Prince Harry’s denial that he accused his family of racism was interpreted in the UK press Monday as a bizarre peace offering, but commentators argued the damage had already been done as his unflinching memoir comes out.
The midnight release of “Spare” is being accompanied by four television interviews in Britain and the United States, where Harry now lives with wife Meghan.
In the first to air, with Britain’s ITV, the Duke of Sussex caused bafflement by insisting he and his mixed-race wife never accused the royal family of racism over comments made about the skin tone of their unborn son.
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“No I didn’t. The British press said that,” Harry said, adding that Meghan had also not called the royals “racist”.
The initial allegation, made in a bombshell interview given by Harry and Meghan in March 2021 to US chat show host Oprah Winfrey, caused a transatlantic uproar.
Harry’s elder brother and the heir to King Charles III’s throne, Prince William, told reporters at the time that “we are very much not a racist family”, but Harry himself stayed silent then.
The late Queen Elizabeth II, the mens’ grandmother, said then that “recollections may vary” about what was said — a line that was repeated by some UK commentators in mocking response to Harry’s interviews.
Several described his denial to ITV as an “olive branch”, but one that was contradicted by the Oprah interview and coming too late, given the incendiary nature of his other allegations in the book.
The British public is not impressed, a YouGov poll indicated Monday, finding that 64 percent have a negative view of Harry and that Meghan also scores dismally.
And after days of TV trailers and newspaper leaks, a relatively low figure of 4.1 million people tuned into the ITV interview, according to official ratings data.
Accusing the press of effectively killing his mother Princess Diana, Harry used another interview with US network CBS to take aim also at his father’s second wife, Camilla.
The queen consort waged a cunning but “dangerous” campaign to win over the press herself, he said, calling her “the villain”.
The book includes a claim that William physically attacked Harry as they argued about Meghan.
It also gives an account of how he lost his virginity, an admission of teenaged drug use and a claim he killed 25 people while serving in Afghanistan with the British military.
To ITV, Harry also defended a long-serving royal courtier, Susan Hussey, after she grilled a black British guest at a palace reception about where the woman “really” came from.
But to CBS, the prince also admitted to being “probably bigoted” before he met Meghan, and accused William and his wife Kate of never giving her a chance.
The Sun newspaper said Harry had “astonished” viewers with his racism “U-turn”, and described the 38-year-old prince as a “troubled, lonely man”.
“Nothing is Harry’s fault and almost everything can be blamed on the press,” the Daily Telegraph wrote.
“Some of it made no sense: Meghan and Harry are fans of Lady Hussey and think it was the press that accused her of being racist?
“The press made up the accusations that the royal family was racist, when the couple were making a very different allegation about ‘unconscious bias’?”
The left-leaning Guardian wrote: “If she had lived to see this, it wouldn’t have killed the queen. But it might have made her a republican.”
The contents of Harry’s ghost-written book have already been widely leaked after it went on sale early in Spain.
He insisted to ITV that he still wanted a rapprochement with his father and brother, but said the onus was on them, refusing to confirm whether he will attend Charles’s coronation in May.
He also urged his family to respond. “Silence only allows the abuser to abuse, right? So I don’t know how staying silent is ever gonna make things better,” he added.
In the CBS interview, Harry said that he and William were not currently speaking and he had not talked to his father “for quite a while”.
Omid Scobie, a friend and biographer of Harry and Meghan, said the couple were likely now to adopt a lower profile after the recent “soap opera”.
“I think we’re going to see, for the rest of this year, a couple sort of retreating from a lot of what we’ve seen over the last few months,” he told BBC radio.