Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, sat for a long chat with Oprah Winfrey. Joe Pugliese / CBS hide caption
Joe Pugliese / CBS
Joe Pugliese / CBS
When the British Prince Harry married the American actress Meghan Markle, who had success as a regular player in the basic cable series Suits, in May 2018, they became the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. For a short time they lived their lives as royals. They have run events, they have been affiliated with charities and they – they in particular – have been incessantly, often brutally, reported by the British press. Her clothes, the way she sat, the personality she allegedly had, and her general fitness were constantly reviewed. And of course there was an undercurrent of racism both in the press and in public, which was sometimes less “under” and more simply “topical”. Black women have spoken and written about it once again and once again, until now, and Harry himself has it all in one public comment long before they were married.
In spring 2020 they resigned from this life. You are still officially the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, but you no longer call them “His / Her Royal Highness”. The couple moved to Southern California, where they now have contracts with Netflix and Spotify and a production company called Archewell. You are pursuing a completely different, unusual life. And they don’t ask permission to do or say things.
That brings us to the two-hour interview on Sunday that Meghan did alone and then the couple did with Oprah Winfrey, which aired prime-time on CBS. In the preceding days, both the couple and perhaps others seemed to be preparing people to receive it in opposite ways. Harry did a cheerful segment on late night television with James Corden, where he FaceTimed Meghan and spoke warmly over Zoom calls to his grandparents and how his grandmother – the Queen – made a waffle iron for her son for Christmas Archie sent. (Meghan is currently pregnant with her second child.) At the same time, a new wave of negativity towards Meghan appeared in the UK press, most notably an allegation that she “bullied” employees.
What wasn’t clear on Sunday night was how much there was going to be in this interview that the royal family – or more precisely the bigger corporation, often called The Firm – didn’t want them to say it. Based on the Corden interview, at least Harry didn’t have the agony of arguing with his grandmother. But when the barrage of dirt began to flow around Meghan, it was easy to ask if anyone anywhere was nervous about what to say and was trying to get out of that.
And in the end, it was painful and personal and ruthless about the cost of Meghan, and it wasn’t something the royal family would look forward to for people to hear. It was a discussion that was more sad than juicy.
Oprah was quite ready to push for details if an answer was a little … artificially diplomatic. This was a carefully conducted, sun-drenched conversation in the backyard where two parents-to-be faced an interviewer who was tenacious but also deeply empathetic, and gave them two hours to record their side of the story. It remains to be seen whether other pages will appear.
Here are the main takeaways.
1.Meghan says she had serious and scary suicidal thoughts during her pregnancy with Archie as she began to understand what the life ahead would really mean, but the royal family institution told her they couldn’t get the help that she wanted. Perhaps the most insightful conversation was mental health. Meghan described having serious thoughts of suicide. She turned to an elderly person who worked for the royal family. She said she had forbidden her to treat herself as she asked. (A friend of Diana, Harry’s mother, offered assistance.)
2. You have a girl. You need at least a direct headline, right? The headline, which doesn’t require much detail, is that the baby Meghan is set to deliver this summer, is what they believe is a girl.
3.Meghan says the royal family refused to prince their baby Archie or offer him the protection that would come with that title – and expressed concern about his skin color before he was born. Meghan told Oprah that when she was pregnant, the family told her that they would not make their first child (who turned out to be Archie) a prince or princess and the child would not receive the protection that accompanies that title. She says she wasn’t given a clear reason for it and only narrowly paused to say it was because she’s black. But she says there have also been discussions (with Harry, not her) where family members have raised concerns about the baby’s skin color. She did not say which family members, even if they were pushed, she thought she would reveal that it would be “harmful” to her. Harry also later admitted that at least one such discussion had taken place, but he wouldn’t offer any details. Not sharing who was behind these discussions about the baby’s skin color was the tightest line the couple had drawn.
4. Both cite safety concerns that played a large role in their decisions. Harry and Meghan said their hands were forced to move to California because the company informed them that their security had been taken away after their first move to Canada (a Commonwealth country). This left them exposed at a time when, as Harry says, the Daily Mail revealed where they lived. They moved to the United States and took advantage of the hospitality of Tyler Perry, who was able to offer them a safe haven until they settled down. Harry also says that he was financially cut off from the royal family in early 2020 and that he and Meghan were able to get along based on what his mother left him – he even speculated that somehow she “saw” this coming. And he added that the contracts he and Meghan now have with Netflix and Spotify are in part intended to meet their ongoing security needs.
5. Harry described what he called the “invisible contract” between the royal family and the tabloids, where curry favor with certain reporters translates into cheaper press. While this may seem obvious, Harry used it to explain what he called “how scared they are” [in the family] are from the tabloids turning them on, “and said he believes that is partly why the family and company have not offered him support when it comes to bad press. Repeatedly, both said the biggest Problem leading to her departure from her duties was the same lack of support within the family and the institution. No one would stand up for her, they said – which Harry found particularly annoying when Meghan suffered racial harassment that left her with more public support when 70 members brought in parliament – but not the royal family. Meghan summed it up clearly: “” They were ready to lie to protect other family members “- she did not say who -” but they were not ready to tell the truth say to protect me and my husband. “
6. Meghan says a story about how she made her sister-in-law Kate Middleton cry was just the opposite. What came closest to refuting certain tabloid stories – as well as the only real revelation about the other royals’ behavior – came when Oprah and Meghan discussed reports that Meghan had made Kate (her sister) law shortly before their wedding, Prince Williams wife) weep during an argument over flower girl dresses. According to Meghan, the truth was just the opposite, but the palace refused to let anyone disprove it. She says Kate actually made her cry – although she says the idea that they were flower girl dresses is actually true – and that Kate later apologized and even sent her flowers.
7. Harry’s relationships with his father and brother seem … complicated. Harry spoke warmly about his relationship with his grandmother even now. But long pauses when asked to discuss his relationships with his father and brother, William, indicated more tension. Commenting on his father’s lack of support when he and Meghan were feeling so miserable, he said, “I feel really disappointed. Because he’s been through something similar, he knows what pain feels like and Archie is his grandson.” At some point, he says, Prince Charles even stopped taking his calls.
8. Both say they did not blind the family and never intended to give up their roles entirely. they just wanted to step back. Harry and Meghan said they never intended to leave their roles entirely to the royal family. They say they didn’t want to be high-ranking members but rather play the smaller roles that many other less prominent royals play. They told Oprah they weren’t getting the support they needed to make this happen.
9. Harry says he was “trapped” in the royal family system – and so are his relatives. Oprah asked him about stories depicting Meghan as a manipulator and forcing him to leave the family. Would he have left if it hadn’t been for her? She asked. He turned the question in exactly the opposite direction. He probably wouldn’t have left without Meghan, he admits. He says he was trapped. He says he didn’t realize how trapped he was, and it was their meeting that ultimately made him understand that he wanted something else.
10. They got married before they got married. It could have been an early sign that Harry and Meghan, seemingly overwhelmed by the public spectacle of their wedding, got married three days early when Meghan said it was a backyard ceremony, though who knows what that looks like for this one People? She says these are the vows that they keep. It seems to her that this was not only her legal wedding, but also her real one.