Some years ago I attended an event in London at which the Queen and Prince Philip were present. It was a relatively small gathering and myself and several other reporters were standing together in a corner of the room, if not lowering the tone, then certainly lowering the net worth of the crowd.

Prince Philip approached us and asked us who we were, in that direct way for which he is so well-known. "We are members of the press", I told him, at which he gave a shudder for dramatic effect and turned and walked away.

It was a surprising reaction from the man who was at the forefront of understanding how the media could play a role in making the royal family more accessible to the general public.

It was his idea to televise the coronation of the Queen in 1953 - a radical step at the time.

But it was an understandable reaction from a man who, in the intervening years, has clearly come to view the media as something which can't be completely ignored, but should be kept at arm’s length.

Scandal after scandal in recent decades has brought numerous crises for "the firm", as Prince Philip is said to describe the family.

Early in Queen Elizabeth's reign Prince Philip had been keen to embrace the media but his attitude changed over the years

That’s why last night’s interview between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will have been such uncomfortable viewing for the Royals. It must have come close to the worst-case scenario the royal family imagined when they heard that the couple had plans for a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey.

And they did tell all. In doing so they showed just how deep the rupture has become in the relationship between Prince Harry and the rest of his family. That Harry’s relatives found out what he said about them at the same time as the viewing public is a real indication of how far out of the fold he has now moved. But it also opens the royal family up to scrutiny about whether there is any truth to the grievances clearly felt by the couple.

Meghan said she had thoughts of ending her own life while pregnant, feeling isolated and ill-prepared for the pressures that came with being a member of the royal family. When she asked for help to deal with the mental health pressures it was refused on the basis that it would not be good for the family if she did receive treatment.

It was a particularly damning revelation given that Harry and his brother William have focused much of their work in recent years on the importance of good mental health and the need to ask for support.

The couple refused to name who made the remark about how dark the colour of their son's skin might be

There was also the issue of race. With an African American mother, Meghan’s arrival in the royal family was hailed as a new era in modern Britain, in spite of tension between the couple and the British press who were accused by Prince Harry of being racist in their coverage of his wife.

The revelation that a member of the royal household had asked how dark the colour of their son’s skin might be when he was born made it clear the couple believed the racism was not simply coming from the press, but from inside the palace as well.

It was a particularly astounding revelation, opening up once again the issue of race in British society which was discussed so much in the run up to the couple’s wedding. 

The couple refused to name the person who had made the remark, in many ways now leaving the accusation of racism against all members of the family.

A lot of what the couple had to say last night sounded eerily familiar to the famous Panorama interview with Princess Diana 25 years ago. While that is now under scrutiny because of how the interview was obtained, at the time it transfixed viewers to hear so much personal detail from a figure who was seen but rarely heard.  Last night was no different.

Read more:
Duchess of Sussex says British royals worried about her son's skin tone
Key talking points from Meghan and Harry interview

Prince Harry referenced his mother when he talked of how disappointed he was with his father’s reaction to him. He said he had thought Prince Charles might understand more given that he had watched Princess Diana go through something similar. 

The relationship between the future king and his son was described as needing a lot of work. He spoke of how his father had at one point stopped taking his calls, though it was hard to see how last night’s revelations will ease the tension.

Harry said he thought Prince Charles might understand more given that he had watched Princess Diana go through something similar

The couple has also been accused of wanting to have their cake and eat it. While they don’t want to live under the constrictions of royal life and duty, they are prepared to use the fame that comes with the royal family to secure lucrative deals with broadcasters such as Netflix.

When asked about that, Prince Harry said the reason for negotiating such deals was that his family had cut him off financially, although he did acknowledge that his mother Princess Diana had left him money in her will.  Critics of the couple are likely to return to the financial element of their future as fallout from the interview continues.

There is of course the inevitable question of why does this matter? Is it not merely tabloid fodder involving people who are at best minor celebrities?

There’s an element of truth to that of course, though remember this is an institution funded by the British public. As a result should it not be more transparent and accountable?

Many in the UK would argue that the schism between Harry and his family has also raised important conversations about racial divides in a time of the Black Lives Matter movement.

And it’s important to remember that interviews with royals can show up elements of the institution about which the public have a right to know.

Take the 2019 Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew as a case in point. Questions about his friendship with convicted child abuser Jeffrey Epstein had lingered for years. The prince had presumably spent some time preparing what he would say. This was his opportunity to explain and apologise.

In the end, he did neither. His reaction to questions which he should have expected suggested he had spent too little of his life being questioned and held to account. The public reaction to that interview forced the palace to react, with the prince removed from key duties.

This interview is unlikely to see any public reaction from the palace. But it has undoubtedly joined the list of extraordinary royal interviews with it hard to see just how the family relationships – already damaged – can now be repaired.