British press still wringing hands over royal kerfuffle

A week after Prince Harry and the former Meghan Markle dropped their televised bombshells about the rest of the royal family, the British tabloids are by and large continuing to back Harry’s grandma, dad, brother and sister-in-law.

But the big news Sunday was that there is other big news in Britain. The crown kerfuffle was knocked off front pages over the weekend by coverage of the alleged kidnapping and killing by a police officer of a 33-year-old Londoner, Sarah Everard, as she walked home alone March 3.

The tragedy has horrified the nation and diverted attention from the royal rumble.

It has also placed London’s Metropolitan Police Service under pressure that only intensified when an independent investigation was launched into its handling of a vigil Saturday evening that resulted in mourners being handcuffed and arrested after a clash with officers.

By Sunday night, Police Commissioner Cressida Dick was forced to defend her officers’ actions and deny that she intended to resign.

To be sure, the homicide case hasn’t entirely pushed the House of Windsor out of the British press. There were spreads in most London tabloids throughout the weekend, and the Daily Mail — which has been the target of accusations of media bias by Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — offered 14 pages of “unrivaled insight” into the “toxic aftermath” of Oprah Winfrey’s interview. Among the tidbits of wisdom: Harry’s dad, Prince Charles, is deeply upset, and the verbal brickbats threaten the future of the British monarchy.

Yet as the shock over last Sunday’s interview has begun to subside, much of the London media remains supportive of the larger family’s side of the story, defending them unrelentingly rather than engaging in any collective soul-searching over deeper issues such as racism in the monarchy, British society and the media at large.

The British tabloids have in recent days sought to painstakingly pick apart each of Meghan’s key accusations.

The couple’s “prewedding,” which she described to Winfrey, may have been an exchange of vows, but it was not legally binding, London newspapers reported. Meghan’s post-wedding foreign trips, they declared, are proof that her passport was not “turned over,” leaving her trapped, as she claimed in the interview.

And the now-infamous incident in which the Duchess of Cambridge allegedly made Meghan cry (and not vice versa, as was previously reported) was actually a blowout, they said, in which the sisters-in-law were both left in tears.

“A door was said to have been slammed in Kate’s face and those flowers thrown in the bin,” feature writer Kate Mansey of the Mail wrote on Sunday.

Some segments of the British media questioned the veracity of the most damning charge — that a member of the royal family asked Harry what color their child’s skin was likely to be — by pointing out that Meghan told Winfrey there were “several conversations” on the subject, while Harry said there was just one.

Taken together, the stories cast doubt on Meghan’s version of events while placing the hurt others say they are feeling at center stage. Queen Elizabeth II, Harry’s grandmother, has issued a 61-word statement saying she was “saddened.” Harry’s brother, Prince William — who is said to be privately “raging” — is the only royal to have spoken publicly to counter the allegations, stating at an engagement last week: “We are very much not a racist family.”

Beneath the headline “UNTHINKABLE,” the Sun on Sunday speculated that there is no way the two princes will reunite in July for the unveiling of a statue for their late mother, Princess Diana, to mark what would have been her 60th birthday.

Their dad, Charles, who many think came off the worst in the TV interview, is said by the press to be “deeply hurt” about his relationship with Harry. “After much reflection, he also realizes that nothing good will come of prolonging the fight. He feels it is time to heal,” a friend of Charles is quoted as saying.

But even if the royal saga slowly disappears from the London news agenda, the country — not to mention media outlets from Lisbon to Los Angeles — may not be able to move on quickly. Despite a lockdown still largely in force across Britain, it is a topic that has been debated over dinner tables, video chats and text messages in the past seven days.

And with that come increasing questions about what role the monarchy should play in British society going forward.

Historian David Olusoga wrote that young Britons and people of color largely side with Meghan, while the older generation — which is more likely to read the tabloids — tends to be more hostile or even dismissive of her allegations.

Writing in the Guardian, Olusoga said that even after years of divisive Brexit politics and a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 125,000 people in the U.K., the battle within the royal family has “become the fracture line along which the nation has disunited.”