Oprah Winfrey’s game face was on the minute Meghan Markle sat down in that picturesque California backyard for a tell-all interview about marrying into, and subsequently leaving, the British royal family.
Oprah was enthusiastic as she greeted the Duchess of Sussex, congratulating her on her second pregnancy with a “distant hug” before jumping into the whirlwind of reports about what caused her and her husband, Prince Harry, to step away from the monarchy. She then dove right into Meghan and Harry’s fairy-tale May 2019 wedding, which was witnessed by billions of admirers around the world. From there, things escalated as a solo Meghan spoke in depth about everything from her purported rift with sister-in-law Kate Middleton to her relationship with Queen Elizabeth and her naivety about a royal institution that would encompass her life.
“You don’t know what I’m going to ask, and no subject is off limits, and you are not getting paid for this interview,” Oprah confirmed with Meghan before asking, “So, you ready?”
With ease, Oprah weaved in and out of questioning, circling back on topics that needed more clarification. And Meghan, presumably nervous to be opening up so candidly about her experiences over the last few years, obliged almost every nudge.
For years, Oprah has gotten celebrities to open up in a way few can. She’s warm and empathetic, compassionate yet firm. She got Tom Cruise to jump on a couch and wildly express his love for Katie Holmes. She convinced Kim Kardashian to divulge information about her then-private relationship with Kanye West. And she recently had a very personal chat with President Barack Obama about life and the 2020 election.
She may be the best celebrity interviewer to do the job, to be quite frank. As we witnessed bombshell reveal after bombshell reveal unfold in the Harry and Meghan sit-down, it’s clear Oprah delivers time and time again.
Over the past few years, Oprah has been building trust with Meghan and Harry. She first met the couple in London in 2018, a few months before attending their nuptials. According to Oprah herself, it was during that time that she asked Meghan for an interview, which the Duchess turned down due to pressures from “the firm.”
Since then, Oprah has become their neighbor, is an acquaintance of Meghan’s mom, Doria Ragland, and teamed up with Harry for an AppleTV+ docu-series on mental health. The couple also stayed at Oprah’s close friend Tyler Perry’s home before obtaining security and finding a place of their own.
The trio have connected, made obvious by Meghan and Harry’s comfort and openness during Sunday’s two-hour CBS special.
It was also telling that Meghan chose to speak individually, without Harry, for the first hour of the interview. Oprah allowed her the space to, perhaps, feel more confident to share specific details of her personal journey, rather than just Harry’s experience as a longtime royal family member.
And share Meghan did. Oprah’s questioning led Meghan to open up about everything from her struggle with suicidal thoughts to the royal family’s racist concerns about her son Archie’s skin tone ― which left Oprah, and viewers at home, aghast.
Once Harry joined the women, the conversation further erupted ― spilling into territory the public rarely hears about: royal security, titles, the tabloids’ working relationship with the institution and the status of Harry’s relationship with his family members. Oprah once again navigated each topic with confidence and didn’t let questions go unsettled.
Anyone else might’ve faltered when it came to racism in the monarchy, but Oprah pressed both Meghan and Harry for more information on how it played a part in their decision to step down. She also continued to question who raised “concerns” about Archie’s skin color, although they both insisted on keeping any names secret. After the interview, Harry did confirm with Oprah that neither the queen nor his grandfather Prince Philip were a part of those discussions.
Most of those watching raved about the interview and commended both Meghan and Harry for being so open with their story. Viewers, including good friend Gayle King, also shouted out Oprah, saying her interrogation skills were unmatched. Even with two hours of airtime, the former talk-show host had a handful of extra clips to share on “CBS This Morning,” including a conversation with Meghan about her father Thomas Markle’s betrayal.
The success of the interview is evident by the ratings. Sunday’s special averaged over 17 million viewers — triple what the Golden Globes did last week, according to TVLine. And that figure is yet to include on demand, out-of-home viewing or full cable ratings, which will rise in the days to come.
CBSViacom reportedly paid a license fee of between $7 million and $9 million for the rights to nationally and internationally air the special from Oprah’s Harpo Productions, beating out NBC and ABC. And the network reportedly sought $325,000 for a 30-second commercial spot during the program.
“Before I do any interview, I have a conversation with whoever I’m interviewing and ask, ’Tell me what your intention is and I’ll tell you what my intention is and we’ll see if we can align those two,” Oprah said on “CBS This Morning.” “I don’t want you to finish the interview and at the end of the interview say, ‘I wish I had said.’”
When it comes down to it, Oprah is the real queen here.