Harry and Meghan’s tell-all Netflix documentary has ignited a fresh row amid claims and counterclaims over whether the royal family and the palaces were given the right to reply.
A senior palace source insisted Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and members of the family were not approached for comment on content in the controversial six-part blockbuster - only hours after the first three episodes became available to stream on Thursday morning.
However, a Netflix source insisted the communications offices for the King and the Prince of Wales were contacted in advance and given the chance to react to Harry and Meghan’s claims.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex risked deepening the rift with the royal family as the new documentary started with a series of bombshell claims.
The couple, now living in California, made a string of damaging allegations against the royal family in the series which is expected to net them millions of pounds. They include:
On racism, there is a “huge level of unconscious bias” within the royal institution.
Harry claimed that some of the royal men suggested that the relentless media focus on Meghan was a “rite of passage” but he responded that what was different for her was the “race element”.
In what may be seen as a swipe at his brother William, or the King himself, Harry said that some of the royal men may have been tempted to marry “someone who would fit the mould as opposed to somebody who you perhaps are destined to be with”.
In apparent criticism of the Princess of Wales, Meghan said that when she first met her she started to “understand very quickly that the formality on the outside carried through on the inside”. She added: “I was a hugger. I’ve always been a hugger, I didn’t realise that that is really jarring for a lot of Brits.”
The Duke of Sussex is said to have defied William by including footage of Princess Diana’s Panorama interview in the documentary, when he has opposed it being broadcast again.
Harry told of the “pain and suffering of women marrying into this institution”.
The first series started by stressing: “Members of the royal family declined to comment on the content within this series,” although this was questioned by some royal commentators.
Neither Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace nor any member of the family were approached for comment on the content of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Netflix series, it is understood.
Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex share personal images for Netflix show
Harry and Meghan signed lucrative deals, thought to be worth well over £100 million, with the streaming giant and Spotify, after quitting as senior working royals in 2020 following family rifts and struggling with royal life.
The “unprecedented and in-depth” docu-series, directed by Oscar-nominated Liz Garbus, is billed as a Netflix global event, with the couple sharing “the other side of their high-profile love story”. In it, they are also fiercely critical of the British media but their criticism of the royal family risks a backlash in the UK.
A senior source in the royal household countered the written statement of “Members of the royal family declined to comment on the content within this series” which appeared on a black screen at the start of episode one.
Both Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace confirmed they did receive an email purporting to be from a third-party production company from an unknown organisation’s address and attempted to verify its authenticity with Archewell Productions and Netflix, but never received a response.
“In the absence of this verification, we were unable to provide any response. The substance of the email we received also did not address the entire series,” a source said.
The opening scenes begin with a written statement on a black background saying it was a “first hand account of Harry and Meghan’s story told with never before seen personal archive”.
Poignant piano music begins to play before Harry is shown filming himself at Heathrow in March 2020, saying: “We’ve just finished two weeks, our final push. It’s really hard to look back on it now and go what on earth happened?”
The first of the series details how the couple met and how they initially kept their relationship secret. They texted to set up their first date at Soho House’s 76 Dean Street.
The Duke stated that after they became a couple: “She sacrificed everything that she ever knew, the freedom that she had, to join me in my world. Pretty soon after that, I ended up sacrificing everything that I know to join her in her world.”
He also recalls how as a boy he was left to deal with the loss of his mother in the Paris car crash in August 1997 “without much support, help or guidance”. He slammed the British media and said the harassment of Diana reached a “new level” after her parents separated.
As Meghan was thrust into the public spotlight, Harry said men in his family told him that his girlfriend would not get “special treatment” when their wives had to go through similar press intrusion and public scrutiny.
He added: “So it was almost like a rite of passage. Some of the members of the family were [saying] ‘well my wife had to go through that, why should your girlfriend be treated any differently? Why should you get special treatment? Why should she be protected?’ I said the difference here is the race element.”
During episode three, Harry said there is a “huge level of unconscious bias” in the royal family, referencing when Princess Michael of Kent wore a Blackamoor-style brooch to an event Meghan attended in 2017.
Harry said: “In this family, sometimes you are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. There is a huge level of unconscious bias. The thing with unconscious bias, it is actually no one’s fault. But once it has been pointed out, or identified within yourself you then need to make it right. It is education. It is awareness. It is a constant work in progress for everybody, including me.” On royal marriages, Harry said: “For so many people in the family, especially the men there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mould as opposed to somebody who you perhaps are destined to be with... difference between making decisions with your head or your heart. My mum certainly made most of her decisions, if not all of them, from her heart... and I am my mother’s son.”
Meghan said she found the “formality” of being in the royal family “surprising”. Speaking in episode two she said: “When Will and Kate came over, and I met her for the first time, they came over for dinner, I remember I was in ripped jeans and I was barefoot.
“I was a hugger. I’ve always been a hugger, I didn’t realise that that is really jarring for a lot of Brits.
“I guess I started to understand very quickly that the formality on the outside carried through on the inside.”
Charles and William, along with Camilla and Kate, were not expected to watch the series but royal aides will be tasked with closely monitoring the output, and considering how to respond, if at all.
The King and the royal family will be carrying on with their duties as normal today with the documentary also coinciding with the first circulation of coins bearing Charles’s image in post offices around the UK — symbolic of the adjustments still continuing in the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death.
Harry also revealed that he does not have many early memories of his mother, believing he has internally “blocked them out”. He said: “My childhood, I remember, was filled with laughter, filled with happiness and filled with adventure,” he says.
“I don’t have many early memories of my mum. It was almost like internally I sort of blocked them out. But I always remember her laugh, her cheeky laugh, her always saying to me ‘You can get in trouble — just don’t get caught.’ I’ll always be that cheeky person inside.”
In episode three, the duke admitted he “shouldered” the breakdown of Meghan’s relationship with her father, Thomas Markle.