The Duke and Duchess of Sussex participated in a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey on March 7, discussing racism, double standards and isolation in and out of the royal palace.
Meghan Markle first made headlines in 2016 when she entered into a relationship with Harry of Sussex, a member of the British royal family. As a biracial woman and divorcee, Markle was considered an unconventional pick for a royal bride, and was immediately swarmed by the general public. The attention only increased after they got engaged in 2018, and again when they became non-senior members of the royal family in 2020.
Winfrey, who has been friends with the royal couple for several years, met with the Duke and Duchess in a mutual friend’s courtyard. They were not paid to be interviewed, and Winfrey did not pre-approve any questions before the cameras started rolling. The resulting interview has opened the door for wider discussions on public perception and mental health, especially as it pertains to public figures.
Winfrey talked with Meghan alone for the first half of the interview. The Duchess was candid about her struggles fitting in with the royal family, coming into the family as a total outsider.
“I thought about [fitting in with the royal family] because they made me think about it,” Meghan said. “But I think at the same time now, upon reflection, thank God all of those things were true. Thank God I had that life experience.”
The Duchess also talked extensively about her mental health issues over the past four years. Though she was fully prepared to leave her former life and career to become a royal, the actual process completely blindsided her. Meghan explained the social isolation and intense media scrutiny, combined with a lack of support from within the palace itself, destroyed her mental health.
The disconnect between Meghan’s public and private lives only got worse from there. Just before they had to attend a function at Royal Albert Hall in 2019, Meghan admitted to Harry that she was dealing with persistent suicidal thoughts. She later described to Winfrey the stress and fear throughout the night, which was a stark contrast to the glitz and glamor the media portrayed.
“This isn’t some abstract idea. This is methodical and this is not who I am,” Meghan said. “But we had to go to this event and I remember him saying, ‘I don’t think you can go,’ and I said, ‘I can’t be left alone.’”
Once Harry entered the interview, the conversation turned to the institution of the royal family and its many, many problems. Though Meghan and Harry attempted to seek support within the palace itself for several months, their requests often fell on deaf ears.
The Duke and Duchess decided to step back as members of the royal family while Meghan was still pregnant with their son, Archie. The pregnancy itself revealed a lot of internal biases of the royal family, as Harry revealed he was once asked by an unnamed family member “how dark” Archie would be.
There was also a lot of concern about Archie’s safety towards the end of their tenure. Although previous traditions should have given Archie a title, the royal family abruptly changed conventions and did not make Archie a prince. This means Meghan and Harry have to pay out of pocket for Archie’s security detail, even though he faces the same risks the rest of his family does.
Though Meghan and Harry claim they have good relationships with the majority of their immediate family, and especially with Queen Elizabeth II, the institution of the royal family ultimately pushed them away. There was a lack of support and understanding both in and out of Buckingham Palace, and they wanted to be in a better, safer position for their growing family.
Meghan and Harry’s situation has drawn a lot of parallels of that with Harry’s mother, Lady Diana Spencer. Spencer also faced a lot of problems within the royal family, and she repeatedly described her relationship with Prince Charles of Wales as “isolating”. She also had a famously terrible relationship with the paparazzi. Photographers constantly hounded her, and are widely believed to be responsible for her death in 1997.
When Winfrey asked about the parallels between Meghan Marke and Diana Spencer, Harry commented, “My biggest concern was history repeating itself, and I’ve said that before on numerous occasions very publicly. And what I was seeing was history repeating itself, [and far more dangerously,] because then you add race in, and then you add social media in.”
Despite the hardships they’ve faced, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said they are looking forward to living and working on their own terms from now on, and are expecting a daughter to be born this summer.
“I’m just really relieved and happy to be sitting here talking to you with my wife by my side,” Harry said. “Because I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for her [Diana] going through this process by herself all those years ago, because it has been unbelievably tough for the two of us, but at least we had each other.”