Photo from Harpo Productions.
By Terrance Turner
March 7, 2021
Tonight, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sat down for a two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey. The conversation, broadcast on CBS, shed light on the couple’s highly publicized exit from the Royal Family. The two-hour interview unearthed some never-before-heard information — and some bombshell revelations.
The first hour featured the former Duchess of Sussex in a solo interview with Oprah. Visibly pregnant, Markle reminisced on her courtship with Prince Harry and her entry into the Royal Family. “I went into it naively,” she said. “I didn’t do any research.” In fact, she wasn’t even aware of the protocol that would be required when she met Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. She was in the car with Harry when Meghan realized she would have to curtsy before the Queen, as required. Outside the building where they were to have lunch, Meghan practiced what she called ” a very deep curtsy” with Harry (and former Duchess Sarah Ferguson).
“Apparently I did a very deep courtesy — I don’t remember it,” Meghan said. “It was lovely and easy and thank God I hadn’t known a lot about the family — I would have been so in my head about it.”
The couple’s wedding in May 2018 was one of the most celebrated events of the year. But it wasn’t the couple’s actual ceremony. In footage recorded during Oprah’s visit to their home, Meghan revealed that she and Harry had a secret wedding before the official televised nuptials. “Three days before our wedding, we got married,” she said, explaining that the couple wanted their wedding to be a private intimate moment for them, as opposed to the glitzy pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding for the world.
But shortly after the ceremony, the British tabloids kicked into overdrive. The press coverage was enormous and unrelenting. Six months after the wedding, a story surfaced that Meghan had made Duchess Kate Middleton cry. In fact, the reverse was true, Meghan says. Duchess Kate had been upset about dresses for the flower girls; Meghan was stressed about wedding planning. Meghan ended up crying. She didn’t want to elaborate, out of respect for Kate (whom she says apologized with flowers). “She’s a good person,” Meghan said.
She had similar sentiments about Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen “has always been wonderful to me,” Meghan said. But, she cautioned, there’s family, and then there’s “The Institution” — the numerous staff and public officials who keep the monarchy running. It was the institution, it seems, that Meghan had the most trouble with.
Oprah noted that Meghan Markle entered the monarchy as an American, an actress, a divorcee, and a biracial woman. Was she concerned about that as she became a royal? Had she thought about the impact of being the first mixed-race member of the royal family? “I thought about it because THEY made me think about it,” Meghan responded. But she added that all those parts of her identity worked for her. “Thank God I’d had that experience,” she said. “I’d always worked. I’d always been outspoken — especially about women’s rights. “I’ve always been outspoken about woman’s rights, I mean, that’s the sad irony of the last four years is that I’ve advocated for so long for women to use their voice, and then I was silent.”
“Were you silent, or were you silenced?” Oprah asked.
“The latter,” Meghan answered.
But how was she silenced? “Everyone in my world was given very clear directive… to always say no comment. My friends, my mom and dad,” Meghan testified. She added that “it was always through the lens of ‘we’ll protect you’.” But she slowly realized that wasn’t the case. “I came to understand that not only was I not being protected but that they were willing to lie to protect other members of the family. But they weren’t willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband.”
And that wasn’t the worst of it. The former duchess told Oprah that “there was very little I was allowed to do.” An example: she’d ask, “Can I have lunch with my friends?’ The answer from the institution: “No, you’re over-saturated. We think it’s best that you don’t leave the house.” But “I’ve left the house twice in four months. I am everywhere but I am nowhere.” She compared the experience to the lockdowns in 2020, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The story about her supposed rift with Kate Middleton was a turning point, Markle said. But her pregnancy was a major tipping point. While then-Duchess Meghan was expecting her first child with Harry, things took an ugly turn. During her pregnancy, “that was when they were saying that they didn’t want him to be a prince — or princess; they didn’t know what the gender was — and saying that he wasn’t going to be protected,” she says today. In fact, there was even talk that the baby (the unborn son, Archie) wouldn’t have the protection of royal security.
It was this issue that produced perhaps the biggest bombshell of the night — so explosive that it shocked even Oprah. “In those months when I was pregnant — all around that time,” Meghan said, “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.”
“What?” Oprah asked, her mouth open in shock. “Who is having that conversation with you?”
“There’s a conversation with you–“
“With Harry,” Meghan interjected.
“–about how dark your baby is going to be?”
“Potentially, and what that would mean or look like,” Meghan answered.
“And you’re not going to tell me who had that conversation.”
“I think that would be very damaging for them,” Meghan replied.
Reaction on Twitter was explosive:
Things got worse from there. The relentless attacks from the British press (some of them racist and baldly untrue) combined with the strain of life as a working royal left the Duchess feeling isolated and lonely. When she went to “the institution” for help, she was told that they couldn’t help because she wasn’t “a paid member” of the monarchy. “I just didn’t see a solution,” she recalled. “I would sit up at night and I was just like, ‘I don’t understand how all of this [tabloid coverage] is being churned out. And again, I wasn’t seeing it,” she said. But “my mom or my friends and them calling me crying , like, ‘Meg, they’re not protecting you.’ And I realized that all of it was happening just because I was breathing.”
“I was ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry. But I knew that if I didn’t say it, then I would do it,” Markle said. “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.” She was having suicidal thoughts, she revealed. And when she went to “The Institution,” a group of people working for the Palace, to ask for help, she was rebuffed. Markle needed assistance with going somewhere to get mental health treatment. “They told me I couldn’t. They told me that it wouldn’t be good for the institution.” Meghan Markle was suicidal (while pregnant!) and the Institution told her there was nothing they could do.
And she wasn’t in a position to go it alone. “I couldn’t just call an Uber to the palace,” she explained. “My passport, my driver’s license, my keys — all of that was turned over. I didn’t see any of that anymore.” With few options, the Duchess turned to her husband. Prince Harry was seriously concerned about her welfare. But the same day she informed him of her spiraling condition, the two had an event at the Royal Albert Hall. He said, “I don’t think you should go.” She replied, “I can’t be left alone.” And so they went.
That moment led Meghan to a crucial insight. “You have no idea what’s going on for someone behind closed doors,” she told Oprah. “You have no idea — even the people that smile the biggest smiles, and shine the brightest lights, it seems.” The comments underscored what was clearly a moment of profound sadness.
Happily, when the former Duke of Sussex joined his wife for the interview, there were some moments of levity. When Prince Harry joined Meghan Markle for a joint interview, the two revealed that they’re having a baby girl! Their daughter is expected to arrive sometime this summer. This will be their second child — and their last. “Done,” Harry said. “Two is it,” Meghan confirmed.
With that established, the interview delved deeper into the couple’s exhaustively reported exit from the Royal Family. After repeated requests for help went unfulfilled, Harry and Meghan needed a breather. When Oprah asked him point-blank about the reason for the exodus, Prince Harry answered: “Lack of support, and lack of understanding.” The exit was portrayed as an impetuous decision that blindsided both the Queen and the royals at large.
“Did you blindside the Queen?” Oprah asked.
The answer was no. “I never blindsided my grandmother. I have too much respect for her,” Harry replied. “When we were in Canada, I had three conversations with my grandmother and two conversations with my father, before he stopped taking my calls.” Eventually, the prince took matters into his own hands, leaving the U.K. with Meghan and Archie.
They initially relocated to Canada, which is a Commonwealth country. (Queen Elizabeth is also Queen of Canada, by the way). The couple had hoped to continue their work in support of the monarchy there. But their security was removed, due to a “change in status”. Neither Meghan nor Archie had protection. But nor did Harry. “I never thought I would have my security removed because I was born into this, I inherited the risk,” he said. The removal of security deeply troubled Harry, whose late mother Princess Diana was hounded by the press (a factor in her untimely death). “My biggest concern was history repeating itself,” Harry said.
Meghan, on the other hand, was concerned about her husband. She says she wrote letters to the royals, asking them not to remove Harry’s security. “I see the death threats, I see the racist propaganda. Please keep my husband safe,” she recalls writing. But the pleas fell on deaf ears. And the racism inherent in the media’s treatment of Meghan also deepened rifts between Harry and his family.
“The family very much have the mentality of: this is how it is, this is how it’s meant to be, you can’t change it, we’ve all been through it. What was different for me was the race element,” Harry told Oprah. “That was the trigger for me.” He pointed out that 72 female members of Parliament signed an open letter criticizing the “outdated, colonial undertones” of press coverage of Meghan. “Yet no one in my actual family said anything over the course of three years,” he said. And when he and Meghan finally did become independent, it came with a cost.
The couple brokered a lucrative Netflix deal in September….because they needed money to support themselves. When asked about the Netflix and Spotify deals, the prince insisted that they hadn’t been strategic. “That was never part of the plan,” Harry said. “That was suggested to me by somebody else after my family literally cut me off financially.” How is he supporting himself? “I’ve got what my mum left me, and without that we would not have been able to do this,” Harry revealed.
Speaking of family, Harry’s relationship with this is…complicated. “I have a really good relationship with my grandmother,” he told Oprah. As for his father? “I will always love him, but there’s a lot of hurt that’s happened, and I will continue to make it one of my priorities to try and heal that relationship.” What about Prince William, his brother? “I love William to bits. He’s my brother. We’ve been through hell together.” But as for the relationship? Right now, they’re taking “space”, Harry said.
UPDATE (March 9, 2021): As the interview aired in Britain, it sparked a range of reactions throughout the country. Perhaps most notable was the response from the royal family. Buckingham Palace issued a statement, quoted by NBC News. “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” the palace said, breaking its silence more than 40 hours after the interview first aired in the U.S. on Sunday night. “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately,” the statement added. “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
The British press, which was implicated heavily in the mistreatment of Harry and Meghan, reacted with great interest and activity. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “All the major British news networks and newspapers led with wall-to-wall coverage of the CBS special.” The Daily Mail, in particular, was frenzied in its coverage: after dismissing the interview as a “sideshow” in the days leading up to Sunday, the British tabloid dedicated over 20 stories to it.
The interview also drew the ire of Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan, who has written columns for the Daily Mail. Morgan has long been a critic of Markle’s; the two were initially friendly, but he claims she “ghosted” him. In 2018, he commented: “We had two hours in a pub. She had a couple of dirty martinis and a couple of pints. We got along brilliantly. Then I put her in a cab. And it turned out to be a cab that took her to a party where she met Prince Harry. And then the next night, they had a solo dinner together and that was the last I ever heard from Meghan Markle. And I have never heard from her again. Meghan Markle ghosted me.”
Even since then, Morgan has gone above and beyond to attack the former duchess. When she and Harry stepped away from royal duties in 2020, Morgan commented: “Only surprised it took her so long to get Harry to ditch his family, the monarchy, the military and his country. What a piece of work.” He later accused of Meghan of “doing huge damage to our Royal Family.” On Sunday night, he wrote: “This interview is an absolutely disgraceful betrayal of the Queen and the Royal Family. I expect all this vile, destructive, self-serving nonsense from Meghan Markle – but for Harry to let her take down his family and the Monarchy like this is shameful.”
But Morgan’s recent comments may have gone too far. On yesterday’s Good Morning Britain, Morgan landed in hot water over callous commentary. In response to Markle’s revelation about suicidal thoughts, Morgan said: “I’m sorry, I don’t believe a word she said — Meghan Markle. I wouldn’t believe it if she read me a weather report.”
Morgan’s comments drew widespread condemnation…
…including some from his own co-host. This morning, his Good Morning Britain co-presenter Alex Beresford laid into Morgan, accusing him of “trashing” Markel over a romantic rejection: “I understand that you don’t like Meghan Markle. You’ve made it so clear a number of times on this programme, a number of times. And I understand that you had a personal relationship with Meghan Markle — or had one — and she cut you off. She’s entitled to cut you off if she wants to. Has she said anything about you since she cut you off? I don’t think she has. But yet you continue to trash her.”
“OK. I’m done with this,” Morgan said, as he got up to leave. As Bereford protested, Morgan walked off the set, saying: “Sorry. You can trash me maybe, but not on my own show. See you later.”
Now, word has broken that Morgan is leaving the show permanently. ITV confirmed today that Morgan quit the “Good Morning Britain” program on Tuesday after making contentious comments about Meghan following her bombshell interview about the royal family. According to the Associated Press, “The U.K.’s media watchdog said earlier Tuesday that it was launching an investigation into the show under its harm and offense rules after receiving more than 41,000 complaints over Morgan’s comments about the Duchess of Sussex.”
UPDATE (July 13, 2021): Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Harry and Meghan has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy. The special was nominated for Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series or Special” category. It drew 17 million viewers when it aired, according to Nielsen ratings quoted in the New York Times.