On Monday night, 2 am European time, we got to witness yet another historical moment that will impact our generation. Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s interview with American talkshow legend Oprah Winfrey, recorded earlier this year in a friend’s backyard in California and under Covid-19 precautions, premiered on the American television network CBS. Right at the beginning Winfrey made it clear that there was no agreement, the pair did not know beforehand what kind of questions she was going to ask, no subject would be off-limits and they were not getting paid.
The interview started off with Markle on her own with a baby bump – later revealed by Prince Harry to be a baby girl – and the first topic discussed was the wedding in 2018. It was clear to the couple that this wouldn’t be “their” special day, but rather a day that was planned for the rest of the world – which is the reason why they said their vows three days before the televised event. Markle revealed it was just the two of them alongside the archbishop of Canterbury. She mentioned that she was naïve when she first met her husband – of course, she knew about the royal family but she didn’t know any details on the life of a “Working Royal” as she grew up in America. She also felt that she didn’t need to do that much research because at that time the two of them assumed that Prince Harry told her everything she needed to know. Now that she is fully aware of everything that is going on, she explained: “Perception and reality are two very different things, and you’re being judged on the perception but you’re living the reality of it”. Markle also stated she wasn’t offered any guidance on “how to be royal” and admitted that she googled the national anthem of the UK and the 30 hymns for church because she didn’t want to embarrass the royal family and to make them proud, especially because the wedding was televised. Shortly after the wedding, British tabloids went crazy – even worse than they were before. Not only did Markle have to deal with blatant racism, but was also made out to be the villain of the family, when rumours spread that she made her sister in law, The Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, cry. “…the reverse happened”, Markle hesitantly admitted after Winfrey asked her to explain the origin story of said rumour. “I don’t think it’s fair to her to get into the details because she apologised and I’ve forgiven her”. Still to this day, Markle doesn’t know why she wasn’t being protected, but also why The Firm was willing to lie to protect other members of the family but not willing, to tell the truth, to protect her and Prince Harry. Though if one reads between the lines, it’s pretty evident that race had seemed to be a massive issue – which is unbelievably sad and frustrating, considering the fact we live in the 21st century.
Markle has always been a strong, successful and independent woman, who was very outspoken about women’s rights – so why didn’t she speak up about the unfair treatment she experienced within the royal institution earlier? That was the “Sad irony of the last few years”, she explained, “I have advocated for so long for women to use their voice, and then I was silent”. “Were you silent or were you silenced?”, Winfrey asked for clarification. “The latter”, Markle admitted, “Because I was told they would protect me, and I believed that.” She compared her story to ‘The Little Mermaid’ because just like the girl in the fairy tale, she fell in love with the Prince and had to lose her voice. She ends the tale on a happy note by saying “but at the end, she gets her voice back” alluding to her and Prince Harry’s happily ever after in California.
When it comes to the members of the royal family themselves, everyone welcomed her with open arms when she was first being introduced to them. Especially the Queen has always been wonderful to her, reminding her of her own grandmother, which is why she loved being in her company. But as time passed, things started to be nothing like what they first appeared as. After the Australian tour and when Markle and Prince Harry announced the first pregnancy, they found out – through several conversations with the institution – that their child would not receive a title and therefore, not have the right to be protected by the royal security. The title itself was not important to Markle but she just wanted her child to be safe. When the pair brought up the discussion about a certain convention, which states that the grandchild of the monarch would automatically become prince or princess, the institution wanted to change the convention. No explanation was given as to why the first member of colour would not be titled in the same way that other grandchildren would be – again, one can read between the lines. When Markle revealed that there were also several conversations held about how dark their child’s skin might be, what that would mean and look like, Winfrey – like all of us – was jaw-droppingly shocked. But it was also kind of expected, of an institution and a family that has been thriving off colonialism and stolen capital for most of their existence. When Prince Harry joined the interview later, he admitted to having been shocked about the “skin-tone-conversation” as well and to not feeling comfortable enough to share any details except making it clear that it was neither The Queen nor the Duke of Edinburgh that started these conversations. He said that members of the family were also suggesting for Markle to carry on acting because there apparently was no money to pay for her. Prince Harry further stated that the Australia tour – when the family first saw how incredible Markle was doing her job and how effortless it was for her to connect with people all over the world – brought back memories of his father Prince Charles and his mother Princess Diana. “Where there hints of jealousy?”, Winfrey asked, to which he only replied that he had wished for his family to have learned from the past and that Markle was one of the greatest assets to the family that they could’ve ever wished for.
A few months into the pregnancy, Markle explained racist attacks by the UK press and internet trolls becoming “unsurvivable”. One wouldn’t even want to imagine, what would’ve happened to her if she was a dark-skinned black woman. “I needed to say it so I wouldn’t do it”, she admitted she was suicidal whilst tears were welling up in her eyes. When she didn’t see a solution for herself, she gained the courage to not only talk to her husband but to ask the institution for help, which they declined, as it would not be good for their image. Markle’s suicidal thoughts started to haunt her to the point where she felt like she could not be left alone anymore. Not knowing who else to turn to, she reached out to one of Princess Diana’s best friends. Prince Harry’s biggest concern through all of this was history repeating itself – comparing Markle’s experiences with Princess Diana’s but far more dangerous since race and social media were being added to the equation – which was one of the reasons why they left the UK and moved to Canada in late 2019. They initially wanted to just take a step back from their senior roles in the family but to continue to serve the Queen. But after their move, their security was being cut off due to their change in status. Prince Harry never thought he would have his own security removed since he was born into the institution, which caused Markle to write letters to The Firm, saying she accepts the fact she and her child will not receive protection and asking for her husband to be kept safe.
Winfrey asked the question everyone has been waiting for, “Why did you leave?”, in response Prince Harry went on to give a simple answer. “Lack of support… and lack of understanding.” – from both, the UK press and the royal institution, he explained. “Did you blindside the Queen?”, Winfrey asked another anticipated question, to which Prince Harry stated that he never did, having too much respect for his grandmother. He had several conversations with her in the timespan of two years, and even a day before the announcement was made. Prince Harry was also talking a lot to his dad, Prince Charles, – “Before he stopped taking my calls and then said ‘can you put this all in writing what your plan is’”, he revealed. He was taking matters into his own hands at this point and apparently, it was something his father clearly didn’t like to see. It was a very trapping environment, that was built on the mentality of “this is just how it is, this is how it’s meant to be, you can’t change it, we’ve all been through it”, Prince Harry described whilst shedding a light on the way he grew up. What really hurt him, was the fact that the family never showed any public support for his wife. He remembered that even over 70 members of parliament called out the colonial undertone of headlines and articles, yet no family member ever said anything. It was the racism that changed the risk level, both explained. Markle continued, saying that it changed the threat, the level of death threats – it changed everything. And in days when people of colour are still being killed for the solid reason for being alive and breathing, their fear is totally justifiable. When Winfrey asked if Markle manipulated, calculated and was responsible for “MEGXIT”, the pair stated that this accusation doesn’t make sense at all, since Markle left everything she knew behind because she loves Prince Harry, and that they planned to live a royal life forever. To the question if Prince Harry would’ve ever left or stepped back if it wasn’t for Markle, he answered honestly that he wouldn’t have been able to – he was trapped but not aware of it, just like the rest of the family.
Regarding his beloved dead mother, Princess Diana, he said that she would probably feel very angry and sad about how it all turned out, but all she ever wanted was for her sons to be happy. He and his little family have also been living off the money his mother left him since the royal institution cut him off financially in the first quarter of 2020. “She saw it coming. And I certainly felt her presence throughout this whole process,”, Harry spoke wholeheartedly and continued, by saying “[He feels] Happy and relieved to be sitting here with my wife by my side. Because I can’t begin to imagine what it must’ve been like for her going through this process by herself all those years ago because it has been unbelievable tough for the two of us but at least we had each other”. In conclusion: Prince Harry is protecting his wife the way he wishes someone protected his mother, Princess Diana.
Prince Harry explained the relationship to members of the family now by saying that he has spoken more to his grandmother in the last year than he has for many years prior and that he has a good relationship and deep respect for her. When it comes to his father, he feels very let down, even though he eventually decided to take his phone calls again, and that he will make it a priority to heal this relationship – the same goes for his brother Prince William, who had simply chosen a different path. The couple made clear that if they had received the support they asked for, they would still be in senior roles of the royal institution, without question.
As Winfrey asked them, if they had any regrets, Prince Harry said that he just did what he had to do for his own family and that he now cherishes the simple things in life – his highlight being bike rides with his son Archie in the baby seat on his bicycle, something he was never able to do when he was a child. Markle on the other hand does have a regret: “Believing them when they said I would be protected”.
Living an authentic and self-determined life has always been very important to both of them, as Markle has been working a different kind of jobs – from an ice-salon bartender to waitress to actress – for half her life and Prince Harry was certainly known for stepping out of “royal” lines in his young, single days as well – so to some people, him cutting himself off from the institution did not come as a huge surprise. They are now finally able to live their own lives in freedom, finding peace and stability within their own little family and receiving a lot of support from their friends. Furthermore, Prince Harry and Markle are now “allowed” to show their love and appreciation for certain members in a way, where they don’t have to worry about it being “appropriate”, connecting with them on a more personal level than before. Both of them simply want to be human – without having to portray to be someone they are not and therefore, having to worry how they are being perceived or made out to be if they don’t.
“Do you think Meghan saved you?”, was Winfrey’s last question, directed at Prince Harry, to which he replied, “Yes, without question”, but Markle interrupted, “[…] I would disagree. I think he saved all of us. He ultimately called it and was like ‘we’ve got to find a way, for us, for Archie’ and you made a decision that certainly saved my life, and saved all of us.”
In the end, the princess of this modern fairy tale did not just get her voice back, but received a happy ending “greater than any fairy tale you’ve ever read”, she smiles at her prince as the interview credits start to roll.
Written by: Vicky Madzak