When Meghan Markle spoke about her struggles and made shocking accusations about the royal family in her and Prince Harry's interview with Oprah Winfrey, many viewers drew parallels to his late mother Princess Diana and her own televised bombshell tell-all.
However, one royal expert is hesitant to make such a comparison. According to Pauline Maclaran, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Research at Royal Holloway, University of London and co-author of the book Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture, Diana's famous interview with Martin Bashir on BBC's Panorama in 1995 made more of an impact on viewers in her native the United Kingdom than Oprah's tell-all with the Duke and Duchess, who have always drawn more support from fans in Meghan's native the United States. The couple moved there in summer 2020 following their royal exit.
"I don't think the [Meghan and Harry] interview can be really rated in a similar way to the Diana interview, which really turned the public very much against the royal family here," Pauline said. "When Diana did her interviews, that was after they had suffered many other things during that period, so that was a sort of culminating scandal or the culmination of a series of scandals, really. This time, I think it's just not quite the same and particularly because Harry and Meghan had already left."
In her 1995 interview, Diana broke her silence about her separation from Harry's father Prince Charles and rumors of infidelity, saying, "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded," referring to his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. The two went on to marry in 2005.
"Harry and Meghan are slightly more peripheral," Pauline told E! News. "Diana was central in that she would have been expected to be queen had she stayed married to Prince Charles and is more connected with the immediate heir to the throne. So, his whole personal life being revealed and hers, it was in a sense a lot more sordid as well, with all the details about love, betrayal and the 'three of us in the marriage' and all these things, whereas the Harry and Meghan is different, really, in that respect. Harry is not an immediate heir to the throne and they have left."
She added, "Meghan hasn't been around as long as Diana and she's not the mother of future kings."
The duchess is pregnant with her and Harry's second child, who they revealed to Oprah is a girl. The two are parents to 23-month-old son Archie Harrison. On the CBS special, which aired in March, Meghan told Oprah that before he was born, she learned the royal family didn't want the couple's first baby "to be a prince or princess." She then shocked viewers further by saying, "In those months when I was pregnant, all around this same time, so we have in tandem the conversation of, you won't be given security, not gonna be given a title and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born."
Neither she nor Harry identified the family member who allegedly made this remark. Oprah later clarified to viewers that Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip did not take part in the royal family conversations that the duchess mentioned.
Following the airing of Meghan and Harry's interview, the queen said in a statement "The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members."
"You could say that Harry and Meghan's interview has maybe been quite a disaster for the royal family, but as far as Harry and Meghan go, it has probably very successfully launched them as the rebel brands in terms of their U.S. audience," Pauline told E! News. "And in terms of the future success of [their nonprofit organization] Archewell and that side, so it's not necessarily a disaster for Harry and Meghan, I wouldn't think."
Pauline also said that she thinks the couple's interview was most damaging for the image of Charles, as the direct heir to the throne, saying, "one of the very hurtful things that did come out of the interview where Harry said that Charles stopped taking his phone calls."
The Duke of Sussex told Oprah that he had two phone conversations with his father about his and Meghan's plans to step down as senior royals before the Prince of Wales stopped taking his calls for a while, after which they got back in touch.
"At the moment, I don't think the institution is threatened, but if Charles' image starts to deteriorate again, that's when it will impact the institution because his popularity is always a little bit fragile," Pauline said. "Normally in the popularity surveys...William is hugely popular and many people would like to see him and Kate [Middleton] become king and queen, rather than Charles and Camilla. Well, of course, that that can't happen. Charles has to really strive to be seen as a future king, and to achieve popularity, really. I think in turn, this could threaten the institution, eventually."