Oprah Winfrey touched all the bases that mattered in her interview with Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, that aired Sunday night on CBS.
She got them to talk about the role of racism in their break with the royal family, the memory of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, that hung over so much of this encounter, and the profound pain suffered by the couple in the callous treatment they experienced when they asked the people around the queen, his grandmother, for help.
Even Meghan’s admission that she felt as if she didn’t want to live anymore and experienced thoughts of suicide didn’t move the powers that be in Buckingham Palace, as Harry told it Sunday.
What a powerhouse interview, and what a fool I was last week when I was wondering to myself how Winfrey was going to fill two hours by just talking to the couple. I admit I forgot what a great TV interviewer Winfrey has been for decades. I could have watched another two hours of the kind of conversation she created Sunday.
Winfrey opened the door for a discussion of race when she asked Meghan whether she thought some of the hostile coverage she received from the British tabloids and social media trolls was the result of her being the “first mixed race person” married into the family. Before the thread of the interview was over, Meghan talked about Harry being told by members of the royal family that there were concerns about the child, Archie, that Meghan was carrying and “how dark his skin might be when he was born.”
Winfrey not only created a secure enough space for the couple to talk about such matters, but she constantly followed up to make sure there was clarity as to what they were actually saying. Both could be a little cryptic and vague in their answers. Meghan mentioned the matter of skin tone in the first hour of the session, which she did alone, and then Winfrey pressed Harry on it in the second half of the show when he joined them. He finally declined to say who in the family brought up the issue of skin tone with him, but acknowledged that it was discussed.
As controversial and damaging as this interview will probably be to the monarchy, Winfrey did not load the dice for a let’s-rip-the-royals session. She created the space for both Harry and Meghan to say how much they admire and even love the queen. Meghan shared a moment from one of their first meetings when the queen offered to share a blanket she keeps to warm her legs. I am no queen lover, but it humanized her in a way no other anecdote ever has for me.
There’s the queen of England. And then, there’s the queen of the television interview. Oprah Winfrey showed Sunday night why she still wears the crown and seems nowhere near ready to surrender it.
David Zurawik is The Baltimore Sun’s media critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @davidzurawik