I am not a Royal watcher, or particularly interested in the comings and goings of the royal family. From a distance, the drama with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle seemed mostly self-made, and the result of an unyielding American to royal traditions.
I didn’t dislike her, but she wasn’t an entirely sympathetic character. It took about five minutes of last night’s Oprah with Meghan and Harry: A Primetime Special for me to become absolutely riveted by this very personal story of courage and to see behind the dark inner workings of the royal family machine.
Here are six key takeaways from last night’s interview.
After nearly two years of no interviews, Harry and Meghan sat down to disclose their side of the story since having stepped down as senior members of the royal family. According to them, the couple asked to take a step back due to Meghan’s mental health issues. She was contemplating suicide, deeply alone, and was constantly bullied by the press.
“I was ashamed to have to admit it to Harry. I knew that if I didn’t say it, I would do it. I just didn’t want to be alive anymore” recounts Meghan. At this point, the couple sought help, inquiring about therapy or inpatient care. This cry for help went unanswered for many months.
They approached the palace establishment, an unnamed “senior royal,” and the HR department. They were met with hand wringing and told that it would not be possible because it wouldn’t be good for the institution. This lack of support was a major factor that led the couple to take a step back, which was the initial intention.
The gender reveal came midway during the two-hour special, and the couple also shared their family will be complete with the new addition. The couple currently resides in Montecito Santa Barbara, California with their son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor (Archie), and two dogs. Baby girl Windsor is due sometime this summer.
According to Oprah on CBS This Morning, the couple received no monetary compensation for giving the interview. This puts to bed the notion that sitting down with Oprah was a money grab. Harry went on to disclose he was cut off financially from the Royal Family this past spring and that the couple had been living off of his mother Diana’s inheritance.
In addition, the duo recently founded the non-profit Archewell. The production company aims to “drive systemic cultural change across all communities, one act of compassion at a time.” Archewell has formed partnerships with both Netflix and Spotify.
The insinuation made by the couple was clear: The royal family failed to protect them—emotionally, financially, and physically. Despite the couple initially believing that they would be protected in the press, Meghan constantly fielded unfavorable headlines and was at the mercy of a press team that failed to defend her when untrue statements were made. Instead, they used her as a scapegoat while high-profile scandals were happening with other members of the family (see Prince Andrew and the Jeffrey Epstein scandal).
It seems there is a symbiotic relationship between the Royals and the tabloids. As The Atlantic describes, Harry “spoke of the Royal Family’s ‘invisible contract’ with the British tabloids, hosting reporters for Christmas parties in the palace in exchange for favorable stories (or at least the absence of unfavorable stories).”
The Firm had the power to shield her from some of the headlines and abuse, but instead kept silent, as did members of the royal family. This behavior and the cold shoulder from his brother and father led to Dutchess and The Duke of Sussex fleeing to North America. Harry disclosed that Prince Charles stopped taking his son’s calls.
Finally, the round-the-clock security provided to members of the royal family was also taken away. Harry said in the interview that they were told on short notice that their royal security detail would be cut off. At the time, the family was still in the process of negotiating their exit, and still had the intention of serving the Queen, but in a diminished capacity. “Their justification was a change in status,” Harry said, explaining the change. “To which I pushed back and said, is there a change in threat or risk?”
Meghan’s remark that “outsiders' perception and reality are two different things” was painfully reminiscent of Princess Diana’s post-divorce interview with the BBC in 1995. Diana discussed the Royal family's resentment and apparent fear of her as a strong woman. “They see me as a threat of some kind. . . . I think every strong woman in history has had to walk down a similar path, and I think it's the strength that causes the confusion and the fear,” the late Princess related some 25 years ago.
The story of a cruel establishment that fears strong women and sees them as a threat—not an asset is all too familiar. The press was also unrelenting to Princess Diana, which as we all know, in a combination with lack of security, led to her untimely death. Harry told Oprah his "biggest concern was history repeating itself.”
An unnamed member of the Royal family raised concerns about the possible skin color of the couple’s baby before Meghan gave birth. It was decided that the unborn child would not hold the title of prince or princess.
The latter bit of news came with no real explanation from Buckingham palace, while the Prince declined to elaborate on the former. “That conversation I’m never going to share,” Harry said. “At the time, it was awkward. I was a bit shocked.”
Oprah dropped another bit of news on CBS This Morning, telling Gayle King that in 2018, Markle was advised “it would be best if she could be 50% less” shortly after joining the Royal family. Oprah recalled the exchange which left her feeling “disheartened.” “I remember hearing that in 2018 and I said to her, ‘I don’t know how you’re going to survive, being half of yourself.’”
It will be interesting to see The Crown’s reaction and what comments if any will come from Buckingham Palace.