The U.K. broadcaster edged out rivals such as Sky and Discovery for the coveted CBS primetime special, which marks the couple’s first official sit-down interview since splitting from the British Royal Family a year ago. Variety was first to reveal a U.K. bidding war was afoot and tip ITV as the frontrunner. Sources indicate that ITV will have paid somewhere in the ballpark of £1 million ($1.4 million) for the rights.
The two-hour special will air on Monday at 9 p.m. on ITV. Kevin Lygo, managing director of media and entertainment at the broadcaster, said: “This interview is already a national talking point and ITV is pleased to be able to offer U.K. audiences the opportunity to see it.”
Days away from the CBS interview, which airs Sunday evening Stateside, Markle’s former royal aides have come forward with bullying claims against her, as reported in The Times. According to the report, which has not been independently verified by Variety, the former “Suits” actor drove two personal assistants away and was “undermining the confidence of a third staff member.” Markle has since responded, noting that she 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.”
ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group is selling the interview internationally, and it’s believed they were keen for the special to land with a free-to-air broadcaster, ensuring a large viewership. A prominent U.K. home for the interview is hugely important given the couple’s inextricable connection to the Royal Family, and it’s likely that Markle and Prince Harry would have also had a say on the matter.
The BBC counted itself out from airing the CBS special early on, and sources claim they were never involved in the bidding process to begin with. This isn’t surprising given the optics would have been problematic for the Beeb, which is set to air the Queen’s annual Commonwealth broadcast on Sunday, March 7 — the same day as the CBS interview.
Further, there’s also the inquiry into Princess Diana’s notorious 1995 interview with journalist Martin Bashir for the BBC’s investigative strand Panorama. Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, alleged last year that Bashir used forged bank statements to convince the former royal to agree to the sit-down.
Ultimately, ITV, at least currently, is in better standing with the couple. The broadcaster aired “Harry and Meghan: An African Journey” in October 2019, where journalist Tom Bradby — one of Prince Harry’s closest allies in the British media — famously asked Markle whether she was okay. The gesture evidently resonated with Markle, who even referenced the interaction in a New York Times op-ed.
The interview comes two weeks after Buckingham Palace confirmed that the couple, who now live in Los Angeles, California, are no longer working members of the Royal Family — a move that was widely expected following the Queen’s 12-month review of the separation, but nonetheless bittersweet for many in the U.K.
Despite the barrage of negative media coverage endured by the couple, and specifically Markle, there remains massive public interest in what the pair are up to in the U.S. and their feelings on splitting from the Royal Family in such a dramatic fashion last year.
Variety's Manori Ravindran contributed to this post.