Prince Harry: royals didn’t understand risk to Meghan of racial attacks

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have accused the media of “destroying” them before they left the UK, and said the royal family failed to understand that Harry’s future bride required protection, in interviews aired in a Netflix documentary.

The royal family questioned why Meghan should be “protected” following racist headlines and stalking by paparazzi after news of their relationship broke in 2016, Prince Harry said. Instead, the advice from the palace was: “Don’t say anything.”

“So, it was almost like a rite of passage, and some of the members of the royal family were like: ‘My wife had to go through that, so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently? Why should you get special treatment? Why should she be protected?’” Harry told the six-part docuseries, Harry & Meghan.

“I said: ‘The difference here is the race element.’”

The documentary opened with a written statement on screen: “Members of the royal family declined to comment on the content within this series.”

It is understood from sources that Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace did receive an email from an unknown production company that did not address the entire series. Attempts to verify its authenticity through the Sussex’s Archewell Productions and Netflix received no response, however, so they were unable to provide any response.

The couple’s main attack was focused on the media. Harry, filming himself as he left the UK for the last time as a senior royal, said he felt “being part of this family, it is my duty to uncover this exploitation and bribery that happens within our media”. Meghan, filming herself in Vancouver, said: “Unfortunately, in us standing for something, they are destroying us.”

Images of newspaper headlines flashed up on the screen included: “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton”. Meghan said: “Firstly, I’m not from Compton, I’ve never lived in Compton, so it’s factually incorrect. But why do you have to make a dig at Compton?”

Other headlines shown in the documentary included “One’s gone GangstER”, and another saying Meghan’s ancestors were a “tailor, a teacher and a cleaner in racially divided Jim Crow South”.

Speaking about the press coverage, Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, said paparazzi would take pictures of deprived neighbourhoods in Los Angeles. “They would take pictures of different parts of, say, Skid Row, and say that is where I lived and that is where she was from,” Ragland told the documentary.

“It was horrible,” Meghan said. “But I continued to hold the line. Say nothing.”

Ragland said she warned her daughter about race. “I said, ‘You may not want to hear this, but this is what’s coming down the pike.’”

Related: Harry & Meghan live: Duke of Sussex compares his wife to Princess Diana in Netflix documentary

On speaking out, Harry said: “My son, my daughter, my children are mixed race, and I’m really proud of that. When my kids grow up, and they look back at this moment, and they turn to me and say, ‘What did you do in this moment?’, I want to be able to give them an answer.”

He also spoke about what he called the Windsors’ “unconscious bias” as the documentary showed images of Princess Michael of Kent wearing a blackamoor-style brooch to a Christmas lunch attended by Meghan in 2017, for which she later apologised. “In this family, sometimes you are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. There is a huge level of unconscious bias,” Harry said.

Meghan said the UK media “wanted my mum’s side of my family to be the ones that all this drama could be stirred up with and they just had my mum who is classy and quiet, and then you have the other side of my family that is just acting differently”, referring to the family from which she is estranged.

Harry “shouldered” responsibility for the breakdown of Meghan’s relationship with her estranged father, Thomas Markle, after he staged media photographs ahead of the couple’s 2018 wedding, which he did not attend because of ill health. Describing it as “incredibly sad”, Harry said: “She had a father before this and now she doesn’t have a father. And I shouldered that because if Meg wasn’t with me, then her dad would still be her dad.”

Harry said his family were impressed when they met Meghan. “But the fact that I was dating an American actress was probably what clouded their judgment more than anything else at the beginning: ‘Oh, she’s an American actress; this won’t last.’”

Related: ‘Sussex, lies and videotape’: papers on the attack over Harry and Meghan documentary

Their dating days were described by Harry as a “combination of car chases, anti-surveillance driving and disguises”. Meghan was stalked by media in Toronto while filming Suits, and “salacious” stories were planted by the press, the couple said.

Describing the pressure leading up to their wedding, Meghan spoke of the “orchestrated reality show” of the couple’s engagement announcement and interviews, and how they were coached by the palace communications team, but unable to speak of the pressures they felt under at the time.

She was told the media coverage would improve after their wedding. “But truth be told, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how good I was, no matter what I did, they were still going to find a way to destroy me,” she said.

Speaking of the royal rota (members of the media specifically accredited to cover the royals), Harry said: “All royal news goes through the filter of all newspapers within the royal rota, most of which, apart from the Telegraph, happen to be tabloids.

“It all comes down to control, it’s like: ‘This family is ours to exploit. Their trauma is our story, and our story and our narrative to control.’”

He described the royal rota as “essentially an extended PR arm of the royal family”.

The docuseries controversially used footage from Diana, Princess of Wales’s Panorama interview, which Prince William has insisted should never be aired again. Harry said the majority of his early memories were of “being swarmed by paparazzi”. He did not, he revealed, have “many early memories of my mum. It was almost like internally I sort of blocked them.”

In lighter moments, Meghan described her first encounter with the late Queen, likening the formality of the royal court as something from medieval times, where bowing and curtseying were “a big deal”. She said: “I mean, Americans will understand this … We have Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. It was like that.”

Of their relationship, Harry said: “This is a great love story. And the craziest thing is that I think this love story is only just getting started.

“She sacrificed everything that she ever knew, the freedom that she had, to join me in my world, and then pretty soon after that I end up sacrificing everything that I know to join her in her world.”

The final three episodes of the series will be released on Thursday 15 December.