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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Jonathan Prynn

‘A calculated smear campaign’: Meghan denies allegations she bullied royal staff

The claims come just days before the US broadcast of her and Prince Harry’s two-hour ‘tell all’ interview with Oprah Winfrey

(Picture: AFP via Getty Images)

The Duchess of Sussex is the victim of a “calculated smear campaign”, her team said today after allegations emerged that she bullied members of staff when she was a working royal.

The claims come just days before the US broadcast of her and Prince Harry’s two-hour “tell all” interview with Oprah Winfrey, which is due to be aired on American prime time on Sunday.

The Times reported on Wednesday that a complaint was made against Meghan, 39, by a close aide of the couple in October 2018. It came from the Sussexes’ former communications secretary Jason Knauf who suggested that Meghan made unreasonable demands that led to the departure of two personal assistants and the undermining of a third during her two-year period as a working member of the royal family.

The claims were not pursued and the following month Mr Knauf handed in his notice. Mr Knauf now heads the charitable foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

However, a spokesman for the couple dismissed all the bullying claims out of hand and lawyers acting for them said they were based on misleading and harmful information dating back several years and deliberately leaked ahead of the interview.

A strongly worded and lengthy rebuttal to The Times from the couple’s legal advisers said: “Let’s just call this what it is — a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful information.”

A spokesman added: “The duchess is saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma. She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good.”

Meghan and Harry, 36, have frequently complained that she has been a victim of bullying, particularly at the hands of the British tabloid media.

The couple’s lawyers accused The Times of “being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative” ahead of the Winfrey interview.

The Times also reported that Meghan wore earrings given as a wedding present by the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman at a time when he was being condemned over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Lawyers said that Meghan was unaware of the allegations about Mohammad bin Salman’s involvement in Mr Khashoggi’s murder when she wore the earrings at a state dinner in Fiji, which had been “borrowed” as they were officially classed as Crown property.

Lawyers for Meghan described the claims as “spurious allegations regarding the use of gifts loaned to the duchess by the Crown”.

Buckingham Palace did not comment on any of the claims.

However sources said that complaints concerning former employees were not being orchestrated by the Palace or the royal family. The latest feuding between the Sussexes — who dramatically “stepped back” as senior working royals in January last year — and the Palace establishment ratchets up the tension ahead of the CBS broadcast.

ITV has reportedly won the bidding war to air it in Britain in a deal said to be worth about £1 million.

It will be shown on ITV at 8pm on Monday at a time when there is still concern about the health of the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, who has been in hospital for more than two weeks suffering from an infection. He is also being monitored for a pre-existing heart condition.

The already strained relations between the two sides have deteriorated further in recent weeks after it was confirmed last month that the pair, who now live in California with their son Archie, would not be allowed to keep their official royal roles.

A PR expert has described the timing of their Oprah interview — with the Duke of Edinburgh unwell in hospital — as “horrendous”.

Public relations and crisis consultant Mark Borkowski warned that Harry and Meghan are at risk of a “real reputational mess” if the broadcast goes ahead and called for it to be postponed.

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