For an interview that gave such little away, the days of hysteria following Prince Harry’s appearance on NBC’s Today Show was over the top to say the least. Not that the vein-popping commentary and screaming front page headlines were much of a surprise. Pearl clutching and faux outrage over anything the Sussexes do (or don’t do) has become as regular a fixture on the royal beat these days as it is for corgis to be running around the Windsor estate.
Despite all the tantrums, the Duke of Sussex revealed almost nothing about his fractured relations, dodging questions about his father and brother and only vaguely admitting that “of course” he misses his family. If anything, Harry appeared to be more guarded and media trained than ever with his words. It was something I also noticed of the prince while in the Netherlands last week covering the Invictus Games.
Nevertheless, it was his comment about the Queen that had everyone (including Downing Street) rushing for the smelling salts. “I’m just making sure she’s protected and got the right people around her,” he told interviewer Hoda Kotb of his grandmother, after describing a “really nice" reunion at Windsor Castle alongside Meghan. It was, as the tabloids interpreted, an “incendiary attack” on his family. Really though? Perhaps to the uninformed. But as someone who got closest to the story of Harry's royal departure, it was certainly not my first thought.
The reality is, since the passing of Prince Philip one year ago, the Queen is living by herself. While Prince Charles, the Cambridges and others stop by for visits, the people surrounding the monarch on a daily basis—aides, courtiers and household staff responsible for every aspect of her life—are all employees of the royal institution. And it’s at the hands of some of these same people that Harry experienced some of his darkest and most distressing moments as a working member of the Firm.
When I was interviewing sources for Finding Freedom in 2020, I remember how my jaw dropped when a friend of the couple gave me a play-by-play account of how the Queen’s private secretary, Edward Young, went out of his way to prevent the couple from visiting the monarch in Sandringham (one of the only family members the Sussexes felt comfortable talking to at the time) ahead of their announcement to step away from royal life. It appears that, as hard as Harry tried to arrange a time, his team was informed that the monarch was "busy all week". The Queen, despite having been the one to invite her grandson, was told by Young that the once-available diary dates were no longer free.
Watch: Prince Harry reveals he misses his family
It was also the Queen’s right-hand woman and dresser, Angela Kelly, who multiple sources told me made it almost impossible for Meghan to have a necessary “hair trial” with her chosen wedding tiara—even standing up the duchess-to-be and her hairstylist, who had flown in especially, at a pre-scheduled fitting. Harry, sources said, felt it was a cruel attempt to put his partner “in her place”.
Days before permanently leaving the UK in March 2020, Harry told a close aide, “These people have their own agendas, they work for the institution and certainly don’t care about us as family.” Princess Diana echoed similar sentiments in the years following her divorce from Charles.
Time and time again we hear how inside the institution of the monarchy is an environment where mental health and wellbeing is not prioritised. A place where, regardless of your status, the needs of the crown will always come ahead of the personal needs of individual family members. It’s an institution Harry feels failed in its duty to protect him and his own brood.
So, while the Sussexes and the Queen have been in regular contact over the phone or virtually, their recent in-person meeting (which was purposefully kept a secret from all palace aides) was Harry’s first chance in a year to truly speak privately with his grandmother without fear of anyone overhearing or wandering in the background of a video call.
Having bravely faced a series of health and mobility issues, we often hear how the 96-year-old monarch is impressively “getting on” with her duties. But, as a grandson and sixth-in-line to the throne, it would only be natural for Harry to question whether every person in her daily orbit has her best interests at heart. Is she being pushed to do too much? Is anyone telling her to slow down? Is there too much pressure to be at Platinum Jubilee events this June? Is she being properly taken care of? These are the kinds of questions any caring person would ask an elderly family member living alone or in a facility run by staff. And when you look at the famously unsympathetic institution the Queen lives within, Harry has every reason to worry.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment to Yahoo News UK.