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Television by royal appointment: 12 best interviews from Prince Andrew to Princess Diana

As the world waits to hear Meghan and Harry’s post-Megxit interview with Oprah, Sean O’Grady looks back on the best royal moments on the box so far

Tuesday 09 March 2021 11:49 GMT

Harry and Meghan’s bombshell interview with American TV host Oprah Winfrey has sent shockwaves around the world, with the couple making a series of startling revelations set to be talked about for many years to come. But this is far from the first time a royal interview has made headlines.

It was 19th-century journalist and expert on the British constitution, Walter Bagehot, who warned in the — perhaps now overused quote — that monarchy and publicity don’t always mix. “Above all things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you cannot reverence it … Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic”. 

Of course this reverence and magic came long before 1993, when the British public could now listen to Prince Charles speak of his wish to be a tampon, so desperate was his desire to be inside the trousers of not-yet-wife Camilla Parker Bowles. This bizarre outburst by the heir apparent – which, to her credit, Camilla responded “you’re an idiot” – was not the only embarrassing recording or broadcast that the Windsors have been subject to.

Tampongate might not have been intended for public consumption, but even the organised appearances haven’t always been majestic. Prince Andrew’s excruciating Woking-Pizza Express-not-sweaty-nightclub-themed Newsnight interview springs to mind. As does Princess Diana’s infamous Panorama episode with Martin Bashir, which aired endless dirty laundry. Or Sarah Ferguson’s 2010 interview (also with Oprah), in which she ended up speaking about herself in the third person. On balance, Bagehot might have been right. 

Along with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s appearance on stateside television, The Independent looks back at more of the best royal telly moments over the years.

1. Harry and Meghan speak to Oprah (2021)

The couple’s first joint sit-down interview since stepping down from the royal family was never going to go quietly. But few expected the degree with with Harry and Meghan would open up to Winfrey about their experiences.

During the interview, Harry and Meghan made a series of startling claims about their lives in the royal family, including that Meghan contemplated suicide in the wake of her marriage. However, after trying to seek support from palace officials, Meghan claimed she was refused due to “how it would look”.

Elsewhere in the interview, Meghan also revealed that in the months leading up to the birth of their son, there were “concerns and conversations” not only about whether Archie would be given a royal title but also “how dark” his “skin might be when he is born.” She said the concerns were relayed to her through Harry but declined to share who made the comments, adding: “I think that would be very damaging to them.”

Oprah later revealed that Harry had told her that the Queen and Prince Philip were not involved in those conversations.

The interview was watched by 11.1 million viewers, and hit a peak of 12.4 million, giving it second highest ratings of 2021 so far.

2. Diana’s interview with Martin Bashir on BBC Panorama(1995)

“There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”. What a magnificently casual way to confirm to an aghast public that not only was your marriage over, but long-whispered rumours about adultery and infidelity were indeed true. In November 1995, some 22.8 million viewers settled down to listen to the searing account of how the fairytale marriage of Charles ‘n’ Di, 14 years before, had soon turned into a nightmare for all concerned.

No one had ever heard a royal talk this candidly, but the Princess of Wales did. Not only about her marriage but about her eating disorder (bulimia), her affair with James Hewitt (“yes, I loved him and I idolised him. I was in a very bad way”), about self-harm and about being utterly alone and friendless, almost a prisoner princess.

She hardly needed the big doe eyes to win the public’s sympathy, though the nation was divided into pro-Charles and pro-Diana camps. Even now the interview remains controversial, with recent allegations that the then relatively unknown Bashir had used subterfuge to gain access.

3. Jonathan Dimbleby interviews Prince Charles in Charles: The Private Man, The Public Face (1994)

Some of Charles’s friends say that he was duped into this venture by the argument that the truth about his failed marriage was going to come out sooner or later, and he might as well get ahead. In any case the long PR-exercise scenes in the interview, documenting his interest in architecture, charity work and dedication to the Commonwealth, were totally eclipsed by the headline-grabbing snippets during which he fessed up to being unfaithful, though he maintained he was faithful “until it became clear that the marriage had irretrievably broken down”.

Admittedly the princess fired the first rounds in this firefight when she helped Andrew Morton write Diana: Her True Story, but that would have remained semi-deniable, had Charles not admitted it. And if Charles hadn’t admitted it, then Diana might not have helped Bashir make a name for himself.

The Independent’s pick of royal interviews throughout the decades

4. Emily Maitlis interviews Prince Andrew on BBC Newsnight(2019)

If David Brent had been royal, then this is what would have happened. By turns squalid and unintentionally hilarious, Prince Andrew apparently ignored the Palace and some of his own advisers and decided that only he could clear the air for good over his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. It didn’t quite go to plan.

Claiming that his only fault was being, if anything, “too honourable”, Andrew spouted something about not being able to sweat because he once got a fright in the Falkland war, a trip to Pizza Express in Woking and denying that a photo of him with his arm around a woman is indeed a photo of him with his arm around a woman. Routinely referred to as the Queen’s favourite son (though he never had much competition, let’s face it), not even that could save Andrew from the sack, or “stepping back from royal duties for the foreseeable future” after this car crash. Prince Andrew denies any wrongdoing. 

5. Selina Scott interviews Prince Andrew (1985)

Only a strangely edited video clip survives but it is interesting for the light it sheds on Andrew’s personality traits and partying ways. Coquettishly, Scott asks Andrew about his then-nickname “Randy Andy”. He tells her that it goes back to his days at public school, aged 15, and that they weren’t allowed to entertain girls at Gordonstoun, a rule he was supposedly not aware of.

As he narrates this story, he virtually slobbers over Scott, who bore a striking resemblance to Diana. Apparently he asked for her number after, but she managed to ignore the royal request. Five months later, Andrew announced his engagement to Sarah Ferguson. As a pub quiz footnote, Scott and Maitlis are the only people to have interviewed both Prince Andrew and Donald Trump. Go figure, as they say.

6. Sarah Ferguson on Oprah (2010)

It’s hard not not to feel a bit sorry for Fergie in all this. The News of the World (which used to try to claim to be a newspaper and collapsed under the strain) entrapped Fergie by offering sums of cash for “access” to her hubby, Prince Andrew. Even on a generous view, it wasn’t much of a sting, because it was always highly unlikely that this scenario would reflect real life, given Andrew’s marginal influence on the course of the nation’s affairs. He just wasn’t worth anyone paying half a million quid to go golfing with.

Anyhow she got made a fool of, and no one felt more sorry about things than, er, Fergie herself. Shown the secret camera footage of the “deal” being clinched, Ferguson talked about herself in the third person to Oprah, which is never a healthy sign: “Actually, I felt very sorry for her. She looks exhausted, and looks like she’s done her best, at the end of the day...” 

7. Harry & Meghan: An African Journey (2019)

Endangered species and grinding poverty are all very well, but the viewers were mostly interested in the remarkably candid interviews Meghan and Harry gave to their old friend Tom Bradby at ITV. This interview was as good a declaration of Megxit as any. If you’ve forgotten, this is one where a near-tearful Meghan recalls how her friends warned her that the British tabloids would destroy her if she married HRH, and Harry pretty much accuses the press of killing his mum.

It seems like good grounds for thinking that they’ll let rip when they present themselves to Oprah, no doubt emboldened by their court victory in January against the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online over the publishing of Meghan’s private letter to her dad. Quite a journey, and it ain’t over yet. 

Audiences can but hope for such high-stakes entertainment from the Sussexes (Shutterstock)

8. The Queen’s tips on crown-wearing in The Coronation (2018)

The Queen famously never gives public interviews as any journalist would recognise the term, and this is about as close it gets. Alistair Bruce was chosen as the trusty to ask to reminisce about her coronation in 1953, and she happily offers the advice that, in the event you’re asked to wear the imperial state crown, which is dead heavy, you oughtn’t look down “because you’ll break your neck”. She is amused, not as much as when she stole the show at the Olympics opening ceremony in 2012, but happy and glorious nonetheless.

9. Elizabeth R goes to the races (1992)

One of the side effects of extreme longevity is that the Queen has personally contributed to a series of supposedly one-off documentaries about her life and reign usually produced to mark significant anniversaries. This comprehensive fly-on-the-wall (if a very deferential fly) was made by the BBC to commemorate what we now look back on as “only” 30 years on the throne. But that was almost 40 years ago.

One of the best bits is seeing the Queen genuinely excited and scampering around like a schoolgirl because she’d won £16 on a sweepstake at the races. Pocketing the readies, complete with her portrait clearly visible, she has never looked more chuffed. Who needs The Crown?

10. Prince Philip’s first TV interview (1961)

This is certainly not as entertaining as most of his subsequent outspoken contributions, but significant as an early attempt to modernise the monarchy’s image, and you can almost sense the winds of change blowing through the television studio. A reminder, here too, of what a handsome chap he was, and desperately seeking something useful to do beyond following two steps behind the Queen.

The subject is Commonwealth training week, about as uncontroversial as it gets, and the tone remarkably respectful, even for those days. The interviewer is Richard Dimbleby, father to Jonathan and David, and a much-loved broadcaster. There we have it; the House of Windsor meets the House of Dimbleby.

11. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor interviewed by Kenneth Harris (1970)

You might say the love story of Edward VIII and Mrs Wallis Warfield Simpson was a bit of a Megxit prototype. American divorcee comes over here, whirlwind romance, steals our dashing royal, takes him into exile, argues with his brother about money and titles, stripped of much of a role... you get the idea. Edward VIII was the first British monarch to voluntarily abdicate, the first to write a memoir and the first to grant a TV interview. The first interview they gave was to legendary correspondent Ed Murrow, in 1956, when they behaved like a couple of lovestruck teenagers.

This is the second outing in 1970, and is mostly harmless anecdotes, from a man old enough to remember his great gran, Queen Victoria, and who flew over the trenches in 1916. There is though one section where he talks like Diana about clashing with the establishment. Elsewhere he’s asked about the abdication and their treatment afterwards, and he remarks with unmistakable bitterness that those responsible are “mostly underground”.

12. Princess Anne stars in A Royal Safari (1971)

This is basically a Blue Peter special assignment, in which Valerie Singleton was sent to Kenya and tasked with making the future Princess Royal seem fun. At times it almost works, and the scene where Anne emerges from the Indian Ocean onto the beach is unexpectedly reminiscent of Ursula Andress’s bikini entrance with Sean Connery in Dr No. I mean, it’s quite “HRH OMG”.

The wildlife includes a greedy baboon called “Gladys”, which curiously was later to be Charles’s pet name for Camilla Shand. This was around the time when Charles started dating Camilla, while Anne was going out with an Andrew Parker-Bowles, who, in due course, was to marry Camilla, who was, some time later, to cause all that trouble... which takes us back to where we started.

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