Despite division, there is a lesson to be learnt
The fallout from the Harry and Meghan interview continues for Buckingham Palace. But beyond the allegations the broadcast achieved something remarkable. The world over has been speaking about it and few have been left indifferent.
It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you sit on, this TV interview will be in the history books.
On Tuesday the Palace said race issues raised by the couple were “concerning” and would be addressed by the family privately. It was a short statement intended to end the conversation. But with other bombshell allegations dropped I suspect it’s not going away anytime soon.
More than 25 years after the BBC interview with Princess Diana it’s still much spoken about. Almost 23 million tuned in to watch it in November 1995.
One of the first journalists I met when I moved to the UK in 2016 was Steve Hewlett. I was very lucky to meet him. He was already ill with cancer and sadly passed away in 2017.
Editor of numerous current affairs programmes, including Panorama, he was the editor for the Diana interview. He always spoke proudly of his work and told me that on the evening of broadcast as they made the final edit on the programme he had looked out of the window at BBC Broadcasting House to see empty streets. No traffic. No pedestrians. It was then when the magnitude of what was about to play out hit him. Everyone had gone home to watch. Everyone.
The reasons for empty streets in recent months have been very different but it’s still remarkable that a scheduled TV event can still be an appointment to watch. This was not TikTok or some other modern craze. It was traditional television which reminds us the most important thing about the medium is content and storytelling.
17.3 million watched when it was broadcast on CBS on Sunday night and an average 11.3 million (peaking at more than 12 million) saw it on ITV on Monday night. That doesn’t take into account numbers for online viewing and catch up.
The global viewing figures will significantly add to that after deals were struck with 68 countries with many in Gibraltar watching it on ITV or online.
I’m not going to review the interview – others have already done that. Some extremely eloquently, others less so.
The global fascination is interesting. In Europe it will also be watched by viewers in Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Croatia, Ireland, The Netherlands, Iceland and Germany.
Viewers in Australia, New Zealand and Canada will also be able to tune in as well as 50 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s not necessarily the appeal the royal couple has that's attracted so much interest. It’s because audiences buy into drama. This was also about an insight into the monarchy, “the institution” as they call it.
You will have your own views on what they revealed.
One of the accusations that doesn’t look good for the palace is the alleged refusal to provide the Duchess of Sussex help when she considered taking her own life. She told Oprah "I just didn't want to be alive anymore.”
The comment prompted a tsunami of reactions, including from outspoken Meghan critic Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain. Broadcasting regulator Ofcom received more than 40 thousand complaints and has now launched an investigation under their harm and offence rules.
By Tuesday evening ITV had announced Piers Morgan was leaving the programme. In a statement, even shorter than the one by Buckingham Palace, it said it had accepted the decision and had nothing further to add.
There was quick speculation in media circles he would be moving to one of the other new TV channels being set up in the UK but it was clear his position had become untenable. In the wake of two deaths from Love Island stars and Caroline Flack’s death the broadcaster committed to a new “duty of care.”
Many on social media also accused Meghan of lying or being exaggerated about feeling suicidal.
The charity Mind applauded her for speaking out about her suicidal experiences and slammed the TV presenter saying “it’s vital that when people reach out for support or share their experiences of ill mental health that they are treated with dignity, respect and empathy.”
The charity says that in recent years we “have seen encouraging and significant improvements in attitudes towards those of us experiencing mental health problems” and that “we can’t afford to lose momentum now; there is still much to be done when it comes to making sure that no one faces a mental health problem alone.”
It finds that when high profile individuals speak publicly about their own mental health problems, it can help inspire others to do the same.
There are many issues raised by Meghan in the interview. You don’t have to agree with her and people are clearly divided over it. But it’s always vital that anyone who feels they want to speak out about their mental health knows they will be believed. That if anything must be the lesson from all this.
It’s been a taboo subject for far too long.
Anyone in Gibraltar who needs confidential emotional support can call GibSams on freephone 116123.