Feature writing

Prince William and Kate Middleton want their American fan base back

October 22, 2021

The couple are reportedly planning a major U.S. tour, “aware their popularity took a bit of a dive” after Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview, a source tells Vanity Fair.

After Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s explosive Oprah Winfrey interview—and many words, upset, allegations, and denials since—it seemed to be that the two had their American constituency of fans. The rest of the royals—Prince William and Kate Middleton included—could keep Britain, thanks very much. The popularity of Harry and Meghan in the U.S. is far greater than in the U.K. Meghan is American, and they live in California.

The expectation was Harry and Meghan would play to the American market—as they have, through the CBS Oprah interview, their lucrative media deals, another explosive Oprah interview (with Apple+), and news-making moments like Meghan lobbying for comprehensive paid leave this week—while the royals would just get on with their dutiful rain-or-shine event openings and support of homeland good causes.

But no. William and Kate are fed up considering America as off-limits and are set to challenge Harry and Meghan in America itself. Vanity Fair reports that in the wake of William announcing that that next year’s Earthshot Awards ceremony would take place in the United States, a source close to the couple told Vanity Fair that they had even bigger plans for courting America.

“Team Cambridge is very focused on America and making sure they have a high profile over there,” the source told VF. “The possibility of them making a high-profile visit is very much on the cards for next year.”

The source added that William and Kate, and presumably the rest of the royals, know what the effect of the Oprah interview was—painting them as racist, insensitive, cruel, and rejecting of Harry and Meghan. The standout mystery raised by the Oprah interview has not been solved: Is there a so-called royal racist who questioned the color of the skin of the couple’s then-unborn baby, and if so who is it? After the documentary aired, William responded sullenly to reporters asking about the issue: “We are very much not a racist family.”

“[William and Kate] are aware that their popularity took a bit of a dive post the Oprah interview, and that the focus now is on getting that support back,” the source told VF. “America is a very important audience for them.” Their last official visit to the U.S. was in December 2014.

As well as the racism allegation, Meghan told Oprah it had been Kate Middleton who had made her cry prior to Harry and Meghan’s wedding (not the other way round as had been reported), and that she felt suicidal when she was five months pregnant, that she approached the palace authorities seeking help, and was effectively told to get lost.

In another interview Harry said his father and brother were “trapped” within the monarchy. Communication was not helped by William and other royals allegedly worrying that anything they said directly to Harry or Meghan could get repeated to Oprah or Gayle King.

The brothers got together for the unveiling of their mother’s statue in July, but Harry quit Britain sharpish to return to California. Since then, there has been yet another royal fallout, this time over the christening of Harry and Meghan’s second child, Lilibet. An investigation into Meghan’s alleged bullying of palace stuff is still underway, even though Meghan and Harry clearly she believe she was the victim of the same by the palace.

After the Oprah interview, a stark intercontinental divide was made apparent, with 48 percent of Americans saying they thought it would boost the couple’s image. In Britain, 50 percent of those surveyed felt it would harm their image. Another poll found that 44 percent of Americans felt it was appropriate that the couple did the interview; in Britain, 47 percent thought it inappropriate.

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed in America had sympathy for Harry and Meghan; only 27 percent expressed sympathy for the senior members of the royal family. Only 12 percent of Britons say they had “a lot” of sympathy for Harry and Meghan. Thirty-three percent of Britons had no sympathy at all for the couple.

The YouGov survey also found that Americans “tend to believe that Meghan’s race has played a role in how she was treated by members of the royal family, as well as the British press.”

However, William and Kate can take some confidence that, pre-the interview, they were only just behind Queen Elizabeth II in a poll of America’s favorite royals.

William and Kate have perhaps calculated that they can either dodge the negative anti-royal PR the Oprah interview generated or that even in America the Harry and Meghan fervor has died down a little. However, if they do come to America, they can maybe expect the most ugly aspects of the accusations of the royals to resurface—alleged racism, specifically.

William may feel especially emboldened after a Mail on Sunday poll of Brits confirmed last week that most would prefer he succeed the queen, rather than dad Prince Charles. Forty-one percent of Brits surveyed want William to succeed the queen, compared to 30 percent wanting Charles. Half of the respondents thought Meghan Markle was behind Prince Harry moving to America; 7 percent said it was Harry’s decision, with under a third, 30 percent, believing it to be a joint decision.

Asked how they viewed members of the royal family, positively and negatively, the queen scored well (61 percent positively, 12 percent negatively), as did William (same as the queen), and Kate Middleton (53 percent positively to 12 percent negatively). Prince Charles did OK (42 percent positively to 24 percent negatively). Harry and Meghan’s lack of popularity in Britain is pronounced. Harry scored 30 percent positively, to 40 percent negatively, while Meghan was perceived positively by 22 percent of respondents, and negatively by 46 percent. However, asked which member of the royal family respondents would like to go for a drink with, Harry won, with 19 percent, followed by William at 15 percent, and Kate with 10 percent. The queen scored 8 percent.

It is hard to see much royal rapprochement in any nearby crystal balls. Harry’s most anticipated project is his forthcoming memoir, and the prospect of more royal family dirty linen getting aired. Kate and William, at least publicly, would be selling a much less charged brand of royalty if and when they come to America: old school, genteel, affable, glamorous. But Kate and William, like Harry and Meghan, are trying to progress to find purpose beyond pearly smiles and handshakes. Advocacy and a focus on causes are important to both couples.

William and Kate have become not just more social media savvy of late but just generally more visible—if America loves glitz, then Kate’s appearance at the recent James Bond premiere in glittering gold is a promising sign of public events to come. There is a growing public confidence of William and Kate—perhaps itself on bolder public display because of Harry and Meghan’s huge popularity. That seems to have provided a jolt that being quiet and nice wasn’t going to cut it. William recently spoke out against space tourism. Kate’s public roles and voice have been growing.

The American journey, if the rumors are true, also represents a direct royal challenge to Harry and Meghan on their home turf. By extension, another chapter of royal rancor and feuding, or at the least vigorous competition between two rival courts, may be just about to unfold.