Silence 'not an option' for Buckingham Palace over Harry and Meghan
Analysis: royal expert says issues of mental health and alleged racism and alleged bullying can’t be ignored
As Buckingham Palace, no doubt still reeling from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s allegations on mental health and racism, considers its response, history should have taught that silence is not an option, said one royal expert.
More than 24 hours after the Oprah Winfrey interview was broadcast in the US, senior royal aides had still not broken cover amid calls for an investigation into the couple’s claims.
The palace’s reaction will be a seen as a test of whether lessons were learned from the mishandling of the crisis after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
“The palace in the past had been very loath to come up with a knee-jerk reaction; very often they thought ‘don’t talk about it and it will go away’,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine.
“But clearly, when you are talking about mental health, alleged racism and alleged bullying, you can’t dismiss them. There are some things you can leave to one side, but these are not issues that can possibly be ignored, and a response does need to be made, just to make people aware it is being taken seriously.”
The Queen’s perceived silence in the days immediately after Diana’s death led to a furious backlash against the monarchy, with accusations of heartlessness.
While Tony Blair paid public tribute to the “people’s princess”, and flowers carpeted the entrance to Kensington Palace, there was just one short statement from the palace. Issued just hours after the Paris crash, it shared the Queen and Prince Philip’s “deep distress” at the “terrible news” and said other members of the royal family were being informed of the death.
Newspaper headlines screamed: “Show us you care”. But, it was not until the eve of Diana’s funeral that the palace sprang into action, with a highly personalised television address by the Queen.
Back then, it demonstrated the danger of silence, of leaving a vacuum to be filled by a narrative even more damaging to the institution.
“After Diana’s death, there was a huge backlash; some really sensational headlines followed between Diana’s death and funeral. That stirred people up. The people read these things and they regard the royal family as heartless,” said Little.
“Of course, we now know that the Queen, with the best of intentions, was keeping the boys [William and Harry] at Balmoral to protect them. But that was one of the rare mistakes of the Queen’s reign; not to react a bit more positively, not to be a bit more reactive to it.
“I think that won’t happen again. I think the palace will respond.”
The fact that allegations last week were made that Buckingham Palace failed to act over bullying claims against Meghan made in 2018 in relation to her alleged treatment of staff, leaves the institution in a difficult position if it does not respond. Only now has it announced a full investigation into those claims.
“It means the supposition is that so much will be just swept under the carpet and they will move on,” said Little.
“But I cannot think that will be the case this time.
“Quite how they follow this up is very hard to predict. I certainly don’t think they will strip Harry and Meghan of their titles. I think that would just be seen as spiteful. And it would be the wrong thing to do.”