14 Times the Royal Family Was Brutally Honest with the Media
You won't believe the shocking things these normally tight-lipped British royals have revealed to the world.
How open are the British royal family about themselves?
The British are normally perceived as showing little emotion and maintaining a “stiff upper lip” in the midst of any personal crisis, and the royal family is no exception. Queen Elizabeth II only rarely opens up about herself, and she’s had only one sit-down TV interview in her entire 67-year reign, in 2018 (although we managed to find some juicy tidbits straight from her mouth). The royal family has also had a difficult relationship with the media—specifically the British tabloids—since the death of Princess Diana, who died in a car crash after being chased by paparazzi in Paris.
Today, the royal family wants publicity for the causes they champion, and they do grant interviews to reputable media outlets. But they are fiercely protective of their privacy and understandably want to avoid any more royal family scandals. The younger generation of royals, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, though, are more comfortable opening up about their personal lives and struggles—when they choose to, that is.
Prince Harry: “Everything I do reminds me of her”
In the recent documentary Harry and Meghan: An African Journey, Prince Harry got very candid with ITV journalist Tom Bradby. In talking about the lingering trauma over losing his mother, Princess Diana, he describes it as a “wound that festers” and says he ends up remembering the worst aspects of her life instead of the best. “Every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back,” he said. His mental health is “constant management. I thought I was out of the woods, and then suddenly it all came back and I suddenly realized, ‘Actually, this is something that I have to manage.'” It’s impossible for him not to get choked up when he talks about his mother, saying, “Everything I do reminds me of her.”
Prince Harry: “I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum”
In the documentary, which was broadcast in the United States on ABC, Prince Harry’s anger at the tabloid press is also very apparent. “Everything that [my mother] went through and what happened to her is incredibly raw every single day, and that is not me being paranoid—that is just me not wanting a repeat of the past,” he said, referring to his wife, Duchess Meghan, being attacked in the press. “I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum.”
In that vein, the Sussexes have recently taken legal action against a newspaper over the publication and alleged alteration to a private letter Meghan wrote. In a media statement, you can feel Prince Harry’s genuine emotion. “I have been a silent witness to her private suffering for too long,” he wrote of his wife. “My deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
Check out these fascinating facts about Meghan Markle.
Duchess Meghan: “Not many people have asked if I’m OK”
In Harry and Meghan, Duchess Meghan was also very upfront about her struggles with the press since her wedding to Prince Harry. “I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a ‘stiff upper lip,’ I really tried, but I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging,” she said. “When people are saying things that are just untrue, and they are being told they’re untrue but they’re allowed to still say them—I don’t know anybody in the world who would feel like that’s OK.”
Her emotion as she talked was palpable. “Any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable, and so that was made really challenging, and then when you have a newborn, you know, especially as a woman, it’s a lot,” she said. “So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed… Thank you for asking because not many people have asked if I’m OK. But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”
Learn about the rules Queen Elizabeth II has broken during her reign.
Princess Diana: “There were three of us in this marriage”
Being so frank in interviews might be one of the things Prince Harry inherited from Princess Diana. Although she had a tumultuous relationship with the press, she also had moments of candor, as in her famous 1995 BBC Panorama interview with journalist Martin Bashir, in which she revealed intimate details of one of the most shocking royal family feuds in history. In the interview, Diana dropped a bombshell about husband Prince Charles’ relationship with his now-wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. When asked if Camilla Parker-Bowles, as she was then known, was a factor in the breakdown of her marriage, Princess Diana said, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
She also revealed that “woman’s instinct” in part led to her to become aware that Prince Charles “loved someone else.” However, she also revealed her own infidelity, admitting that her relationship with former British Army officer James Hewitt went beyond close friendship. When asked, “Were you unfaithful?” she replied, “Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him.”
Prince Charles was faithful “until it became irretrievably broken down”
Was Princess Diana’s interview revenge for Prince Charles’ equally jaw-dropping sit-down with journalist Jonathan Dimbleby from the year before? It became one of the moments Queen Elizabeth would prefer we not know about Prince Charles. When Dimbleby asked him if he had tried to be “faithful and honourable” during his marriage, Charles said, “Yes, absolutely.” When Dimbleby pressed, then asking, “And you were?” Prince Charles again said yes, but after a pause admitted, “Until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried.” In the interview, he also called Camilla Parker-Bowles a “great friend,” among many great friends. Clearly not liking the spotlight, he said, “I don’t think many other people have to go through this constant attention when their marriages break down,” stressing he’s “not a total idiot” in that he never meant for the split to happen.
Duchess Camilla: “I wouldn’t put my worst enemy through it”
For her part, Duchess Camilla remembers being vilified by the press when she was blamed for the breakup of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage. (By the way, here’s why Charles didn’t marry Camilla in the first place.) “I couldn’t really go anywhere. It was horrid,” she admitted to the Daily Mail in 2017. “It was a deeply unpleasant time, and I wouldn’t put my worst enemy through it.”
But she remembers how her beloved father, Major Bruce Shand, helped her handle the unwanted attention. “I remember once when he was staying with me at Middlewick [my home] and the press were outside,” she said. “After a while, my father calmly went to the front door, and he summoned them all. They came clustering round, thinking there was about to be some great statement about me, and he said, ‘Gentlemen, in our family, we keep our traps shut, thank you very much,’ and walked in again. He closed the door with a smile, and that was it. I don’t think the press could believe what they’d heard, but that was always how we were brought up: Never complain and never explain. Don’t whinge—just get on with it.”
Duchess Catherine: Her breakup made her “a stronger person”
Luckily, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge finished their breaking up before they got married. Both Prince William and Kate Middleton were both very honest during their engagement interview about their brief split. “We both were very young; it was at university. We were sort of both finding ourselves as such and being different characters and stuff. It was very much trying to find our own way, and we were growing up, and so it was just sort of a bit of space and a bit of things like that and it worked out for the better,” Prince William said.
Kate then added, “And I think I, at the time, wasn’t very happy about it, but actually it made me a stronger person. You find out things about yourself that maybe you hadn’t realized, or I think you can get quite consumed by a relationship when you are younger and I really valued that time for me as well—although I didn’t think it at the time. Looking back on it.”
How much has Kate changed over the years? From a purely aesthetic standpoint, quite a bit, judging from these photos that show Kate Middleton’s stunning transformation.
Prince William: “I still feel emptiness on Mother’s Day”
As part of their work in mental health awareness, both royal brothers have spoken at length about losing their mother. “Never being able to say the word ‘Mummy’ again in your life sounds like a small thing. However, for many, including me, it’s now really just a word—hollow and evoking only memories,” Prince William said when he became patron of the Child Bereavement Charity in January 2014, noting that losing a close family member is one of the hardest experiences anyone can endure. “I, too, have felt—and still feel—the emptiness on such a day as Mother’s Day.” Not a day goes by, he revealed, when he doesn’t think of his mother.
Here are the things you didn’t know about Prince William.
Duchess Catherine: “Becoming a mother has been a huge challenge”
Duchess Kate has taken a cue from her husband in revealing her personal struggles in order to help others. “Personally, becoming a mother has been such a rewarding and wonderful experience; however, at times it has also been a huge challenge, even for me, who has support at home that most mothers do not,” she said at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in March 2017.
She went on to plainly describe feelings most mothers can relate to, royal or not. “Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother. It is full of complex emotions of joy, exhaustion, love, and worry, all mixed together,” the Duchess said. “Your fundamental identity changes overnight. You go from thinking of yourself as primarily an individual to suddenly being a mother, first and foremost. And yet there is no rule book, no right or wrong—you just have to make it up and do the very best you can to care for your family. For many mothers, myself included, this can, at times, lead to lack of confidence and feelings of ignorance.”
Discover the royal rule that William and Kate always break.
Duchess Camilla: Charles is “exhausting,” “hopeless,” and “annoying”
How things have changed for Duchess Camilla: Once hated by the public and the press, she’s now regarded as the “most approachable” royal, according to one reporter, for her humor and down-to-earth manner. She even joked about Prince Charles to reporters who travelled with the couple on a tour through India in 2013. “He never, ever stops working—he’s exhausting,” she said. “I am hopping up and down and saying, ‘Darling do you think we could have a bit of, you know, peace and quiet, enjoy ourselves together.’ But he always has to finish something.”
She also laughed about how hard it was to pick out a birthday present for Prince Charles. “I will tell you that he is the most difficult person in the world to buy a present for,” she said. “He is a man! They are hopeless! I spend ages trying to find something that is really wonderful and then [mimes him opening a present]: ‘Oh, thank you very much’ [in a completely uninterested voice]. It’s so annoying!” That she can jest so bluntly about her husband shows how comfortable she is in their marriage.
Find out why Camilla is not called princess.
Prince Charles on his murdered uncle: “He represented the grandfather I never had”
Anyone who’s watched Netflix’s The Crown will remember the depiction of the tender bond between the young, sensitive Charles and his great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, aka “Uncle Dickie.” Sadly, Lord Mountbatten was later murdered in an IRA (Irish Republican Army) attack in Sligo, Ireland. Today, centuries-old wounds between England and Ireland are being mended, as Prince Charles movingly expressed in a 2015 visit to the site of the murder. “In August 1979, my much-loved great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was killed alongside his young grandson and my godson, Nicholas,” he said in a speech. “At the time, I could not imagine how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss since, for me, Lord Mountbatten represented the grandfather I never had. It seemed as if the foundations of all that we held dear in life had been torn apart irreparably.”
It was an unusual outpouring of emotion for the Prince, but one he used to relate to struggles on both sides of the conflict. “Through this dreadful experience, though, I now understand in a profound way the agonies borne by so many others in these islands, of whatever faith, denomination, or political tradition,” he said.
Sarah, Duchess of York, on ex-husband Prince Andrew: “He’ll always be my handsome prince”
Sarah Ferguson, who still retains her royal title even after her 1996 divorce from Prince Andrew, has shared—some may even say overshared—a lot about her ongoing friendship with her ex. “He’s a great man, and a first-rate father, and the bestest friend,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011. “I love him. He’s my soul mate. It’s actually what we said in front of God at the altar: We honour and respect each other until death do us part.”
In 2013, she also revealed at a literature festival, “He’s still my handsome prince—he’ll always be my handsome prince.” And the gush-fest continued in 2018: “We’re the happiest divorced couple in the world. We’re divorced to each other, not from each other,” she told the Daily Mail. “[My wedding day], July 23, 1986, was the happiest day of my life. Andrew is the best man I know.…I stand by him and always will. The way we are is our fairy tale.”
Dive into these little-known facts about royal weddings.
Prince Philip: “It’s better to get out before you reach the sell-by date”
The Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is known for his straightforward manner, occasional gaffes, and disdain for giving interviews. But in one rare sit-down to mark his 90th birthday in 2011 (the Prince is now an astonishing 98 years old), he plainly displayed his lack of interest in talking about himself. “I couldn’t care less,” he told the BBC when asked if he thought he had been successful in his role. “Who cares what I think about it. I mean, it’s ridiculous.” OK, then!
The modest nonagenarian was more forthcoming about savoring his last years. “I reckon I’ve done my bit, so I want to enjoy myself a bit now, with less responsibility, less frantic rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say,” Prince Philip, who later retired at 96, said. “On top of that, your memory’s going; I can’t remember names and things. It’s better to get out before you reach the sell-by date.”
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Queen Elizabeth on her husband: “He’s been my strength and stay”
The Queen herself hardly ever comments on “private matters.” Even in her first sit-down television interview, in 2018, she revealed nothing more shocking than that her coronation crown was very heavy. But, as Vanity Fair unearthed, the Queen did issue a rare statement in 1957 in response to rumours about her marriage, which stated, “It is quite untrue that there is any rift between the Queen and the Duke.”
Decades later, the Queen gave perhaps her most outspoken public words of love to Prince Philip on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997: “All too often, I fear, Prince Philip has had to listen to me speaking. Frequently we have discussed my intended speech beforehand and, as you will imagine, his views have been expressed in a forthright manner,” she said in a speech. “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments, but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.” How sweet—and unexpected!
Next, check out more facts about Queen Elizabeth II.