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Princess Diana Statue Unveiling Shows Mixed Emotions Over Role Of Princes Her Sons

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Despite his ongoing tensions with the royal family, Prince Harry was in the United Kingdom last week. The occasion - the unveiling of a statue of his mother, Princess Diana. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports on what differing attitudes towards the prince and his wife, Meghan, the duchess of Sussex, say about Britain today.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The unveiling took place on what would have been Diana's 60th birthday.

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LANGFITT: Prince Harry joined his brother, Prince William, at the ceremony. But as people visited the statue the next day, they expressed a sense of melancholy.

JENNIFER HARPER: Terribly sad what's happened with the two brothers.

LANGFITT: Jennifer Harper grew up in America but has lived here for three decades. She's referring to the brother's estrangement following Harry's marriage to Meghan, the American actress.

HARPER: I think Harry's choice of wife was problematic in ways that we probably don't understand. I think if you asked everyone here today, I'm not sure (laughter) anyone would have a kind or a nice word to say about her.

LANGFITT: Keith Willan, retired IT worker, says people liked the couple back in 2018, when they were married in a grand ceremony.

KEITH WILLAN: Since they've gone over and wanted to live a new life, I think the British public feel a bit sold out. He decided to leave public life - hasn't he? - which the Brits don't want. I think he's losing the propaganda war.

LANGFITT: Since late 2017, support for Harry in the U.K. has fallen from about 80% to 45%, according to polls by the firm YouGov, while Meghan's approval ratings have slid from around 50% to about 30%. Eir Nolsoe is data journalist with YouGov.

EIR NOLSOE: In the fallout between Meghan and Harry with the royal family, the public are much more likely to side with the royal family.

LANGFITT: And how are the royals doing? How are their ratings, generally?

NOLSOE: Everyone loves the queen. Their ratings haven't really been impacted by the drama.

LANGFITT: In their interview with Oprah Winfrey in March, Meghan - who's biracial - said she felt isolated inside the royal family and thought about suicide. Harry and Meghan also accused unnamed royals of racism regarding their son Archie.

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MEGHAN MARKLE: So we have in tandem the conversation of he won't be given security, he's not going to be given a title, and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born.

LANGFITT: Many Britons saw the airing of such charges as inappropriate in a culture that remains far more circumspect than America's. Dennis Dimaculangan, a 44-year-old London hotel worker, used to be a big fan of the couple. His reaction to the Oprah interview?

DENNIS DIMACULANGAN: Shocked. But, of course, it's their life. It's their decision.

LANGFITT: What shocked you?

DIMACULANGAN: To talk about the royal family in that manner. Like, can they just talk it privately?

LANGFITT: The couple retains strong support among those age 18 to 24, in part because they focus on issues such as race and mental health that resonate among young people. Cairo Emerson - he's a 24-year-old cell biologist - likes the couple and attributes their otherwise poor standing to racism and anti-Americanism.

CAIRO EMERSON: I think they've been dealt a really bad hand, possibly due to Meghan being American but also because she's a Black woman. Me being mixed race, I feel kinship with Archie. And I think the royal family in itself is kind of an outdated institution.

LANGFITT: Emerson notes that the British tabloid newspapers have often savaged Meghan, and her more outspoken - frankly, American - style has irked older, more traditional Britons.

EMERSON: I'm not going to lie - Britons don't like Americans that much. We're more, like, tentative, I'd say.

LANGFITT: And Meghan wasn't tentative?

EMERSON: No 'cause she would say what she didn't like, and she made her political stances clear.

LANGFITT: Among your friends in your age group, how do people feel about Meghan and Harry?

EMERSON: If sides were to be chosen, we'd be on Harry and Meghan's side.

LANGFITT: By how much?

EMERSON: One-hundred percent.

LANGFITT: And in the past two years, YouGov polls show those same young people have changed their minds about the royal family as an institution. About 40% now say they want an elected head of state, while just less than a third want to keep the monarchy.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.