On Sunday night, from a sun-lit backyard in southern California, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry joined Oprah Winfrey for a two-hour discussion that was billed as a tell-all, but was mostly another exposé on the toll of being a public figure. In the case of Suits alum Markle, the interview also provided more proof of the disproportionate vitriol that Black women face in the media.
For the first hour of the interview, Winfrey and Markle had a one-on-one conversation, one they both noted early on had not been pre-arranged in any sense beyond setting a time and date (they also made clear that no payment was made to the married couple). Markle remained diplomatic throughout, even as Winfrey gently pressed for clarification on some points. The actor and the media mogul had a wide-ranging conversation, one that covered both the royal wedding in 2018—including how little guidance Markle had as a new royal, despite preexisting resources within the Firm—and the realities of giving up your personal life to become an even more public figure.
Winfrey seemed surprised that Markle hadn’t done more research about just how strictly managed—eventually, they both come to use the word “controlled”—the lives of the royals are. Markle admits she was naïve, but everywhere she turned, she was being told that she would be “protected” by the family and the institution. But what was revealed over the next hour and a half makes it clear that that protection was not only conditional, it eventually became nonexistent. It wasn’t long before Markle was being pilloried in the U.K. press; the Duchess of Sussex told Winfrey that the Firm’s strategy was never to push back on the coverage, but for her to simply be less visible, to retreat further from her old life. Just as BuzzFeed writer Ellie Hall did in January 2020, Winfrey does a quick rundown of headlines from U.K. tabloid stories on Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, and Markle, and the disparity between the angles—despite the stories concerning the same elements of the women’s pregnancies—is appalling. When the couple announced they were leaving the U.K., Markle bore the brunt of the press’ ire; the story was quickly dubbed “Megxit.”
But when asked if she thought there was a double standard between how Princess Kate is treated by the British tabloids (specifically, the royal rota, which is like the White House Press Corps in its exclusivity), Markle simply said the tabloids “really seem to want a narrative of a hero and a villain.” Although she was clearly happy about her second pregnancy, Markle remained deliberate in her answers, particularly when it came to providing any specifics on which member of the royal family or the Firm had said or done something. Perhaps the biggest contradiction was regarding a story that sprang up six months after her wedding to Prince Harry, one that claimed Markle was a domineering bride who made her sister-in-law cry. Markle said she was the one who cried; she was worn down by all the pressure of putting together a “spectacle” (what she and Harry call their public wedding), and she was sure Middleton would understand, having been in her shoes. According to Markle, it was Middleton who apologized to her.
Things only got worse after their wedding. A pattern emerged: Markle would be scrutinized heavily by the tabloids for some innocuous thing, and she’d look to the Firm for help, only to be told there was really nothing they could do. Markle seemed drained of her own ambition and activism. “I’ve advocated so long for women to use their voice, and then I was silent,” she told Winfrey. “Were you silent or were you silenced?,” Winfrey asked. “The latter,” was the response.
While remaining discreet about names and other specifics, Markle opened up about her suicide ideation, which she dealt with while pregnant with her first child, Archie. She told her husband, and on separate occasions, they both approached high-ranking individuals at the Firm for help—because, as Markle noted, it’s not as if she could have made these arrangements for herself. She handed over her driver’s license, her passport, even her keys when she joined the royal family. (Nor, as she jokes, could she call an Uber up to Buckingham Palace.)
Such dismaying revelations continued into the second hour, as Prince Harry joined his wife and Winfrey. Markle had already told Winfrey that the Firm said they’d have to roll back protection (security details) for their infant son because Archie wasn’t to be officially a prince—which provides context for the couple’s refusal to take the “traditional” first family picture. No one would guarantee the safety of their son, nor his place in the royal family. There was even concern before his birth about how “dark” he would be. Markle wasn’t present for those awful conversations, as this information was related to Harry.
When the couple announced they’d be stepping back as senior members of the royal family, the news unleashed even more vitriol from the tabloids. Harry, Winfrey, and Markle all returned to this point throughout the night–the British tabloids are a fearsome presence in the U.K. The “symbiotic relationship,” as Winfrey put it, between the royals and the press seems at times more one-sided. Harry described his father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William, as being in a bind: “My father and my brother they are trapped. They don’t get to leave. And I have huge sympathy for that.” But he also said there was a period not long after his wedding in which his father wouldn’t take his calls. The relationship still seems strained, but apparently, Queen Elizabeth II herself has been supportive—she’s even joined Harry, Meghan, and Archie for Zoom calls. And though they’ve been through hell and back, Meghan and Harry continue to staunchly support one another. (They’re also clearly still infatuated with each other, even when they’re all feeding chickens.)
This discussion of an obtrusive, demanding tabloid presence also led the prince to reflect on how his mother, the late Princess Diana, suffered under similarly unflinching scrutiny. Watching his wife withstand an even greater “barrage” of abusive press, Harry said his “biggest concern was history repeating itself.” But if his mother were still alive to see how Meghan was being treated, “she would feel very angry with how this has panned out and very sad,” the Duke of Sussex told Winfrey.
Winfrey noted near the end of the interview that the family or the Firm decided that Harry and Meghan’s titles and patronages would be returned to the Queen. Markle, ever cagey, quickly pointed out that the announcement came before the news of the interview with Winfrey broke, thereby banishing the specter of retaliation. But both Harry and Meghan were upfront about what led them to leave the U.K.: unabashed racism in the tabloids that only incited more racist backlash among their readers. That’s been as plain as day from the beginning. A lack of support from the family and/or institution was also key; as Markle noted, the organization was “willing to lie to protect other members of the family, but wouldn’t tell the truth about us to protect us.” Perhaps the most surprising revelation of the night was the news that Tyler Perry had to take the couple in when they left Canada in early 2020 (before the border closed). The couple had been stripped of their security detail after their location had been revealed, so they fled to Los Angeles, where Perry put them up in his home and provided them with a security team.