Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have taken aim at “unconscious bias” inside the royal family and defended their decision to quit the institution, as their highly anticipated Netflix documentary series threatens to deepen the split between the couple and Buckingham Palace.
The first three episodes of the project, titled “Harry & Meghan,” were released on Thursday after months of speculation that the couple would star in a tell-all series.
They detail the pair’s initial romance and Meghan’s first exposure to the structures and demands of royal life, as well as Harry’s childhood, the pervasive nature of Britain’s tabloid media and the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
And Harry accuses the royal family of “unconscious bias” that blinded them to the struggles he and Meghan experienced in the years and months leading up to their dramatic departure.
Buckingham and Kensington Palaces will likely be braced for the fallout from the series, after sustained tensions between Harry and his father, King Charles, and brother, Prince William.
Harry took aim at the media within the first few minutes of the show. “No one knows that full truth. We know the full truth, the institution knows the full truth, and the media knows the full truth because they’ve been in on it,” Harry said. He said he considers it his “duty” to “uncover this exploitation and bribery that happens within our media.”
The series comes over a year and a half after the couple’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, which contained a flurry of criticisms of members of the royal family and caused turmoil at the palace.
It marks a first major public relations test for the monarchy under King Charles III, who himself has been tacitly criticized by Harry since their split from the family, and whose relationship with his son has frayed.
‘Skeletons’ in the royals’ closet
“I accept that there will be people around the world who fundamentally disagree with what I’ve done and how I’ve done it,” Prince Harry said of the watershed decision to leave the royal family in early 2020, which set the stage for years of revelations from the couple and turned their relationships with Harry’s relatives frosty.
“But I knew that I had to do everything I could to protect my family, especially after what happened to my mum,” Harry continued.
The couple have spoken before about the constraints placed on them while members of the royal family, and that frustration re-emerged repeatedly in the documentary.
Meghan described her engagement announcement in 2017 as an “orchestrated reality show,” calling their first interview as an engaged couple “rehearsed.” And speaking of the media’s initial fascination with the prince’s then-girlfriend, Harry recalled how other members of the royal family struggled to share his concern.
“As far as a lot of the family were concerned, everything that she was being put through, they had been put through as well. So it was almost like a rite of passage,” Harry said. “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?,” he said, paraphrasing their arguments.
“I said the difference here is the race element,” Harry added. The pair have frequently railed against racist undertones in tabloid coverage of Meghan, who is biracial.
“These are the skeletons in the closet that frequently make an unwelcome appearance in daily life in this family – sometimes, you know, you’re part of the problem rather than part of the solution and there is a huge level of unconscious bias,” Harry said.
“The thing with unconscious bias – it is actually no one’s fault. But once it has been pointed out, or identified within yourself, you then need to make it right,” he said.
Elsewhere in the first batch of episodes, Harry commented on some previous marriages among his relatives and ancestors. “I think for so many people in the family, especially the men, there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mold as opposed to somebody who you perhaps are destined to be with,” he said.
And the pair recall Meghan’s first meetings with the Queen, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and other senior royals.
“I remember my family first meeting her and being incredibly impressed. Some of them didn’t quite know what to do with themselves,” Harry said.
“They were surprised … the fact that I was dating an American actress was probably what clouded their judgement more than anything else at the beginning,” he added. “The actress thing was the biggest problem, funnily enough,” Meghan added.
Meghan is ‘so similar’ to Diana
Throughout the first three episodes of the series, the couple spoke of their frustration at the hands of the notoriously boisterous British media.
“My face was everywhere, my life was everywhere, tabloids had taken over everything,” Meghan said of her early encounters with the press.
Harry also compared Meghan to his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a car crash while being chased by paparazzi in 1997. “So much of what Meghan is and how she is is so similar to my mum … She has the same confidence, she has this warmth about her,” he said in the first episode.
The first three episodes were released on Thursday, with three more scheduled for next week. Interviews were completed in August, the month before the Queen’s death, according to the series.
Its release follows a period of seemingly thawing relations between Harry and his family following the death of the Queen in September. Harry and William re-united for a walkabout and other public appearances in the period of mourning that followed, and King Charles III used his first speech as monarch to “express (his) love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas.”
But new tensions could arise when the second part of the documentary airs next week, which is expected to detail their split from the family and move to the US. Harry’s memoir, titled “Spare,” is meanwhile due to be released in January.
Buckingham Palace said on Thursday that it will not be commenting on the documentary.
A royal source initially CNN that neither Buckingham Palace nor Kensington Palace, nor any members of the royal family, were approached for comment on the content of the series. The Netflix documentary noted within the series that members of the British royal family “declined to comment on the content.”
CNN understands that Kensington Palace did receive an email purporting to be from a third-party production company, via a different, unknown organization’s email address, seeking comment on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s new docu-series that was released on Netflix on Thursday.
The palace contacted Archewell Productions and Netflix to attempt to verify the authenticity of the email but received no response, CNN understands. In the absence of this verification, they were unable to provide any response.
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CNN’s Max Foster, Muhammad Darwish, Zahid Mahmood, Christian Edwards and Sarah Dean contributed reporting.