What you need to know about Oprah's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle interview: 'It is not a tawdry tell-all'

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Must-see TV, meet royalty. This Sunday, all eyes will be glued to the two-hour Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special, which marks Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's first major joint interview since stepping down as senior members of the royal family last year and moving to California with son Archie.

Winfrey will have plenty to talk about with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — who happen to be her new neighbors — from their family life in California and just-announced news that they're having another baby following a miscarriage last year, to the royal drama that's surrounded their 2020 departure. The interview comes on the heels of Meghan's legal victory in her privacy lawsuit against British newspaper Mail On Sunday following its publishing of a private letter she sent her estranged father, Thomas Markle.

As it happens, that victory was crucial to Winfrey's interview — which has reportedly long been in the works — getting the green light to go forward, royal correspondent Omid Scobie tells Yahoo Life.

"This Oprah interview wouldn't have been happening if the outcome of the summary judgment on the Mail case went in a different direction," Scobie, co-author of the Harry and Meghan biography Finding Freedom, says. "It was literally the day after getting that victory that they went back to Oprah and confirmed that it could all go ahead.

"I think people often question the timing of this interview and I think had this case with the Mail not have gone on for as long as it did, we would have seen them talking about their past few years much earlier," he adds. "I think everything for Harry and Meghan over the past year has not happened at the original time that they would have originally liked. Of course, we're in the middle of a pandemic; they've spent much of the past year at home. So really what we're seeing now is a couple who are truly finally entering their new chapter."

But that new chapter doesn't come with some serious baggage — and a flurry of preemptive criticism from the British press the couple have railed against. As anticipation for royal revelations builds, the pregnant duchess has fielded accusations of bullying her former royal aides, which her team has called "an attack on her character." (Buckingham Palace, meanwhile, added fuel to the fire by issuing a statement expressing concern over the claims made in U.K. newspaper The Times that Meghan harassed staffers.) In a separate report, the paper charged that the former Suits star wore earrings given to her by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the CIA has cited as approving the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

As rumors swirl and discord grows, Scobie uses his royal insider status to shed light on what to expect from Sunday's special.

When is it?

Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special airs Sunday, March 7 from 8 to 10 p.m. on CBS.

Why Oprah?

Why not? Winfrey's talk show hosting credentials make her a natural celebrity interviewer, but she also has a personal connection to the Sussexes that's bound to put the couple at ease. While it's been widely reported that Winfrey attended the couple's May 2018 wedding — which she called a "cultural moment" — after spending time with Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, Scobie says the "relationship goes much deeper."

According to Scobie, it was Meghan — then dating Harry, but not yet engaged — and rather than her mother who first struck up a friendship with the media mogul in 2017 after being introduced by an L.A.-based business associate. That connection "turned into a close friendship very quickly," he says, which led to Winfrey offering "a shoulder of support" to Ragland amid the media frenzy surrounding the royal wedding.

In 2019, it was announced that Winfrey would be partnering with Prince Harry on an Apple TV+ documentary about mental health. While that project has been delayed given the pandemic, they remain in close contact — literally. With their move to Montecito last summer, the couple became Winfrey's neighbors.

"This is a friendship that builds over time," Scobie says, adding that "Oprah has really become an important figure in their lives."

The significance of Meghan's dress

Previews of the interview show 36-year-old Harry in a gray suit while Meghan, pregnant with the couple's second child, wears a black silk Armani dress with a lotus across the bodice. Retailing for $4,700, the dress's hefty price tag has already stirred up some scorn among the duchess's critics, though Scobie says it's unlikely she actually paid that much for the belted number.

"I would dispute any stories that claim that she has spent that amount on a dress," the royal correspondent says, suggesting that a designer discount was probably extended because of Meghan's "high-profile" status. "I'm sure it came at a different cost to her because, of course, the designer benefits greatly in situations like this."

Far more interesting, he says, is what the dress — which the former actress paired with Birks earrings and a loose up-do — symbolizes. Scobie says that Meghan "wanted something that had some meaning for the interview" and was drawn to the detail of the embroidered lotus, a flower associated with "rebirth and spiritual enlightenment."

"She liked that back story of the lotus, that it was this flower of resilience that submerges into the water every night and then comes back in the morning refreshed and energized for the new day," he explains. "As we've seen with Meghan, there's always thought that goes into the outfits. I would imagine that it wasn't that it was an Armani dress. It was one that sort of ticked the box on having some meaning."

Two accessories worn by the 39-year-old also appear to be loaded with meaning: her Cartier "Love" bracelet once owned by the late Princess Diana, and a necklace by jewelry designer Pippa Small, who has previously collaborated with father-in-law Prince Charles. Harry's suit, meanwhile, is a favorite he's previously worn for milestone moments including son Archie's first photo call.

What will be discussed

Two trailers for Sunday's interview show Harry addressing the strain of the British media scrutiny — which he told James Corden last week was "destroying my mental health" — on the couple as well as his mother. "I can't imagine what it must have been like for her going through this process by herself all those years ago, because it has been unbelievably tough for the two of us, but at least we had each other," he says in one clip in reference to Princess Diana. The royal has previously called out the media's culpability in his mother's 1997 death from a Paris car crash while being pursued by members of the paparazzi.

In a second preview he tells Winfrey, "My biggest concern was history repeating itself."

While Winfrey builds up the drama that "there's no subject that's off-limits," and has soundbites alluding to Meghan being "silenced," reaching a "breaking point" and finding her situation "unsurvivable," Scobie cautions that viewers may not necessarily be bombarded with bombshells. For example, he notes that Harry has publicly spoken out about his mental health struggles and made comparisons to Diana before.

Scobie doesn't anticipate the couple calling out members of the royal family, given Harry's positive comments about his grandparents during his James Corden interview, but will likely be candid about the royal institution itself and the pressures that come with it.

"I think that's where we're going to get a lot of revelations for the first time," he predicts, "because it is the first time that they can speak about that without fear of punishment."

That said, Scobie speculates that "there are many things that they will not address during this interview... It is not a tawdry tell-all."

It stands to reason that Meghan's miscarriage and subsequent pregnancy, her recent legal battle and the projects they're undertaking through Archewell, including deals with Netflix and Spotify, will also be up for discussion. But, as Scobie says, the interview is currently very much "under lock and key" until it airs Sunday night.

Why the timing is causing controversy

The March 7 airdate is raising eyebrows with royal watchers for two reasons, and both involve Harry's grandparents. Queen Elizabeth II's pre-recorded address marking Commonwealth Day will be broadcast on BBC One in the U.K. earlier that day in lieu of an in-person service. (Last year's Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey, incidentally, marked Harry and Meghan's final public appearance with the royal family before formally stepping down.)

A Westminster Abbey spokesperson revealed that the queen's plans were confirmed before the Winfrey interview was announced, news that some Harry and Meghan critics have taken as a slight to his family. But Scobie says the timing is more of a coincidence than a conflict.

"This has people reaching for a controversy that doesn't actually exist," he says, noting that while the interview will indeed air on CBS in the U.S. that night — around 1 a.m. GMT — U.K. audiences won't be able to view it until Monday night, when it's broadcast on the ITV network.

He acknowledges, however, that the timing in light of Prince Philip's hospitalization is more "unfortunate." The 99-year-old was taken to a London hospital to treat an infection on Feb. 16, and has since been transferred to a different hospital for observation of a preexisting heart condition. The interview with CBS, meanwhile, had been announced just two days before.

"It was mere days after they confirmed this interview with Oprah that Prince Phillip needed further attention medically," Scobie says. "And that's a situation that continues to loom heavily in the background... both the queen and prince are very dear to [Harry]. It's a relationship that has continued at strength for the past year since stepping away. I'm sure it's a very difficult time. At the same time, it's a decision that they had already made; the wheels were already in motion. The interview had already been wrapped and I don't think anyone, including senior members of the royal family, would have ever thought that Phillip would have stayed in hospital for as long as he has."

How viewers might react — and why Harry and Meghan are sharing their story regardless

Given the reports being published in the days leading up to the interview, it stands to reason that critics will be ready to pounce. A common refrain from their detractors is that the couple are being hypocritical by complaining about the invasive media attention they received as royals, but then keeping public profiles. (Even their recent pregnancy announcement drew ire from critics accusing them of seeking attention.)

According to Scobie, it's not that the Sussexes want to be "virtually anonymous" — they just want to live on their own terms while maintaining the "fundamental human rights to privacy." Voluntarily sharing a photo of Archie on social media, for instance, allows them to be public but also in control; being followed by members of the paparazzi does not.

"Harry and Meghan, as we've seen over the years, are damned if they do and damned if they don't," Scobie says. "But there is this misconception that they want this virtually anonymous life — that they only want to be out there when it comes to their charity work. But this is a couple that have obviously been very comfortable in the public eye."

He adds that while Harry and Meghan may be opening themselves up to criticism by taking part in any interview, that critics are bound to target, it's important for them to take the time to set the record straight on some matters, and address them in their own words, and not via anonymous royal sources.

"Everyone has spoken about them apart from them," he says.

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