In recent years, we have become accustomed to members of the Royal Family taking part in revelation heavy interviews. They are guaranteed ratings winners and the world continues to talk about them years after they have aired. From Diana, Princess of Wales’s Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in 1995 to The Prince of Wales’ explosive interview with Johnathan Dimbleby in 1994 and Prince Andrew’s disastrous interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight in 2019 – the Royal Family have taken part in their fair share of headline making interviews.
The most recent of these interviews was aired on Sunday night in the United States when The Duke and Duchess of Sussex sat down with Oprah Winfrey for a two hour exchange that was laden with allegations and criticisms of both the Monarchy as an institution and The Royal Family as a family unit.
If it is acceptable to call the ‘Royal Revelation Interviews’ a trend, it is fair to say that this trend began way before the War of the Wales’s and even longer before The Duke and Duchess of Sussex stepped back as senior members of ‘The Firm’.
On 27th March 1970, Edward and Wallis, formally known as The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, sat down for an interview with Kenneth Harris and the BBC.
The Duke of Windsor was the former King Edward VIII and abdicated the throne in 1936 when his proposal of marriage to Wallis Simpson, a divorced American socialite, was opposed by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth. His brother, Albert, became King George VI and went on to reign for nearly 16 years before his death in 1952. On 6th February 1952, his daughter became Queen Elizabeth II.
King George VI granted his brother the title, Duke of Windsor, and Edward married Wallis in France on 3rd June 1937 following the finalising of her divorce from Ernest Simpson.
Following the Second World War, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor returned to France where they spent the remainder of their lives essentially in retirement. Though the couple had given short interviews before 1970, notably to Edward R. Murrow on Person to Person, it was 34 years after the abdication that Edward and Wallis agreed to a candid conversation to be broadcast on the BBC.
The interview was agreed in January 1970 and eventually aired on 27th March 1970.
The conversation was just as candid as Harry and Meghan’s recent interview with Oprah. Decades before Harry’s admission he felt trapped by the establishment, Edward too gave his thoughts on the establishment, admitting he wasn’t really sure what was meant by the term ‘establishment.’
“The establishment was a new word to me until about 15 years ago, when I heard it and asked people to explain it to me. It’s not an easy word to explain. It’s rather an obscure word. But it must have always existed. I think it means authority, authority of the law, of the church, the monarch to a certain extent.” Edward added that he had collided with the establishment but “not very violently.”
It is said that The Duke of Windsor got cold feet about taking part in the interview the night before however it was too late to pull out. Unlike Harry and Meghan, who appeared comfortable around Oprah Winfrey in their conversation, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor both seemed uncomfortable during their interview with Kenneth Harris.
The Duke of Windsor was appointed Governor of the Bahamas during the Second World War and when asked by Harris if he would’ve liked another job afterwards, the Duke replied, “I offered my services.” Those services were reportedly turned down and when asked why, Edward answered, “You’d have to ask. Most of the people, I’m afraid, are underground now who prevented me. Oh, I don’t know, it’s hard to say.”
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor also expressed their opinions on social topics such as the modern youth, smoking and the role of women in society. The Duke of Windsor also shared his memories of his forebears Queen Victoria and King Edward VII as well as the many statesmen he encountered including Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill.
When asked what sort of King he wanted to be, Edward replied, “I wanted to be an up-to date King. I had lots of political conceptions but I kept them to myself, and that is the tradition of the Royal Family.”
The 50 minute interview with the BBC attracted an audience of over 12 million, close to the numbers who watched The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah on Monday evening on ITV.
When asked, finally, if they had any regrets, The Duke of Windsor commented, “I have no regrets. I stay interested in my country, Britain, your land and mine. I wish it well.”
It can be argued that The Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s interview in 1970 set a precedent for future members of The Royal Family to give their own bombshell interviews. Whatever precedent was set, it is clear from the most recent royal interview that the world still has an appetite to hear the allegations and criticisms of the institution – whether recollections vary or not.