- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, will be headlining a hotly anticipated television interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday — one that both fans and detractors expect to go into greater depth than any royal has so far about the couple's “unbelievably tough” separation from the British royal family.
The week leading up to the CBS airing has been the messiest since the split began in early 2020, with Buckingham Palace announcing an unprecedented investigation into alleged workplace bullying by the duchess. The couple's spokesperson called a report on the claims in Britain's The Times "a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation.”
CBS won a bidding war for the broadcast rights against several broadcasters including ABC and NBC, people familiar with the matter said, who were not authorized to comment. The network agreed to pay Winfrey's production company Harpo around $8 million for the American broadcast run, one of the knowledgeable people said. CBS will receive a distribution fee for distributing it around the world.
Increasing tensions around the separation have deepened interest in the prime time special, which was filmed at the home of a friend near the couple's Montecito mansion. The couple's "stepping back" from their previous roles has been closely watched for clues about how their royal connections will influence the success of their future projects.
Here's what Harry and Meghan have been up to since "Sussexit."
The pair had a bumpy landing in California. They reportedly "hurt" the Queen of England by going public with plans for a new life in early 2020, revealing via a glossy website their vision for a "Sussex Royal" foundation, their intention to reach financial independence and their blueprint to "reshape" their relationship with the British media, which many believe has been unfairly critical of Meghan — all without consulting with the royal family first.
An urgent summit was called that included Harry, his father, Prince Charles, and his brother, Prince William; the queen ultimately stymied the Sussexes' plans to make money while serving the crown, barring them from using the term "royal," and put into place a year-long review of their status in the family as so-called "working royals." Last month the couple and the queen announced, in decidedly dueling statements fixated on the meaning of a life of "public service," that Harry and Meghan would not return to their taxpayer-funded duty of appearances and charity work in the U.K.
The couple had already put aside the Sussex Royal concept in October 2020, registering the 501(c)(3) Archewell Inc., a grant-making foundation based in Beverly Hills, to house their charitable activities as well as their TV, film and audio productions.
They revealed a new website for Archewell, hired an in-house press team and brought on former Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation communications pro Catherine St-Laurent as executive director of the new nonprofit.
So far the foundation has decided to support five organizations, including Stanford University School of Medicine's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and World Central Kitchen, founded by chef José Andrés to provide food relief during natural disasters.
A key tenet of what Harry and Meghan say they want in their new, self-funded future is to continue to pursue a life of service. In an interview with late night host James Corden on an open-top Los Angeles tour bus, Harry maintained the couple's mission would be a "slightly different version but a continuation" of what they were doing in the U.K. "My life is always going to be about public service," he said.
Unsurprisingly, the two have made many appearances in the U.S. that mirror what Brits might expect from royals.
In April, they made their L.A. debut delivering meals for charity Project Angel Food while also giving their time to several U.K. organizations: Harry joined a video call with the WellChild charity to discuss the challenges faced by families during the pandemic. Meghan held a video call with members of the Hubb Community Kitchen, a community food relief group formed in the wake of London's Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, and another with a client of the nonprofit Smart Works, which prepares women for the job market.
L.A.-based organizations have benefited in particular. Over the summer, Harry and Meghan helped at a drive-through event for Baby2Baby in South L.A.; and in honor of Harry's late mother Princess Diana, they visited L.A.'s Preschool Learning Center to help the kids there replant their garden, including Diana's favorite forget-me-nots. They also visited Homeboy Industries, helping make meals for seniors and foster-program youth across the city.
While royal events are followed by a pool of press photographers, the Sussexes have sometimes chosen favorite photographers to capture events, such as Matt Sayles.
In October, they made their podcast debut, appearing on the show "Teenager Therapy" to mark World Mental Health Day. Meghan veered from the "never complain, never explain" royal precept by saying the trolling she received online was "almost unsurvivable."
Brits are used to hearing royals on the radio. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hosted the pop charts on BBC Radio 1 in support of their mental health charity in 2017.
The couple had their own Remembrance Day on a November Sunday by laying a wreath at the Los Angeles National Cemetery. In previous years they would have been with the rest of the family at a televised memorial at London's Cenotaph, but reports suggest a request to lay a wreath on Harry's behalf was denied by Buckingham Palace. Instead, the photos the couple released to the media triggered a backlash among their critics who saw the move as a publicity stunt.
The couple made it clear their intention was to become financially independent in addition to continuing charity work, and it didn't take long for them to lay that groundwork. Their first U.S. engagement — speaking at JPMorgan's private conference in Miami in February 2020 — hinted at a more commercial post-royal life. Harry spoke about mental health, according to Page Six. The Daily Mail speculated that he could have requested a fee as high as $1 million.
A few months later, the couple signed with the Harry Walker speaking agency, which represents the Clintons and Obamas. And in August, Meghan made one of her first speaking appearances in the U.S., interviewing the editor of nonprofit journalism outfit The 19th — not the other way around.
In September, the couple made waves both with President Trump and royal watchers in the U.K. when they released a video encouraging people to vote in the 2020 election, which was seen as a taboo-for-royalty rebuke of the Trump administration.
The next month the Sussexes appeared in a day of programming for Time streamed on the magazine's website, moderating and interviewing panelists such as Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
Shortly before Christmas, the duchess announced her first investment in Clevr Blends. Neighbor Winfrey promoted the brand's instant oat milk lattes on her social media.
Perceived trades on the influence of the British monarchy can be controversial — a minefield that has to be carefully navigated by lower-ranked members of the family. In one such example, Peter Phillips, Princess Anne’s son was pilloried last year for promoting Chinese milk.
Perhaps the couple's most intriguing moves so far have been in the world of entertainment.
In April, Disney released the documentary “Elephant,” narrated by the duchess, on its new streaming service. Her fee went to a wildlife conservation charity, according to Britain's the Times. The couple had raised eyebrows the previous July after the prince was heard suggesting to Disney CEO Bob Iger that his wife was available for voice-overs.
But they hadn't yet pulled out the big guns.
In September the pair revealed a deal with Netflix to make programming under their new Archewell Productions banner. No slate has been announced, but a nature docuseries and an animated series that celebrates inspiring women are in development.
The deal is estimated to be worth $100 million, according to the New York Times. Neither side has commented publicly on the terms.
The couple are tapping into the podcast boom too. In December they announced an exclusive deal to create podcasts for Spotify in a multi-year agreement with their new Archewell Audio arm.
Spotify said a complete series was expected this year. On Dec. 29, the couple dropped a stand-alone holiday special featuring Archie and Elton John, among other big names. It ranked No. 2 on Spotify's charts in the U.K. in early January and No. 9 in the U.S.
It could be months before the couple release additional episodes as part of a $10-million-plus deal as they are still hiring an audio team, according one person familiar with the plans, who declined to be identified because the talks are private. Archewell expects to have more details about the series to share later this year or early next year, a second person close to the productions plans said.
Both Harry and Meghan have also shared their views in op-eds. In August, the duke wrote a column for Fast Company on the divisiveness of social media, and called for change. In November, the duchess shared a personal account of the couple's grief following a miscarriage in July.
Over the past year they have also been pursuing legal battles on several fronts — most of them successfully settled or won — against media misrepresentation and intrusion into their privacy. Other members of the royal family have also been litigious.
On Friday a British judge ordered the Mail on Sunday to publish a front-page statement highlighting the Duchess of Sussex’s win last month — she sued for breach of her copyright and privacy after the tabloid published parts of a letter she wrote to her estranged father. Publisher Associated Newspapers says it plans to appeal the ruling.
Harry and Meghan have logged some lighthearted TV appearances. She taped a video message of support for singer Archie Williams during "America's Got Talent" and Harry shared a video message during the BBC's "Strictly Come Dancing" for his friend and contestant JJ Chalmers.
But no appearance has been as big as this weekend's Oprah interview.
With that there is also royal precedent, set famously by Charles, who sat down with Jonathan Dimbleby in 1994, and then Diana, with her 1995 interview with Martin Bashir. Former royals like the Duchess of York have also spoken with Oprah. Prince Andrew's 2019 interview with the BBC's "Newsnight" and his ties to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein led to him to announce his stepping back from public duties.
The Oprah interview is not part of the Sussexes' new commercial initiatives, with no fees or payments being made according to a spokeswoman for the couple — but given it's the first time they'll be speaking at length about their fractious relationship with the royal family, it will certainly pay off in promotion of their interests and their next chapter.
Meanwhile CBS stands to benefit significantly. Advertisers clamored to buy 30-second spots in the two-hour program, which initially had been set for 90 minutes. CBS sold out all the available commercial spots in the program, something a network might expect only for events like the Super Bowl or Oscars.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the license fee paid by CBS was at least $7 million.
Times Staff Writer Meg James contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.