Britain’s royal family and television have a complicated relationship. The medium has helped define the modern monarchy: The 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was Britain’s first mass TV spectacle. Since then, rare interviews have given a glimpse behind palace curtains at the all-too-human family within. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

Britain’s royal family and television have a complicated relationship. The medium has helped define the modern monarchy: The 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was Britain’s first mass TV spectacle. Since then, rare interviews have given a glimpse behind palace curtains at the all-too-human family within. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

From Princess Di to Meghan: the complicated relationship between UK royals and TV

Rare interviews have given a glimpse behind palace curtains at the all-too-human family within

Britain’s royal family and television have a complicated relationship.

The medium has helped define the modern monarchy: The 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was Britain’s first mass TV spectacle. Since then, rare interviews have given a glimpse behind palace curtains at the all-too-human family within. The fictionalized take of Netflix hit “The Crown” has moulded views of the monarchy for a new generation, though in ways the powerful, image-conscious royal family can’t control.

“The story of the royal family is a constructed narrative, just like any other story,” said Phil Harrison, author of “The Age of Static: How TV Explains Modern Britain.”

And it’s a story that has changed as Britain moved from an age of deference to an era of modern social mores and ubiquitous social media.

“The royals, particularly the younger royals, have moved from the realm of state apparatus to the realm of celebrity culture in recent decades,” Harrison said. “That’s worked well for them up to a point — but celebrity culture takes as well as gives and is notoriously fickle.”

So anticipation and apprehension are both high ahead of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan — the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — a year after they walked away from official royal life, citing what they described as the intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media toward the duchess, who is biracial. A clip released by CBS ahead of Sunday’s broadcast shows Meghan, a former TV star, appearing to suggest the royal family was “perpetuating falsehoods” about her and Harry.

A look at some other major royal television moments, and their impact:

PRINCESS DIANA

The 1981 wedding of 32-year-old Prince Charles and 20-year-old Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul’s Cathedral was a fairy-tale spectacle watched by an estimated 750 million people around the world.

But the relationship soon soured. The couple separated in 1992, and in 1995 Diana gave a candid interview to the BBC’s Martin Bashir, discussing the pressure of media scrutiny and the breakdown of her marriage.

“There were three of us in that marriage,” Diana said, referring to Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

The interview prompted a wave of sympathy for Diana, seen by many as a woman failed by an uncaring, out-of-touch royal establishment — a pattern some say has repeated itself with Meghan.

Charles and Diana divorced in 1996; Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris the following year, triggering intense public mourning and a period of reflection for the monarchy, which has since tried to appear more modern and relatable — with mixed results.

___

PRINCE ANDREW

The biggest scandal to engulf the family in decades stems from the friendship between the queen’s second son, Andrew, and wealthy convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who died in a New York jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.

One woman who says she was a victim of Epstein alleges she had sex with Andrew when she was 17, a claim the prince denies.

The prince tried to undo the damage by giving an interview to the BBC’s “Newsnight” program in November 2019. It backfired spectacularly. Andrew appeared uncomfortable and evasive, and failed to convey empathy for those who say they were exploited by Epstein, even as he defended his friendship with the man.

He called Epstein’s behaviour “unbecoming,” a term interviewer Emily Maitlis suggested was an understatement.

Charlie Proctor, editor of the Royal Central website, said at the time that the interview was “a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion-level bad.”

After the interview, Andrew announced he was “stepping back” from public duties. He has not returned.

___

SARAH, DUCHESS OF YORK

Like Diana before her and Meghan since, Sarah Ferguson was a young woman who had a bruising collision with the royal family.

She was initially welcomed as a breath of fresh air for the stuffy royals when she wed Prince Andrew in 1986. But she quickly became a tabloid target, dubbed “Freeloading Fergie” for allegedly scooping up freebies and spending more time vacationing than performing public duties.

Some saw snobbery in coverage of a woman who, before and after her marriage, worked for a living and was open about her problems with weight, relationships and money.

After her 1996 divorce, the duchess used television to speak out — frequently. She appeared on Winfrey’s show in 1996, saying palace life was “not a fairy tale.” She spoke to Winfrey again in 2010 after being caught on video offering access to her ex-husband for $724,000. The duchess said she had been drinking and was trying to help a friend who needed money. The following year she appeared in her own reality show, “Finding Sarah,” on Winfrey’s OWN network.

The duchess was not invited to the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, in what was widely seen as a royal snub.

___

“THE CROWN”

It may be fiction, but Netflix’s “The Crown” is the most influential depiction of the royals in years. Over four seasons that have covered Elizabeth’s reign up to the 1980s, its portrait of a dutiful queen, prickly Prince Philip, oversensitive Prince Charles and the rest of the clan has brought the royal soap opera to a new generation.

It is widely seen as helping the royals by humanizing them, though British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden suggested it should come with a warning that it’s drama, not history.

Prince Harry has defended the show — while underscoring that it’s fiction — telling TV host James Corden that he was “way more comfortable with ‘The Crown’ than I am seeing stories written about my family or my wife.”

Now Harry and Meghan are getting their chance to tell their story. It’s a high-stakes strategy, especially since the interview is airing as 99-year-old Prince Philip, Harry’s grandfather, in a London hospital after a heart procedure — timing critics have called insensitive.

“I think this particular interview, like so many of those interviews, is going to do a great deal more harm to Harry and Meghan than anything to do with the British monarchy,” said royal historian Hugo Vickers.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Traffic heading south on Highway 17 and looking to turn left onto Beacon Avenue wait for the light to turn Tuesday morning. A report finds the intersection is experiencing “failing levels of service” for certain movements during the morning peak hours as well as the afternoon peak hours. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Major Sidney intersection already deficient predicted to get worse

New report also finds area’s pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in need of improvement

An employee at Sidney’s Thrifty Foods tested positive for COVID-19, the parent company Sobeys posted on its website Wednesday. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
COVID-19 case reported at Sidney grocery store

Thrifty Foods employee last worked at the store April 3

This property, at 1980 Fairfield Place, is adjoined to Gonzales Hill Park and is the centre of community opposition and a B.C. Supreme Court case as owners are looking to build a single-family home on the lot. Jake Romphf/News Staff
Home construction near Victoria’s Gonzales Hill Park spurs legal battle

Gonzales Hill Preservation Society worried about impacts to the park’s wildlife, rare fauna, views

The Latoria South section of the Royal Bay development in Colwood could include a new long-term care facility. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood’s Royal Bay could be home to new long-term care facilities

Capital Regional Hospital District board approves $8M land purchase for purpose

The artist rendered Sadie with a few more ribs and wrinkles than she had in real life, and with the fading of her paint she looks a little sad. But real-life Sadie was an energetic hunting dog, her owner Cliff Curtis said. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Dog sculpture at Glen Lake Park based off a happy hunting hound

Sadie the dog was not as old as the concrete art looks almost 20 years later

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you have a plan in place in the event of a tsunami?

Tsunamis have claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people between 1998… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 13

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Legendary broadcaster Bernie Pascall is among in the Class of 2021 to be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. (PQB News file photo)
Island broadcasting legend Bernie Pascall named to Canadian Football Hall of Fame

Pascall named by Football Reporters of Canada as inductee in the 2021 class in the media category

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

A deep cut on a humpback whale is shown in this recent handout photo in the Vancouver area. A conservation organization is warning boaters to be extra careful to prevent further harm to an injured humpback whale swimming in the Vancouver area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Ocean Wise, Vanessa Prigollini *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Boaters urged to use caution around hurt humpback off Vancouver

Ocean Wise says watchers first noticed the wound 3 days ago and believe it was caused by a vessel strike

Ron Rauch and his wife Audrey are photographed at their home in Victoria, Friday, March 5, 2021. Their daughter Lisa Rauch died on Christmas Day 2019 when a tactical officer with the Victoria Police Department shot her in the back of the head with plastic bullets after barricading herself in a room that was on fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. families push for changes as special committee examines provincial Police Act

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged the need to update the legislation last year

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Most Read