Prince Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey has seen the royal brand take an almighty transatlantic beating, but just how much damage it will cause is yet to be seen.

While the British monarch has had very limited direct power for centuries, the institution’s status as a symbolic figurehead — uniting the nation at home and projecting influence abroad — remains perhaps the strongest argument for its continued existence in the 21st century.

Harry and Meghan’s portrayal of the royals as deeply out of touch, uncaring on mental health, and unsympathetic to — and even complicit in — the racism they say drove them out of the country could seriously dent this argument not only in the United Kingdom, but also in the United States and Britain’s other former colonies.

“Go back 100 years, and the royal family would probably have hoped that one of the justifications for their existence was that they were meant to represent the best of British life,” the royal author and historian Sarah Gristwood said. “That’s got pretty hard to believe over the past decades. And this interview sure doesn’t help.”

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