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Queen stresses importance of ‘friendship and unity’ for Commonwealth Day message

The Queen has stressed the importance of staying in touch with family and friends during ‘testing times’ in a joint message for Commonwealth Day with other senior royals – broadcast on television just hours ahead of the Sussexes’ Oprah interview.

The Prince of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge joined forces to appear in the special BBC One programme on Sunday to mark Commonwealth Day, as the bitter fallout from Megxit continued.

Presented by Anita Rami, A Celebration of Commonwealth Day featured music and entertainment from groups across the Commonwealth as well as messages from members of the Royal family. The bulk of the programme was filmed inside the Abbey and featured prayers by the Dean of Westminster. 

The Queen donned the same brooch she wore on her honeymoon in a touching tribute to Prince Philip as she addressed the nation for Commonwealth Day. 

Her address tonight featured footage taken last week of her walking down an avenue of Commonwealth flags in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle, where Harry and Meghan’s wedding reception. Her audio message celebrated collaboration, but stood in contrast to the troubles facing the royal family.

Focusing on the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch spoke of using technology that ‘transcends boundaries or division’ and how there has been a ‘deeper appreciation’ of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis.

She also praised the ‘selfless dedication to duty’ seen across the Commonwealth, particularly on the front line. 

Buckingham Palace is bracing itself for what Harry and Meghan will say in their controversial two-hour conversation with Oprah Winfrey – which airs on Sunday in the US, while the Duke of Edinburgh remains unwell in hospital.

Focusing on the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch spoke of using technology that ‘transcends boundaries or division’ and how there has been a ‘deeper appreciation’ of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis

Harry and Meghan's televised conversation with the talk show host, which has fuelled tensions within the monarchy, will air in the US on Sunday night before being broadcast on ITV on Monday

Harry and Meghan’s televised conversation with the talk show host, which has fuelled tensions within the monarchy, will air in the US on Sunday night before being broadcast on ITV on Monday 

As Harry and Meghan were due to be seen focusing on their own experiences of life inside the monarchy, the Queen, who is Head of the Commonwealth, used her Commonwealth Day message to highlight the ‘friendship, spirit of unity and achievements’ around the world and the benefits of working together in the fight against the virus.

The Queen wore the same brooch she wore on her honeymoon in a touching tribute to Prince Philip as she addressed the nation for Commonwealth Day (pictured: Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and her husband, Philip Mountbatten, November 1947)

The Queen wore the same brooch she wore on her honeymoon in a touching tribute to Prince Philip as she addressed the nation for Commonwealth Day (pictured: Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and her husband, Philip Mountbatten, November 1947) 

‘The testing times experienced by so many have led to a deeper appreciation of the mutual support and spiritual sustenance we enjoy by being connected to others,’ she said. 

As footage was played of the Queen’s numerous official video calls, the 94-year-old acknowledged that the innovative technology ‘has been new to some of us, with conversations and communal gatherings, including Commonwealth meetings, conducted online, enabling people to stay in touch with friends, family, colleagues, and counterparts who they have not been able to meet in person.

She said: ‘Increasingly, we have found ourselves able to enjoy such communication as it offers an immediacy that transcends boundaries or division, helping any sense of distance to disappear.

‘We have all continued to appreciate the support, breadth of experiences and knowledge that working together brings.’

She praised the ‘selfless dedication to duty’ of medical staff and other key workers.

‘Whilst experiences of the last year have been different across the Commonwealth, stirring examples of courage, commitment, and selfless dedication to duty have been demonstrated in every Commonwealth nation and territory, notably by those working on the frontline, who have been delivering health care and other public services in their communities,’ she said.

Harry and Meghan were accused of being disrespectful to the monarch’s own life of duty when their permanent Megxit departure was finalised two weeks ago, with their camp saying, in what was seen as a parting shot: ‘We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.’ 

The Prince of Wales is pictured during his engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

The Prince of Wales is pictured during his engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

The Prince of Wales was featured standing alone in the Abbey, where his youngest son performed his last public duty and where they were last seen publicly together, as he delivered a speech

The Prince of Wales was featured standing alone in the Abbey, where his youngest son performed his last public duty and where they were last seen publicly together, as he delivered a speech

Last year's Commonwealth Day service featured glum faces amid reports of rising tensions within the Royal family

Last year’s Commonwealth Day service featured glum faces amid reports of rising tensions within the Royal family

Prince Harry and Meghan at last year's Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9

Prince Harry and Meghan at last year’s Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9

The message, pre-recorded at Windsor, was accompanied by new footage of the Queen filmed last week at the castle, where she has been staying in lockdown.

The monarch, dressed in an Angela Kelly delphinium blue dress and jacket, is seen walking through the grand St George’s Hall, which was lined with Commonwealth flags.

She is flanked, socially distanced, by her Master of the Household Vice Admiral Sir Tony Johnstone-Burt and her assistant private secretary Matthew Magee, who form part of the Queen’s HMS Bubble of reduced staff, and who were both smiling broadly.

The Queen then sits at an ornate desk in the middle of the hall and signs her Commonwealth Day message.

On her jacket is the sapphire chrysanthemum brooch which she wore in a photograph to mark her 73rd wedding anniversary with Philip in November.

Played over a montage of footage from around the Commonwealth, the message was in part reminiscent of the Queen’s Christmas Day broadcasts.

During Sunday night’s programme, the ACM Gospel Choir performed ahead of the Prince of Wales’ statement, when he said ‘the essence of the commonwealth is its remarkable diversity’.   

The Prince of Wales was featured standing alone in the Abbey, where his youngest son performed his last public duty and where they were last seen publicly together, as he delivered a speech.

On the Queen's jacket is the sapphire chrysanthemum brooch which she wore in a photograph to mark her 73rd wedding anniversary with Philip in November

On the Queen’s jacket is the sapphire chrysanthemum brooch which she wore in a photograph to mark her 73rd wedding anniversary with Philip in November

Played over a montage of footage from around the Commonwealth, the message was in part reminiscent of the Queen's Christmas Day broadcasts

Played over a montage of footage from around the Commonwealth, the message was in part reminiscent of the Queen’s Christmas Day broadcasts

Focusing on the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch spoke of using technology that 'transcends boundaries or division' and how there has been a 'deeper appreciation' of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis

Focusing on the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch spoke of using technology that ‘transcends boundaries or division’ and how there has been a ‘deeper appreciation’ of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis

She is flanked, socially distanced, by her Master of the Household Vice Admiral Sir Tony Johnstone-Burt and her assistant private secretary Matthew Magee, who form part of the Queen's HMS Bubble of reduced staff, and who were both smiling

She is flanked, socially distanced, by her Master of the Household Vice Admiral Sir Tony Johnstone-Burt and her assistant private secretary Matthew Magee, who form part of the Queen’s HMS Bubble of reduced staff, and who were both smiling

The Queen then sits at an ornate desk in the middle of the hall and signs her Commonwealth Day message

The Queen then sits at an ornate desk in the middle of the hall and signs her Commonwealth Day message

Charles said the pandemic had affected every country ‘cruelly robbing countless people of their lives and livelihoods’, but praised how people responded with ‘extraordinary determination, courage and creativity’. 

He added: ‘Amidst such heartbreaking suffering the extraordinary determination, courage and creativity with which people have responded has been an inspiration to us all.

‘This pandemic has shown us the true nature of a global emergency’.

He spoke about the importance of Climate Change alongside the pandemic, adding ‘nature, it seems to me, is at the heart of this’.

‘Encouragingly, it is increasingly our young people who make up 60 per cent of the Commonwealth citizens who understand the importance of protecting the natural world,’ he said. 

A short video clip then showed the work taking place to tackle climate change across the Commonwealth.  

The Duchess of Cornwall was interviewed by Clare Balding in the Abbey’s Poets’ Corner about the importance of reading for children during a disrupted year of education. The pair were joined by videolink by award-winning teacher Ranjitsinh Disale.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their virtual engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their virtual engagement in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday

A family at a home in Hartley Wintney, west of London, watch Kate and William during the special programme for Commonwealth Day

A family at a home in Hartley Wintney, west of London, watch Kate and William during the special programme for Commonwealth Day

Camilla (pictured) is featured speaking to broadcaster Clare Balding about how her interest in books was inspired by her father Major Bruce Shand's love for literature

Camilla (pictured) is featured speaking to broadcaster Clare Balding about how her interest in books was inspired by her father Major Bruce Shand’s love for literature

A family at a home in Hartley Wintney, west of London, watch the special programme for Commonwealth Day showing Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at Westminster Abbey

A family at a home in Hartley Wintney, west of London, watch the special programme for Commonwealth Day showing Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at Westminster Abbey

‘Sitting here in Poets Corner it seems the perfect place to discuss children’s literacy,’ Ms Balding said.

Camilla spoke about her father’s love of books, which influenced her love of literature from a young age. She said: ‘I’ve always had a passion for books. Books have been part of my life for so long. I started reading when I was very very young with a father who was a fervent bibliophile.

‘So from the age of two or three he used to sit and read to us children, take us on wonderful adventures… all over the world.’ Camilla then revealed she had become addicted to technology during the pandemic, adding: ‘Before lockdown I wasn’t a great lover of the internet. 

‘I was always trying to wrench the machines from my grandchildren. I have to admit I have become a little bit of an addict. During the first lockdown I thought it would be a good idea to make a list of my favourite books online. I launched a reading room. It’s fascinating how it connects people.’   

The Duchess of Cornwall asked Mr Disale to encourage his students to take part in the Queen’s Commonwealth essay writing competition.

Countess of Wessex during her virtual engagement which will appear in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday. March 6, 2021

Countess of Wessex during her virtual engagement which will appear in the Commonwealth Day programme on Sunday. March 6, 2021

The Dhol Foundation drummers perform during A Celebration for Commonwealth Day, recorded on Wednesday February 24

The Dhol Foundation drummers perform during A Celebration for Commonwealth Day, recorded on Wednesday February 24

Rhys Edward, chosen to represent the 54 young flag bearers that would have ordinarily have taken part in the Service, carries the Commonwealth flag

Rhys Edward, chosen to represent the 54 young flag bearers that would have ordinarily have taken part in the Service, carries the Commonwealth flag

Singer songwriter Lianne La Havas (pictured) performs I Say A Little Prayer before Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, spoke about the values of the Commonwealth

Singer songwriter Lianne La Havas (pictured) performs I Say A Little Prayer before Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, spoke about the values of the Commonwealth

Spoken word artist James Massiah read his poem Omniprescence and the New Zealand youth choir performed in the interlude before the Countess of Wessex spoke to three women from around the Commonwealth about female empowerment.

The Queen’s Commonwealth Day speech in full 

The Queen’s annual Commonwealth message, broadcast in a special programme on BBC One.

‘Over the coming week as we celebrate the friendship, spirit of unity and achievements of the Commonwealth, we have an opportunity to reflect on a time like no other.

‘Whilst experiences of the last year have been different across the Commonwealth, stirring examples of courage, commitment and selfless dedication to duty have been demonstrated in every Commonwealth nation and territory, notably by those working on the front line, who have been delivering health care and other public services in their communities.

‘We have also taken encouragement from remarkable advances in developing new vaccines and treatments.

‘The testing times experienced by so many have led to a deeper appreciation of the mutual support and spiritual sustenance we enjoy by being connected to others.

‘The need to maintain greater physical distance, or to live and work largely in isolation, has for many people across the Commonwealth been an unusual experience.

‘In our everyday lives, we have had to become more accustomed to connecting and communicating by our innovative technology, which has been new to some of us.

‘With conversations and communal gatherings, including Commonwealth meetings, conducted online, enabling people to stay in touch with friends, family, colleagues, and counterparts who they have not been able to meet in person.

‘Increasingly, we have found ourselves able to enjoy such communication as it offers an immediacy that transcends boundaries or division, helping any sense of distance to disappear.

‘We have all continued to appreciate the support, breadth of experiences and knowledge that working together brings.

‘And I hope we shall maintain this renewed sense of closeness and community.

‘Looking forward, relationships with others across the Commonwealth will remain important as we strive to deliver a common future that is sustainable and more secure.

‘So that the nations and neighbourhoods in which we live, wherever they are located become healthier and happier places for us all.’ 

Ahead of International Women’s Day she said: ‘There can become a bit of a fatigue when it comes to talking about women’s rights so I’m keen to move the discussion to a place where it becomes a level paying field. It is a win-win not one against the other.

‘The Commonwealth is a great force for good. If we can keep coming together and using technology let’s use that as a force for good.’

This was followed by Denise Lewis, a British sports presenter and former track and field athlete, who stood in the Abbey as she told her story of growing up in West Bromwich, London, with Jamaican parents. 

Next, Kate Middleton hailed the ‘amazing work’ of key workers and frontline NHS staff throughout the coronavirus crises during a video conversation with three charity workers. 

William and Kate were filmed making video calls to medical, charity and voluntary staff in South Africa, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

The Duchess of Cambridge also said it was ‘sad, almost’ how it has taken a pandemic for the public to ‘really back and support all those working on the front line’.

Kate and William chatted in a video call with Dr Zolelwa Sifumba, from South Africa, an advocate for the rights of healthcare workers on the front line. 

The duchess told the medic: ‘Here in the UK there’s been masses of public recognition of the amazing work the front line are doing and it’s sad, almost, that it’s taken the pandemic for the public to really back and support all those working on the front line.’

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children – Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – were pictured last year joining in the weekly applause for frontline workers during the early part of the pandemic.

Dr Sifumba said: ‘We actually know the problems, we see the problems every day, you walk into work there are the problems.

‘The problem is our voices are not heard. We are on the front lines and we are expected to lift humanity. So my advice to everybody is, if you know a healthcare worker – any healthcare worker – you just love on them, love on them, love on them some more.

‘If their child needs looking after offer, you know, if they need a meal, offer.’

William added: ‘We, Catherine and I, have spoken to a lot of healthcare workers in UK and around the world over the last year – we hear your worries and your concerns and thank you for your time chatting to us about it.’ 

Lianne La Havas sang I Say A Little Prayer before Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, spoke about the values of the Commonwealth.  

Meanwhile, in extracts of their Oprah interview, Meghan has already accused The Firm – as the royal family is sometimes known – of ‘perpetuating falsehoods’ and told how she now felt liberated to make her own choices. 

This evening’s one-off BBC show was arranged after the annual Commonwealth Day event at Westminster Abbey was cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

Prince Charles spoke of Climate Change amid the coronavirus pandemic 

Prince Charles, filmed giving an address in Westminster Abbey, applauded the ‘extraordinary determination, courage and creativity’ of people in the face of ‘heart-breaking suffering’.

The ACM Gospel Choir performed ahead of the Prince of Wales’ statement, when he said ‘the essence of the commonwealth is its remarkable diversity’. 

Charles said the pandemic had affected every country ‘cruelly robbing countless people of their lives and livelihoods’, but praised how people responded with ‘extraordinary determination, courage and creativity’. 

He added: ‘Amidst such heartbreaking suffering the extraordinary determination, courage and creativity with which people have responded has been an inspiration to us all.

‘This pandemic has shown us the true nature of a global emergency’.

He spoke about the importance of Climate Change alongside the pandemic, adding ‘nature, it seems to me, is at the heart of this’.

‘Encouragingly, it is increasingly our young people who make up 60 per cent of the Commonwealth citizens who understand the importance of protecting the natural world,’ he said. 

A short video clip then showed the work to tackle climate change across the Commonwealth.  

Last year’s service in the central London church was the scene of Harry and Meghan’s final official engagement as senior royals before they quit the working monarchy.

They had been hailed as the new stars of the Commonwealth after pledging to work with the association throughout their lives. 

Dressed in a delphinium blue dress and jacket, the Queen wore her sapphire chrysanthemum brooch in a touching gesture to Prince Philip, who is still in hospital recovering from heart surgery. She wore it in their honeymoon photographs and again for their commemorative wedding anniversary portrait last November.

Prince Charles, filmed giving an address in Westminster Abbey, applauded the ‘extraordinary determination, courage and creativity’ of people in the face of ‘heart-breaking suffering’, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge praise healthcare workers from around the world.

While the Royals’ appearance in the BBC programme was planned some time ago, its timing just hours before Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey goes out in North America is undeniably awkward.

The Family’s broadcast was suggested by the Royal Commonwealth Society and Westminster Abbey in early January because they recognised this year’s Commonwealth Day Service would be cancelled due to lockdown.

The Queen then agreed to narrate her annual Commonwealth message, usually printed in the service programme.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, talking to Clare Balding about children’s literacy, were filmed in Westminster Abbey, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, were filmed on video calls talking to medical and charity staff. Harry and Meghan, who handed back their roles as Commonwealth ambassadors, do not feature. 

It was at the Commonwealth Day service last year when the Sussexes were last seen with their family. 

Meanwhile, the Sunday Express reported that The Queen’s mind is ‘only on duty and Philip’.

Reports have claimed Meghan could expose insider details of her supposed rift with the Duchess of Cambridge, but an Oprah interview source has insisted Meghan has nothing but ‘kind words’ to say about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

Aides at the centre of palace intrigue

Melissa Touabti (right) is pictured with Robbie Williams' wife Ayda for whom she previously worked

Melissa Touabti (right) is pictured with Robbie Williams’ wife Ayda for whom she previously worked

PA WHO QUIT AFTER WEDDING:

Melissa Touabti, the duchess’s former personal assistant, had previously worked for Robbie Williams and Madonna.

She played a key role in preparations for Meghan and Harry’s wedding in May 2018, but quit after just six months.

The Frenchwoman, 41, took a job with the billionaire Livingstone family – owners of the stately home Cliveden. 

THE AMERICAN SPIN DOCTOR:

Jason Knauf joined the royals in 2014, having acted as a ‘crisis management expert’ at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The 36- year-old American, who completed his master’s at the London School of Economics, served as communications secretary to the ‘Fab Four’ of William, Kate, Harry and Meghan before the Cambridges and Sussexes created separate offices in March 2019.

Mr Knauf now heads William and Kate’s charitable foundation. 

THE AMERICAN SPIN DOCTOR: Jason Knauf (left) walks behind the couple at the Invictus Games in Toronto

THE AMERICAN SPIN DOCTOR: Jason Knauf (left) walks behind the couple at the Invictus Games in Toronto 

Simon Case in Dundee in 2019

Simon Case in Dundee in 2019 

THE WHIZ-KID WHO RUNS WHITEHALL: 

Simon Case became the youngest head of the civil service for over a century when he took the post at the tender age of 41.

The Cambridge history graduate – a noted fan of tweed suits and Barbour jackets – had previously been the principal private secretary to successive Tory prime ministers, David Cameron and Theresa May. He also worked at spying centre GCHQ as a ‘director of strategy’.

His most recent role before becoming Cabinet Secretary last year was serving as private secretary to Prince William.

THE TOUGH TALKING AUSTRALIAN: 

Formerly the Queen’s assistant private secretary, Samantha Cohen had planned to quit Buckingham Palace in 2018. Instead, she agreed to stay on and help the duchess through her first months in the Royal Family.

The well-liked but tough-talking Australian became the Sussexes’ private secretary, but left in 2019 to work for the environmental charity Cool Earth. 

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Queen Elizabeth II (accompanied by Samantha Cohen) attend a ceremony to open the new Mersey Gateway Bridge on June 14, 2018 in Widnes, England

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Queen Elizabeth II (accompanied by Samantha Cohen) attend a ceremony to open the new Mersey Gateway Bridge on June 14, 2018 in Widnes, England 

THE PRINCES’ HR HEAD HONCHO: 

Experienced human resources director Samantha Carruthers worked for De Beers and investment bank Lazard before joining the royals.

Head of HR for Prince Charles and Prince William until 2019, she is now deputy chairman of the board of trustees for child bereavement charity Winston’s Wish. 

Samantha Carruthers worked for De Beers and investment bank Lazard before joining the royal

Samantha Carruthers worked for De Beers and investment bank Lazard before joining the royal 

They said no rift would be exposed between the two households, once dubbed the ‘Fab Four’, the New York Post reports.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was ‘unlikely’ that he would record the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, which is due to be aired in the early hours of Monday morning, UK time.

Speaking on a visit to a vaccination centre in Brent in north London, the PM told broadcasters: ‘Of course I’m interested in all sorts of stuff in the news around the world.

‘I think it is quite late our time, so I’ll probably miss it.’

Pushed on whether he would record the interview: ‘I think it unlikely. We are focusing on the vaccine rollout and economic recovery.’

In extracts of the Oprah Winfrey interview released over the last few days, Meghan has criticised the constraints she faced as a working royal, and said it was ‘liberating’ to be able to ‘say yes’ to a request for an interview with the US chat show host.

She accused The Firm – as the royal family is sometimes known – of ‘perpetuating falsehoods’ about her and Harry.

The Sunday Times reported royal advisers are ‘prepared to retaliate with fresh disclosures about the couple’s behaviour if the monarchy is attacked.’

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the reports. 

Buckingham Palace could also question the Duchess of Cambridge in its inquiry into bullying allegations made against Meghan, according to the Sunday Mirror, which claimed aides will name Kate as a witness.

Meghan is facing accusations that she drove out two personal assistants and that staff were ‘humiliated’ on several occasions, with The Sun reporting the probe will focus on the Sussexes’ tour of Australia in 2018.

Past and present employees have been invited to speak in confidence about their experiences of working for the duchess, who responded by saying she was ‘saddened by this latest attack on her character’.

The Duke of Edinburgh, 99, remains at the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, where he was moved back to on Friday following a successful procedure on a pre-existing heart condition at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London on Wednesday.

The duke, the nation’s longest-serving consort, has spent 19 nights in hospital – his longest ever stay.

The Sussexes have faced calls for the broadcast on Sunday to be postponed out of respect for Philip.   

After a frenzied week dominated by bombshell claims of alleged bullying and fierce denials, Royal officials have signalled their determination not to be dragged into a tawdry tit-for-tat battle with the Sussexes.

While acknowledging that the two-hour interview, to be screened in the US tonight and the UK tomorrow, is likely to include further uncomfortable moments, an insider icily highlighted Britain faced more important issues.

‘On Monday most people in Britain will be thinking about schools going back, getting the vaccine and, at the Palace particularly, looking forward to the Duke of Edinburgh coming out of hospital. This is just a sideshow,’ they said.

The comments will be interpreted by many as a sign that ‘The Firm’ believes Harry and Meghan will in time struggle to attract the kind of attention they received in the UK before they stepped back from their Royal duties a year ago.

Aides described the mood at Buckingham Palace ahead of the interview as ‘calm’, with courtiers said to be maintaining a sense of ‘this, too, will pass’.

One source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Most of what is said will be lost in the mists of time. History teaches us that only the interviewer wins from these programmes.’

Palace officials have no idea what the couple have said to Ms Winfrey, beyond the pre-released teasers.

‘We haven’t got a clue what they say in the interview,’ said the source. ‘But there is determination not to play their game. There is a very clear sense right from the top that it’s best not to react.’ 

They will, however, have gained a flavour of the interview from the series of clips released during a heavy promotional campaign by the US network CBS. 

It has reportedly paid Ms Winfrey’s production company between £5 million and £6.5 million for the rights to the interview.

In one clip last week, Meghan is seen sitting in the garden of a mansion in California explaining her short experience of Palace life was ‘almost unsurvivable’. 

In another, Harry says that it has been ‘unbelievably tough for the two of us but at least we have each other’.

He adds that he decided to emigrate to the US with Meghan because he feared ‘history repeating itself’ after the death of Diana.

Television insiders predict, however, the worst may be yet to come. One experienced US TV producer said: ‘It’s not like a movie where all the best bits are in the trailer. 

In programmes like this, they keep the real bombshells for the show.’ What is clear, however, is that whatever grenades may be launched, the Palace does not intend to start a war. As one source put it: ‘Only one side seems to be firing.’

It is far from the first time that the Palace will have dealt with an excruciating tell-all interview.

For Prince Charles, it will no doubt stir up painful memories of Diana’s Panorama revelations 25 years ago, in which she spoke of there being ‘three people in this marriage’. 

But aides were keen to point out there is a crucial difference. When Diana sat down with Martin Bashir, she sparked a rift between herself and the Palace. This time, Harry and Meghan’s departure has already happened.

Before the fireworks from California, the British public will see other Royals provide a stark alternative by focusing on efforts to combat coronavirus.

Behind the ‘keep calm and carry on’ message, however, aides say there is genuine concern Harry will live to regret the Oprah interview.

‘I suspect that one day Harry will come to regret it, just as Diana did,’ writes Royal biographer Penny Junor in today’s Mail on Sunday.

It was claimed last week Meghan faced a bullying complaint brought forward by one of her closest advisers during her time at Kensington Palace. 

A spokesman for the Sussexes appeared to blame the Palace for leaking the claims, saying the couple were ‘the victims of a calculated smear campaign’. 

Revenge of the Sussex survivors’ club: The extraordinary inside story of how a fairytale turned into a nightmare of ‘traumatised’ staff – by Royal Editor REBECCA ENGLISH, who saw so much of it herself

By Rebecca English, Royal Editor for the Daily Mail 

It is the one royal group that no one wants to join. Referred to only half-jokingly as the ‘Sussex Survivors’ Club’, its membership is sadly rising.

But its select band of members have one thing in common: all have worked for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and lived to tell the tale.

Joking aside, some even believe they may have a form of post-traumatic stress, defined by doctors as an anxiety disorder caused by distressing or frightening events.

Such experiences, of course, are now widely acknowledged not to be limited to soldiers who have undergone traumatic experiences on the battlefield, but also to people at work.

Even if that work is in a palace.

And today, many former palace staff look back on the moment that Prince Harry introduced to the world his beautiful, intelligent and passionate bride-to-be as the beginning of one of the most traumatic periods in their lives.

Let us be clear: Harry is a complex man but one with a strong sense of natural justice and charity, given to acts of compassion and kindness.

Rebecca English with Prince Harry to learn about the work of his new charity Sentebale in Lesotho in 2006

Rebecca English with Prince Harry to learn about the work of his new charity Sentebale in Lesotho in 2006

‘He wears his heart on his sleeve and genuinely wants to do good in the world,’ one admirer tells me.

But he is also equally capable, say those who know him well and like him, of behaving ‘like an absolute brat’.

It had been clear for years to anyone he came into contact with that he wasn’t happy working with the palace machinery – or, particularly, the British media (sometimes understandably so).

He was, they say, always capable of self-destructively ‘pressing the nuclear button’ on his royal life.

Meghan, they stress, was simply the catalyst.

But the result was more toxic, more personally harmful, than anyone could ever have imagined.

To begin with, however, the atmosphere at Kensington Palace was heady and exciting.

Queen will get a breakfast briefing from aides at Buckingham Palace who will stay up through the night to watch Harry and Meghan’s explosive interview 

The Queen is pictured in Salisbury in October 2020

The Queen is pictured in Salisbury in October 2020 

By Mark Hookham for the Mail on Sunday 

Aides at Buckingham Palace will stay up through the night to watch the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Royal insiders are determined not to enter into a war of words, but will be watching the two-hour broadcast carefully for any fresh allegations levelled against them.

While the interview will not be screened in the UK until tomorrow, it is believed Palace aides have secured an online feed to allow them to watch the interview live when it is broadcast by CBS. 

It is due to start at 5pm in Los Angeles, or 1am in the UK.

Aides described the mood at Buckingham Palace ahead of the interview as ‘calm’, with courtiers said to be maintaining a sense of ‘this, too, will pass’.

One source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Most of what is said will be lost in the mists of time. History teaches us that only the interviewer wins from these programmes.’

Palace officials have no idea what the couple have said to Ms Winfrey, beyond the pre-released teasers.

‘We haven’t got a clue what they say in the interview,’ said the source. ‘But there is determination not to play their game. There is a very clear sense right from the top that it’s best not to react.’ 

Here was a glamorous couple, clearly deeply in love. Meghan was the missing piece of the jigsaw that poor, motherless Harry had been searching for all those years.

Famously she once paid for an ice cream stand for her new staff at Kensington Palace, with the event later – surprise! – being breathlessly revealed in People, a ‘pro-Sussex’ American magazine, as the ‘best day of work, ever’.

More than that, they were a couple determined to do good on a world stage – at the same time sprinkling a little stardust on Britain’s ‘fusty’ old Royal Family.

And their small team of loyal staff believed in them – until, that is, the scales fell from their eyes.

Notoriously, within a few weeks of Meghan’s arrival in England and the announcement of the couple’s engagement in November 2017, word was leaking out about the couple’s ‘autocratic’ and ‘difficult’ behaviour.

Occasionally it slipped into print: that Meghan (a claim robustly sourced by the Mail) had refused to wear a hat on her first official engagement with the Queen in Chester, despite being strongly advised it would be appropriate and respectful to do so.

Then came the famous row over which tiara she wanted to wear to the couple’s wedding, resulting in Harry publicly admonishing one of the Queen’s most senior members of staff, Angela Kelly: ‘What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.’

There were also claims that the Duchess of Cambridge had told Meghan she shouldn’t speak to her staff so dismissively and that there was so much friction at a pre-wedding bridesmaid fitting that Kate was left in tears.

The Times has reported that the ‘febrile’ atmosphere within Kensington Palace saw staff, on occasion, weeping. Two say they were bullied by the duchess, a third that they had been ‘humiliated’ by her.

The paper quotes one aide, who was anticipating a confrontation with Meghan, as saying: ‘I can’t stop shaking.’ At first, my sources tell me, Harry tried to keep the peace, gently placating his wife and quietly apologising to staff.

On one occasion described to me by several sources, he even gently admonished Meghan about the way she behaved with palace staff – many of whom work long hours for relatively little money out of pride for the institution – after a particularly explosive encounter.

The details are subject to conjecture (and have become something of a palace legend) but resulted in Harry speaking to one of his close protection officers, who confirmed his fiancee’s behaviour.

But as the weeks went on, the prince became increasingly hostile to his once-loyal aides.

The Times has claimed Harry knew of a complaint made by the couple’s former communications secretary, Jason Knauf, that Meghan had driven two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member. Harry is said to have had a meeting with Mr Knauf in which he begged him not to pursue it. The Sussexes deny this.

They also describe the allegations as ‘old’, ‘distorted’ and aimed at ‘undermining’ Meghan. It has been suggested by others that staff may have ‘misunderstood’ Meghan’s more direct, American style. But I have personally witnessed more than one member of staff driven to tears by the treatment they were subjected to by the duke and duchess before the couple acrimoniously quit as working royals.

One person sobbed down the phone to me after a particularly harrowing day. They clearly felt emotionally broken and could no longer cope with the pressure they were being subjected to.

Others have indicated to me they were being asked to behave in a manner they did not feel professionally comfortable with, particularly in their dealings with the media. Several aides have also told me that Meghan in particular was very good at ‘drawing’ staff into her confidence, flattering them as if they were the only person in the world she could trust and asking them to help her with various duties.

Often these were things that were far beyond the scope of their normal work – in one case being instructed to make plans for her father Thomas to be flown from his home in Mexico before the wedding and taken to a fully-stocked ‘safe house’ in LA for a few days in order to fool any waiting media.

And then, when things didn’t go to plan, the sun would no longer shine on them. It was made ‘horribly clear’ they were out of favour.

Toxic, hostile, distrustful, poisonous: all words I have heard regularly used over the past few years to describe people’s experiences working in the Sussexes’ household.

The Times reports matters became so bad that Mr Knauf, an experienced PR operator who cut his teeth defending the bank RBS at the height of its financial scandal, decided to put his strongly held concerns in writing.

He made clear in October 2018, little more than six months after the couple married, that he believed the duchess had already driven two members of staff out and another was being targeted.

‘I am very concerned that the duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year. The treatment of [redacted] was totally unacceptable,’ he wrote.

‘The duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying ‘Y’ and seeking to undermine her confidence. We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour towards Y.’

The Times has chosen not to match incidents to individual names, but the members of staff leaving the Sussexes’ employment were all women and all seasoned professionals. A well-placed source said: ‘[One woman’s] job was highly pressurised and in the end it became too much. She put up with quite a lot. Meghan put a lot of demands on her and it ended up with her in tears.’ One member of staff, a seasoned professional, was initially said to have left on good terms.

While acknowledging that the two-hour interview, to be screened in the US tonight and the UK tomorrow, is likely to include further uncomfortable moments, an insider icily highlighted Britain faced more important issues

While acknowledging that the two-hour interview, to be screened in the US tonight and the UK tomorrow, is likely to include further uncomfortable moments, an insider icily highlighted Britain faced more important issues

But I have since been told that this popular aide was deeply unhappy about her experience working for the duchess and had been ‘desperate’ to get out as long as she could professionally put a brave face on it. Likewise a third member of staff. Mr Knauf makes clear in his email, as reported by The Times, that he was also concerned about the couple’s hugely experienced deputy private secretary, Samantha Cohen. She had worked for the Queen for more than 20 years and was personally persuaded by the monarch to stay on and help the couple navigate their first few years of royal life.

He indicated that she was experiencing extreme stress and said: ‘I questioned if the Household policy on bullying and harassment applies to principals [the term used to refer to a member of the royal family].’

One source tells me wryly, with an eye to Meghan’s much-hyped championing of female empowerment: ‘Note that everyone concerned was a woman.’

Another adds: ‘Sam always made clear that it was like working for a couple of teenagers. They were impossible and pushed her to the limit. She was miserable.’

The Times also makes reference to an incident during the couple’s tour to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga in 2018, which was a particularly difficult one for all concerned, Meghan included. She was, of course, pregnant at the time.

The newspaper reports how Meghan cut short a visit to a market in Fiji because she was concerned about the presence of a UN organisation promoting women, with which she had worked before and made clear she no longer wished to have anything to do with.

At the time officials had suggested that it was because it was humid and the crowd was oppressive in the market.

I was there at the time and witnessed Meghan turn and ‘hiss’ at a member of her entourage, clearly incandescent with rage about something, and demand to leave.

I later saw that same – female – highly distressed member of staff sitting in an official car, with tears running down her face. Our eyes met and she lowered hers, humiliation etched on her features.

At the time I was unable to document anything as I couldn’t conclusively link the two incidents together, despite my suspicions. I have subsequently found out from other sources that my instincts were right.

It should be stressed that lawyers for the duchess said she met other leaders from UN Women later on the tour and denied she left for the reason alleged.

So why has this all come out now, you might ask?

The Times makes clear that these aides have ‘hit back’ before Meghan’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey this Sunday.

The newspaper says it was approached by sources because they felt ‘only a partial version had emerged of Meghan’s two years as a working member of the royal family and they wished to tell their side’.

They were also concerned at how such matters were handled by the palace.

One source put it more succinctly to me yesterday. ‘Those concerned are fed up with the sheer hypocrisy of it all. The suggestion that they [the Sussexes] were being bullied and forced out when others were experiencing that very treatment at their hands!’ exclaimed the source.

Another insider told me they believed some staff had even sought psychological therapy over their experiences – something that Harry, who moved the nation when he revealed how he had himself sought professional help to cope with the emotional fall-out over his mother’s death and has long campaigned on mental health issues, should know all about.

‘People have been broken by this, genuinely so. Absolutely traumatised,’ I am told.

Lawyers for the duchess say she wished to fit in and be accepted and had left her life in North America to commit to her new role.

What a sad, sorry mess.

The irony, another source says, is that no one wanted a battle. But the Sussexes have waged this war and enough is enough.

Those aides who have broken the royal omerta say they refuse to sit by and watch Harry and Meghan’s ‘duplicitous’ behaviour, especially when ‘good people and brilliant professionals’ are having their reputations unfairly traduced. One source warns: ‘The royals cannot fight back. ‘Never complain, never explain.’ But they can.’

A spokesman for the Sussexes has told The Times that they are the victims of a ‘calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful information’.

They have said the duchess is ‘saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk