Arabella Byrne

The perils of the royal interview

The perils of the royal interview
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Image: Getty)
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Imagine, if you will, that there existed a television interview with Henry VIII. Sprawled in one of his Royal palaces with the interviewer nervously perched amongst the discarded chicken bones and giant dogs, what would he say? Would he be repentant about the beheadings, the adultery, the abject violence? Would he make us believe that his quest for an heir lay rooted in a deep and fervent respect for his bloodline? Definitely not. For the Tudors were monarchy proper; mysterious and shadowy, sheathed in transcendence. Monarchy before the mystery was replaced by the dull sheen of celebrity and its Instagram accounts, television interviews, zoom appearances and podcasts.

News that Harry and Meghan will be interviewed by their close friend and California neighbour, Oprah Winfrey, invites several questions. The first of which must surely be why, when they have begged us, nay implored, us to stop looking at them are they once again inviting our attention? If you’re confused, don’t be. It’s quite simple. The Sussexes seem happy to put themselves in the public eye on their terms alone, controlling the narrative as tightly as a cavalry bridle. 

But this isn’t the first time they’ve been in front of the cameras and it won’t be the last. There was the Tom Bradby interview shortly before their defection from Royal life, when Meghan tearfully explained her experience of early motherhood, reminding us that having a newborn baby was 'a very real thing to have going on behind the scenes' (pro-tip: make sure the nanny is out of shot when you say this). Then there were the various broadcasts on 'hate speech' and 'love' but these can’t be cast as interviews proper, more announcements from their court.

Before they sit on Oprah’s couch let’s hope they’ve brushed up on the protocol and heeded the innumerable and catastrophic mistakes made by Harry’s relations. First up, never, ever, mention pizza or use pizza-eating as an alibi for your defence. For all the furore surrounding Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview, the most memorable parts were his spectacular 'Prince-splaining' moments: pizza in Woking, shooting parties at Sandringham, and of course sweating. Fergie’s 1996 Oprah interview may be the closest they get to a dress-rehearsal and let’s hope they watch this in advance if only to marvel at The Duchess of York’s ability to refer to herself in the third person for over twenty minutes before bursting into tears on the subject of 'perfection'. They may of course treat this as a masterclass in interview technique and wish to emulate her.

In another section of the pre-interview handbook, there are the infamous Charles and Diana interviews. Where to start? Admitting to adultery on air is ill-advised but this surely won’t apply. We can, I think, rule out the possibility that Oprah has tricked them into appearing on her show through corruption, subterfuge, and some poorly faked bank statements from their staff, a la Martin Bashir but they must remain alert. Part of the power of the Panorama Diana interview was her positioning in the middle of a vast room on a small chair, literally cast adrift amongst the impersonal trappings of power. Oprah’s set-up is far cosier and bouncier (if Tom Cruise is any measure) and Meghan will only be alone for the first act.

Although the Sussexes will reputedly pay a heavy levy for their time on the couch (the removal of their royal patronages for starters), they are not the first in their line to flirt with the cameras. Didn't Prince Philip purportedly welcome the film crews in with open arms to the Coronation and latterly to the royals' private quarters? Didn’t Harry’s parents court the lens as much as they repudiated it? The royal dance with the cameras started long before Harry’s time, but he is as powerless to resist it as the others. 

Perhaps, in the twenty-first century this is what we ask of our monarchs; the gradual removal of the scaffolding of power and mystery in order that we may move closer towards them. One thing is for certain; the interview will be tedious and cliché-ridden, designed for American sensibilities alone. I would far rather watch an interview with Henry VIII, not that he would ever have agreed to it of course.