As we arise from our beds this Saturday morning, the world does not yet know what galaxy-destroying revelations will be detonated when the much-chewed-over tête-à-tête between Meghan Markle and Oprah Winfrey is broadcast to 68 countries tomorrow night. Anyone looking for insights will have to make do by guessing the context of Winfrey’s overwrought responses in the interview’s trailer. “Almost unsurvivable!” she gasps at one point. “You’ve said some pretty shocking things here!”
How shocking are we talking? Again, nobody knows. But it has made Buckingham Palace jumpy enough to launch a pre-emptive response to what they must imagine Meghan will say about life in the Firm. All week, the British press has been breathlessly relaying accounts from a brace of Palace staff who have trembled before Meghan’s wrath.
The meat of the accusations comes from a group that’s been called the “Sussex Survivors’ Club,” made up, partially, of aides who ran screaming from the Palace after allegedly being subjected to Meghan’s dismissiveness and endless demands. The claims came to light after an old e-mail resurfaced, written by the Sussexes’ then communications secretary, Jason Knauf, in 2018.
“I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two P.A.s out of the household in the past year,” Knauf wrote to Prince William’s private secretary. “The Duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying [name redacted] and seeking to undermine her confidence…. I questioned if the Household policy on bullying and harassment applies to principles.” Through a spokesperson, the duchess denies the allegations of bullying.
A report in The Times contained a seemingly comprehensive list of confrontations, with Palace staff—and, on one occasion, Kate Middleton—sometimes reduced to tears by Meghan’s behavior. The Daily Mail’s Rebecca English also reported that one member of the staff had “sobbed down the phone” to her after a “particularly harrowing day” and “clearly felt emotionally broken.” She also points out that all the victims of Meghan’s alleged bullying were women. “People have been broken by this, genuinely so. Absolutely traumatized,” an insider told her.
Ironically, although Knauf’s e-mail made it all the way to H.R., some are suggesting that the lack of a formal response on the part of the Palace signals a cover-up. In other words, the claims were overlooked to help preserve Meghan’s public reputation.
Although many specifics are left vague, possibly for fear of identifying the victims, the Sussexes’ 2018 trip to Fiji has come under particularly close scrutiny. This is, in part, because after seeing branding for U.N. Women, an organization she had come to have reservations about, Meghan was so affronted that she subsequently visibly upset an aide. The duchess denies the source’s claims about the event. It is also because Meghan wore a pair of earrings that Kensington Palace claimed were “borrowed,” despite actually having been a wedding gift from Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
It’s nasty stuff, and starkly at odds with the Sussexes’ tendency to self-identify as barefoot, sub-Goop empaths who amplify universal compassion while shooting rainbows from the palms of their hands. However, it does seem slightly strange that the bulk of the accusations have landed at the feet of Meghan, when anyone capable of reading between the lines would have noticed that Harry was often just as much of a destructive brat.
The meat of the accusations comes from a group that’s been called the “Sussex Survivors’ Club.”
Nevertheless, so numerous were the accusations that Buckingham Palace has now launched an official investigation into her alleged bullying. “The royal household has had a dignity at work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace,” it said in a statement.
If these accusations sound familiar, it’s because they do seem to fit the profile of Meghan, who appears to be a bit too pushy and a bit too sensitive in equal measure. Last year, the New York Post’s “Page Six” claimed that Meghan had a habit of holding up production on her TV show Suits whenever she felt like she wasn’t the star. “She was always having to be coaxed out of her dressing room during promotional shoots because she didn’t think she looked pretty enough, or her outfit wasn’t right,” a source told the publication. “There were always tears. Every time.” Meghan did not respond to the Post’s request for comment. A videographer also referred to her as “very high maintenance and rude” and “difficult and demanding” in the Daily Mail.
As usual, this week’s reports were blasted into smithereens by Meghan’s trigger-happy legal team, who increasingly seem to be basing their entire methodology on that of Baghdad Bob. “Let’s just call this what it is—a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation,” her lawyer’s fingers snapped at The Times in response.
Harry was often just as much of a destructive brat.
“The Duchess is saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma. She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good.”
Certainly, holes do deserve to be picked in some of the Palace’s claims. Wearing Mohammed bin Salman’s earrings is plainly a tone-deaf move; even before he was expressly linked to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, you didn’t have to be a genius to realize that he was Maybe Not Such a Great Guy.
That said, Buckingham Palace should probably go back and re-read that saying about stones and glass houses. After all, not only was it revealed this week that a full sixth of the racehorses carrying the Queen’s silks last year were given to her by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Dubai ruler with an unsettling propensity for imprisoning members of his own family, but if the royal family as a whole were to remove all the accessories acquired under the auspices of less than perfect morality, the Queen would have to resort to wearing a bankruptcy barrel like someone from a Depression-era newspaper cartoon.
Still, the Palace is probably right to be a bit tetchy about this weekend’s interview, because Oprah is anything but an impartial inquisitor. She was a guest at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, for example, invited after meeting the pair only once. Even before the ceremony had begun, Oprah welcomed Meghan’s mother into her house to practice yoga and lavished her with kumquats from her personal tree, in an effort to score an exclusive interview. (Oprah denies this last part.) When the couple released a video of their young son on his first birthday, he was reading a book given to him by Oprah, complete with a bespoke “Archie’s Book Club” sticker. And let’s not forget that Oprah was willing to shill for Meghan’s super-latte start-up on Instagram. As interviews go, this is bound to be less Frost/Nixon and more Frost/Frost’s Best Friends Forever.
One thing is certain, though. This is all just the start. You might suspect that the Oprah interview was conducted in order to draw a line beneath the mess of Megxit. However, given the febrile, thin-skinned environment it’s being released into—and given the results of recent royal interviews—there’s a good chance that the troubles are just beginning.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for Air Mail