Meghan and Harry's Oprah interview: Princess Diana's significance

By Megan Lawton
Newsbeat reporter

  • Published
Separate photos of Meghan Markle and Diana, Princess of WalesImage source, Getty Images

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex's explosive Oprah interview was significant for many reasons - and one of them was the number of times Prince Harry's mum, Princess Diana, was mentioned.

Meghan Markle said she spoke to one of Diana's friends about the pressures of joining the Royal Family, "because it's like who else could understand what it's actually like on the inside?"

Similarities were drawn between their experiences of being in the Royal Family.

Prince Harry said he had feared history was "repeating itself" before he and Meghan stepped back from their roles as senior royals.

And it's not the first time he's compared some tabloid coverage of his wife to the way in which Diana was treated.

Two sides to the press coverage

Princess Diana was considered to be one of the most famous women in the world and often written about in the newspapers - with both her charity work and private life making headlines.

"Diana became a royal icon unlike any other. She was globally recognised and internationally famous," royal author Katie Nicholl tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

But, Katie adds, the attention she received wasn't always positive.

"Diana was criticised in the press. She was the most famous person in the world and the paparazzi were a constant presence in the lives of Prince William and Harry".

Image source, Getty Images
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Royal author Katie Nicholl says Princess Diana was "frequently followed" by paparazzi

Journalist James Brookes agrees.

"At times she had a very good relationship with the press and they were on her side. At other times she complained about the media for being intrusive. It was a mixed relationship."

In later years Diana gave personal interviews to the press that led some to say she was encouraging the publicity and attention.

Meghan shut down her personal blog when she joined the Royal Family and the majority of her interviews before this one were about her charity work.

Although Katie points out some people believe Meghan and Harry are contradicting themselves.

'Questioning the quiet life'

In January 2020, the couple said they would step back from senior royal duties after struggling with the media spotlight. They moved to Canada and then California and it was recently announced they won't return to the UK as working members of the Royal Family.

But Katie says they have "revealed more about their lives now [since moving to America] than they ever did whilst in the UK".

Since stepping back from Royal duties, the couple have launched a Spotify podcast, signed a deal with Netflix and given interviews to James Corden and Oprah Winfrey.

"People are questioning a couple who moved because they wanted a quiet life, thinking, 'Why are they courting James Corden and Oprah Winfrey and revealing details about their son?'" adds Katie.

"The idea about escaping Britain and the media spotlight doesn't ring true with a lot of people who are seeing more of Harry and Meghan than they ever did when they were in the UK."

Harry told Oprah that the Netflix and Spotify deals were never part of the plan, but his family had "literally cut me off financially" in early 2020.

Princess Diana's death and the paparazzi

Image source, Getty Images
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"Wherever she went there were huge amounts of journalists and photographers covering her every move"

"Wherever she went there were huge amounts of journalists and photographers covering her every move," says James Brookes.

James believes Prince Harry's opinion of the media goes back to when Princess Diana died.

"A lot of Harry and William's perspective of the media is tainted by [their mother's death] because in their eyes their mother was hounded by the paparazzi," he says.

Princess Diana died in a car crash in a road tunnel in Paris on 31 August 1997. Prince Harry was 12 at the time.

The driver - Henri Paul - had been drinking and the car was being followed by paparazzi on motorbikes.

An inquest later found Diana had been unlawfully killed as result of the "gross negligence" of the driver and the paparazzi.

In a 2017 BBC documentary, Prince Harry spoke about his mother's death and the role of the paparazzi.

"I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with, is the fact that, the people that chased her into the tunnel, were the same people taking photographs of her dying on the back seat of the car."

Negative coverage

Image source, Getty Images
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Prince Harry says the way Meghan is treated by tabloid press is "bullying"

Despite Prince Harry's statement in October 2019, Katie believes "Meghan isn't followed or chased by the paparazzi in the way Diana was".

However she thinks the prince is clearly fed up with the stories which criticise Meghan.

"He's attacking the journalists who he believes are constantly fuelling the negative narrative about his wife.

"There have been numerous negative stories about spending. Including the cost of renovating their house which has been met by taxpayers' money."

This money - £2.4m - was later repaid by the couple.

"There's also the cost of the Duchess of Sussex's designer outfits, which have gone into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

"There were separate stories around the wedding. The rumours of Meghan wanting air fresheners in St George's chapel. The rumoured tiara tantrum. The rumoured upset between Meghan and Kate at a bridesmaid fitting for Princess Charlotte."

Meghan told Oprah the reverse was true about the dress fitting before her wedding.

"A few days before the wedding [Kate] was upset about the flower girl dresses and it made me cry," Meghan said. She said Kate later apologised and brought flowers and a note to make amends.

She said Kate was "a good person" and hoped that she would have wanted the false stories corrected.

'She's used to being in the public spotlight'

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Katie says the prince "is very protective of Meghan"

Some people say Meghan should expect attention because, unlike Princess Diana, she was a celebrity before marrying Harry. That's something Katie disagrees with.

"I think even though she had a celebrity lifestyle before, I don't think it compares to being in the Royal Family.

"Yes she had celebrity status but she wasn't an A-list actress, like Angelina Jolie or Nicole Kidman. She's said this herself, she's never experienced this level of public scrutiny."

She adds: "I think Meghan has come under just as much scrutiny as any other member of the Royal family. People have short memories, but the Duchess of Cambridge also had a rough time in the tabloids."

The difficulty, Katie says, is that there is a clear public interest in the couple but there is a line about what is acceptable.

"It's the job of the press to report on the Royal Family, but it has to be fair and has to be impartial."

A version of this article appeared on 9 January 2020.

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