Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made headlines last January when they decided to take a step back as senior members of the Royal Family. Their first interview since stepping back was with the legendary Oprah Winfrey and aired on Sunday, and we learned a lot.
I’ve been obsessed with royals for as long as I could remember. I never grew out of my princess phase and was elated to discover that there was a real-life Queen of England. I’ve followed the Royal Family closely since William and Kate got married in 2011, and was one of the many Americans to wake up before dawn to watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tie the knot in May 2018.
Even for royal aficionados like myself, the Oprah interview was shocking. I won’t be breaking down the entire interview, for that article would be the same length as my senior thesis, but I will break down what I believe were the seven craziest things that we learned from the interview.
Meghan Addresses the Alleged Feud with Kate Middleton
There have been rumors about a rift between Meghan and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, a.k.a. Kate Middleton, since before Meghan and Harry got married. Though there were worries that Meghan would bad-mouth Kate in the interview with Oprah, she had nothing but nice things to say about her.
The most famous rumor about their alleged rift is that Meghan made Kate cry before the wedding regarding Princess Charlotte’s flower girl dress. Meghan revealed in the Oprah interview that "the reverse happened." Meghan went on to say that Kate apologized for the incident with flowers and a note, and that she believes Kate is a “good person.”
Meghan said, "They really seem to want a narrative of a hero and a villain. She's a good person. So much of what I have seen play out is this idea of polarity where if you love me, you don't have to hate her. And if you love her, you don't need to hate me."
I couldn’t agree with Meghan more. The idea of the media pitting two women against each other is gross. Though Meghan and Kate are different, we can still love them both.
The Royal Family vs. “The Firm” and the Roles They Played
Early in the interview, Meghan made a clear distinction between the Royal Family and the business behind the Royal Family, which she calls “The Firm.” Meghan said, "So, there's the family, and then there's the people that are running the institution. Those are two separate things. And it's important to be able to compartmentalize that, because the Queen, for example, has always been wonderful to me."
I’m glad that Meghan addressed this early in the interview for a few reasons. This shows that many of the problems aren’t with the individual members of the Royal Family themselves (though there are some, more on that later), but what she calls “The Firm” behind it. Meghan making this clear early in the interview proves that she’s not the vindictive person that the media often plays her out to be and actually still has a good relationship with some members of the Royal Family. This was very classy of her and set the tone that this interview wouldn’t be a gossipy-tell-all about the Royal Family, but a deeper conversation.
So what is “The Firm” that Meghan is talking about? If you’ve watched The Crown or a show about an older generation of the monarchy like The Tudors, you know that there’s a large organization behind the Royal Family and that Family members themselves don’t always have the final say in how things are run. Even for avid royal aficionados like me, I was surprised at how much power “The Firm” has.
Royal historian Edward Owens writes, "Like modern businesses, the monarchy has a very specific public relations strategy and its internal workings are kept extremely secret. The inner sanctum of the court is populated by royal officials who are extremely tight lipped and extremely loyal to their royal employers. They have historically been referred to as the ‘men in gray suits,' but this is to do them a disservice. They’re in fact highly competent media and PR strategists, and they are a key part of ‘The Firm’ as well.”
In short, “The Firm” is the PR and business end of the Royal Family. The name “The Firm” allegedly comes from Prince Philip, grandfather to Harry and husband of the Queen. Journalist Penny Junor writes, "Prince Philip calls it 'The Firm,' and all the royal executives and their powerful associates are supposed to make every effort to avoid even a hint of scandal that could diminish the reputation of the family business."
Throughout the interview, the vast majority of the blame for Meghan and Harry’s departure seems to go to “The Firm,” as well as the British tabloid press, rather than the Royal Family itself.
The British Tabloid Press Is Vicious
We all know that tabloids aren’t the pinnacle of journalism and truth. However, the malevolence of the British tabloid press makes the American tabloid press look like saints; and they played an instrumental role in Meghan and Harry deciding to take a step back from the Royal Family.
Think of how the British tabloid press treated Princess Diana (we’ll touch more on the Princess Diana comparisons later). It can be argued that the British tabloid press played a role in Princess Diana's death; it’s also clear that they haven't learned more from their mistakes. When you look at the differences in the tabloid headlines between Meghan and Kate, it’s clear that there’s a double standard, and the press was crueler towards Meghan.
The British tabloid press has reacted to the Oprah interview by calling it a "sideshow" and not taking any responsibility for their role in Meghan and Harry’s decision to step back. This lack of self-awareness and lack of empathy towards Meghan and Harry shows how cruel the British tabloid press really is and that they’ve learned nothing from what happened to Princess Diana.
Racism Allegedly Played a Role in Their Leaving
We’ve already acknowledged how cruel the British press can be and how they treated Meghan horribly, but there was another factor that many find uncomfortable to admit: racism. While discussing racist treatment from the press, Meghan said, "Kate was called 'Waity Katie,' waiting to marry William. While I imagine that was really hard — and I do, I can't picture what that felt like — this is not the same.”
She continued, "And if a member of his family will comfortably say, 'We've all had to deal with things that are rude,' rude and racist are not the same. And equally, you've also had a press team that goes on the record to defend you, especially when they know something's not true. And that didn't happen for us."
They also allegedly faced racism within the Royal Family when Meghan was pregnant with Archie. Meghan said that there were "concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born." Though Meghan and Harry will not reveal who the conversation was with (my money is on Prince Charles), it has been confirmed that the conversation wasn’t with Queen Elizabeth or Prince Philip.
Though the lack of support from “The Firm,” the cruel treatment from the press, and racism all played a role in Meghan and Harry stepping back, the final straw was related to Meghan’s mental health.
Meghan Was Suicidal When She Was Pregnant with Archie
The cruelty from the British tabloid press, dealing with racism, and issues with “The Firm” led Meghan to a dark place when she was pregnant with Archie, which included depression and suicidal thoughts. Meghan said, “I just didn’t see a solution. I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it, to Harry especially, because I know how much loss he’s suffered. But I knew that if I didn’t say it that I would do it — and I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought.”
One of the darkest points for her was when she and Harry were invited to attend a performance at Royal Albert Hall in January 2019. Harry told Meghan to stay home and recuperate, but Meghan said, “I can’t be left alone.” In the photos from that night, you can see Harry holding Meghan’s hand tight.
After Meghan confided in Harry, Meghan asked the palace staff for help, but the Palace refused. Harry even admitted that he was ashamed to talk to his family about Meghan’s mental health and never told the members of the Royal Family about her struggles. This was the last straw for Meghan and Harry as her depression continued after Archie was born, and they stepped back as senior members of the Royal Family in January 2020.
Harry Sees Similarities between Meghan and Diana
It’s no secret that Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, was treated horribly by the British tabloid press. Thanks to season four of The Crown, we also know that her marriage to Prince Charles was a disaster, but Meghan is lucky that her husband isn’t following in his father’s footsteps.
Many have pointed out similarities between Meghan and Diana, and Harry agrees. When discussing how Meghan was treated in the press, Harry said, “My biggest concern was history repeating itself. And I’ve said that before, on numerous occasions, very publicly. What I was seeing was history repeating itself. More perhaps, or far more dangerously, because then you add race in, and social media in. And when I’m talking about history repeating itself, I’m talking about my mother.”
He continued, “When you can see something happening in the same kind of way [as my mother’s story], anybody would ask for help, ask the system of which you are a part of, especially when you know there’s a relationship there. They can share some truth or call the dogs off or whatever you want to call it. So to receive no help at all and to be told continuously, ‘This is how it is, this is just how it is, we’ve all been through it’.”
This paints a broader picture as to why Meghan and Harry decided to step back. It’s no secret that Diana’s untimely death was traumatic for Harry, so it makes sense that he was willing to do whatever he could to make sure that his wife would not suffer the same fate.
The comparisons didn’t end there, for many were quick to point out the similarities between Meghan’s part of the interview with Oprah and Diana's 1995 tell-all interview. Harry also believes that his mother would be upset with how Meghan was treated. He said, “I think she would feel very angry with how this has panned out, and very sad. But ultimately, all she’d ever want is for us to be happy.”
Harry’s Relationship with His Family
When it came to Harry’s relationship with this family, Harry was brutally honest. He said that he was cut off financially and relied on his inheritance from his mother to help his family relocate to the United States. Harry also admitted that his father, Prince Charles, stopped “taking his calls” when Harry when he “took matters into my own hands.”
Harry and Charles are back on speaking terms, but there’s still “a lot to work through.” Harry said, “I feel really let down because he’s been through something similar, he knows what pain feels like…Archie is his grandson. I will always love him. There’s a lot of hurt that’s happened. I will continue to make it one of my priorities to heal that relationship.”
When asked about what has been said about an alleged rift between him and his brother William, Harry said, "Yeah, and much will continue to be said about that. You know, as I've said before, I love William to bits. He's my brother. We've been through hell together. I mean, we have a shared experience. But, you know, we're on different paths."
When Oprah asked Harry to describe his relationship with William, he said, "The relationship is space, at the moment. And, you know, time heals all things, hopefully."
When it comes to his relationship with the Queen, she and Harry still talk regularly. In late February, Harry made an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden and said that he talks with his grandparents via Zoom, and that the Queen sent Archie a waffle maker for Christmas.
For the sake of the family, I really hope that Harry is able to make progress in repairing his relationship with his father and brother. It’s obvious that the tensions between him and Charles are stronger than the tensions between him and William, and I think we would all love to see Harry and William be close again.
Well, that was a lot! Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah cleared up many misconceptions of why Meghan and Harry decided to take a step back as senior members of the Royal Family and also helped viewers feel sympathy for what they have gone through. Though the interview has answered many questions, it has also raised many questions, and it will be interesting to see how the Royal Family and “The Firm” respond to this.