What is the royal race row and why is it back in the news?

<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

The royal race row that erupted more than two years ago, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey that a member of the royal family had remarked on Prince Archie’s skin colour before he was born, has simmered ever since. Now it has exploded once more as the Dutch version of a new book appears to have named King Charles and the Princess of Wales as family members alleged to have made such remarks.

What did the Sussexes allege in their 2021 interview?

Meghan claimed in the interview with the US chatshow host that while she was pregnant with Archie, a member of the royal family had raised with Harry “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”. Declining to name the royal, Meghan said: “I think it would very damaging to them.” Harry then told Winfrey: “That conversation, I’m never going to share, but at the time it was awkward. I was a bit shocked.” Meghan also suggested the fact that Archie was mixed race meant he was initially denied the title of prince and the security protection that went with the title. Winfrey later said Harry had told her privately that the individual was neither Queen Elizabeth nor the Duke of Edinburgh. Archie and his sister, Lilibet, were officially styled prince and princess after their great grandmother, the queen, died and their grandfather Charles became king, in line with protocol.

How did the royal family react?

The day after the interview, Prince William, on an engagement at an east London school, was asked by a reporter: “Is the royal family a racist family, sir?” William responded with a terse: “We are very much not a racist family.” After two days of crisis talks, Buckingham Palace sought to draw a line under the row. The queen released a statement saying: “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”

Have the Sussexes ever repeated this claim?

The couple accepted the Ripple of Hope award from the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organisation for their racial justice and mental health work at a gala in New York just days before their highly anticipated Netflix docuseries was released in December 2022. It led to speculation they would revisit their claims on Netflix, but they did not.

Neither did Harry mention it in his bombshell memoir, Spare, released in January 2023. In an ITV interview to promote the book, the interviewer Tom Bradby said: “In the Oprah interview you accused members of your family of racism.” Harry replied: “No, I didn’t,” adding: “The British press said that.” Bradby continued, saying Meghan had said there were “troubling comments about [Archie’s] skin colour”. Harry replied: “There was – there was concern about his skin colour.” Bradby asked: “Right, wouldn’t you describe that as essentially racist?” Harry replied: “I wouldn’t, not having lived within that family.” Harry then went on to outline his views on “the difference between racism and unconscious bias”.

What has reignited the controversy?

A Dutch translation of the author Omid Scobie’s new book. Endgame, published this week, appears to name not one but two senior royals alleged to have made the remarks. Charles and Catherine are both alleged to have had conversations about Archie’s skin colour before he was born, reported the Dutch journalist Rick Evers, who has a copy of the book and has posted photographs of the extracts on social media.

The names, however, do not appear in the English version. Scobie does write in the English version that Meghan mentioned the person alleged to have made the remarks in a letter she sent to Charles, after he wrote to her expressing his sorrow at the split in the family. But, Scobie writes, laws prevent him from revealing more.

The names were circulating widely on social media when Piers Morgan broadcast them on TalkTV and they have subsequently been published by UK media outlets, including the Guardian and the BBC.

How did it happen?

Scobie initially blamed a “translation” mistake, and the Dutch publishers, Xander Uitgevers, immediately withdrew and pulped copies, saying rectified editions would be available on 8 December.

The Dutch translator has insisted the names were in the manuscript she received. “As a translator, I translate what is in front of me,” Saskia Peeters told Mail Online. “The names of the royals were there in black and white. I did not add them. I just did what I was paid to do and that was translate the book from English.”

Scobie insisted on the ITV This Morning show he had “never submitted a book that had their names in it”, and could only talk about the English version that he wrote.

He said he had never used the word “racist”, and that his book referred to “unconscious bias” . The inclusion of the names was still being investigated, he said.

Asked on BBC Newsnight whether the names had been deliberately included in the Dutch version to generate interest in the book, Scobie said he was “hurt” by “conspiracy theories that this is a publicity stunt”.

There is speculation that one explanation could be the Dutch publisher was sent an early draft of Endgame by mistake before lawyers removed the names.

What happens next?

Buckingham Palace made no official comment but sources have reportedly indicated it is “exploring all options”. Whether this includes the possibility of legal action, and if so against who, remains unclear.