pugnacious presenter Piers Morgan losing his high-profile breakfast TV slot after saying he did not believe Meghan.
His remarks had attracted 41,000 complaints to Britain’s media regulator.
The couple, who quit their royal roles to move to California last year, have also spoken out about what they say is press reporting tainted by racism, and Harry said his family had failed to call out “colonial undertones” in articles.
“That hurts, but I also am acutely aware of where my family stand and how scared they are of the tabloids turning on them,” Harry, who said the tabloids’ behaviour was a major reasons why he had left Britain, told Winfrey.
The couple’s criticism of the media prompted a rebuttal from the Society of Editors, which represents many of the tabloids, saying it was “not acceptable” for the couple to make claims of racism in the press “without supporting evidence”.
However, its head, Ian Murray, stepped down over those comments after being accused of trying to defend racism, which he denied.
Also worryingly for the monarchy in the long term, surveys have indicated that the popularity of the Elizabeth’s heir Charles, 72, has also fallen amid the crisis.
During the interview, Harry also laid bare how distant he had become from the other members of his family, saying his father had stopped taking his calls at one point, and that there was “space” in his relationship with William.
“Much will continue to be said about that … as I said before, you know, I love William to bits, he’s my brother, we’ve been through hell together and we have a shared experience,” he said. “But we’re on different paths.”