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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Why I still want to talk to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex

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It was late afternoon, early evening, when I was summoned to the Kensington Palace gents’ room on a weekday. The British royals were fondly remembered by the younger generation and no doubt a few thousand others as the people’s monarchy.

But in this august, French-chic palace, a press association was demanding an interview. Since Diana, Princess of Wales, had died in 1997, the royals had been granting few interviews.

So here I was, toting a tape recorder and driven to London by a friend. I’d waited a long time for it. Would they be happy to grant me an interview?

It was hard to imagine what I’d do with this opportunity. And more than anything, I wanted to be able to relate what happened in the two-hour interview between Oprah Winfrey and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that aired worldwide Saturday night.

Oprah: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

William: Ten years? A lot of things will have changed in our lives but to be honest with you, I don’t know. I’ve had some lessons from my mother who has had some heavy life lessons in the last 20 years and I think I’m still learning them.

Oprah: In a healthy marriage?

William: It’s tough at times. It’s tough. It’s hard work and we’re dealing with it together, we’re supporting each other, we’re co-parenting, he’s a good dad to our children. It’s tough to be in a marriage like that. … Personally, it’s going great, we’re looking forward to the future. And maybe Prince Harry will be a duke.

It was only my second interview with the prince and fifth with the duchess, and they asked me to read from their written comments. I liked it, though not as much as the interview was. For better or worse, the prince and duchess are more accessible and meaningful by any objective measure than the elder members of the family.

For example, I chatted with Prince Harry a few weeks ago in Repton, England. How exciting was it to welcome William back into the royal fold? He said it was an honor, a privilege, and that for the future, he would “give it my best shot.”

Perhaps my best shot should be speaking with Harry, Meghan and William because I’ve tried over the years — but usually without results. (Note: They love my cabbies and we’ve been pals.) After Prince Charles said I was a “giant turd in the rice,” a gag, he and his family had public struggles in the 1990s, and Harry later admitted he was “a bit of a knob” at times. But nothing I witnessed this week compared to the messy divorce of William’s parents, Prince Charles and Diana, or the breakup of his mother’s marriage to Prince Charles.

I’m a free-ranging reporter who routinely likes to go wherever he wants to ask any question he’d like. I’ve gotten along with everyone. But unfortunately for me, we British royals and our people love to stay behind closed doors. Their lives are brief and they don’t mind starting each morning with a gossipy story: how they caught the bus out the back door. How Prince Charles got in the diamond encrusted Aston Martin at 1:30 a.m. down in London’s Chelsea.

In their own historic way, Harry and Meghan are not only modern royals, they’re also the modern people, going to the shop with William and Kate at 6 a.m. to buy chocolate bars for their nanny’s 21st birthday party.

They got to be related to Thomas Markle Jr., who caused a media storm when he gave away Meghan’s bouquet at the wedding. And they spent a large part of the week in Australia without the media and running on all cylinders — including in the duchess’s forest.

I wonder: If a cold hit the queen, would she survive such a week?

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