“Were you silent, or were you silenced?” asked Oprah Winfrey.
“The latter,” responded Meghan Markle, after some hesitation.
On March 7, CBS aired an all-access, unpaid interview between Oprah, Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, and her husband Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. Following a very televised marriage from its initial fairytale union on May 19, 2018, Markle and Prince Harry decided to step back as senior members of the British royal family in Jan. 2020. This is the first time Markle has publicly spoken about her and Prince Harry’s break from the royal family, as well as the factors that led them to this decision.
Markle handled the interview with the utmost poise and grace, especially in speaking of the pain she had suffered over the last few years. Upon her entry to the royal family, while others were automatically given protection—physically, financially, and otherwise—Markle was never given this basic (at least to royals) courtesy. Instead, she was told to sit back, stay home, and remain silent while the media criticized her and “the institution”—the royal family and all those involved in their duties—offered no comment otherwise.
While Markle’s sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, was praised by the media from the very beginning, Markle was demonized by the British tabloids, many of whom claimed that “Hurricane Meghan” was the result of the departure of several high-profile staff members before her royal wedding. Markle was able to brush most of this off, but her turning point was the release of a story about her making Middleton cry when the opposite had actually happened. Markle offered no specific details of the incident, as at this time her and Middleton have made amends. Nevertheless, the royal press and institution knew that this was not true, but refused to negate any of these statements. This is just one example of the polarity between Markle and Middleton in the media. Oprah brought up another one of these instances relating to disparities between headlines regarding Markle and Middleton eating avocados—while Middleton was praised for being “relatable” in using them to cure her morning sickness during her pregnancy, Markle was criticized for fueling “human rights abuses, drought and murder” in light of her efforts to make the royal family more socially aware.
Why was there a separate standard for both Duchesses? Markle’s explanation: the press wanted the narrative of a hero and a villain. Markle is the first mixed-race person to marry into the royal family, something she did not think about until the institution made her. Instead of being passive, Markle has been outspoken about women’s rights, and has known the value of work and of her own independence. Yet in advocating for women to use their voices, she lost her own—or, rather, it was taken away. Markle likened this sensation to Disney’s Little Mermaid: Ariel fell in love with the Prince, and in order to have a life with him, she traded the voice that gave her freedom. She was barred from doing the simple things that gave her independence—Markle recalled not even being able to attend lunches with friends out of fear of more bad press. To Markle, as this would be to many, it was an incredibly lonely existence, one she likened to the past year of isolation due to COVID-19.
Of course, no one would think upon first glance that Markle was lonely, that she was struggling. Markle emphasized throughout the interview that nothing is ever what it seems, that what the world sees is not at all what it looks like, because while everyone scrutinizes how things will look, no one sits back and considers how things feel. Markle was “welcomed” into the royal family, but besides the institution not negating the awful things said about her in the tabloids, the ever-present racism of the crown came out in full-force when questions over her pregnancy, and what would come of her now-son Archie, arose. Markle and Prince Harry were told he would never be given a title, that he would never have security, and that there were concerns and conversations over how dark his skin would be when he was born. While Markle had been demonized by the media, made a villain for the color of her own skin, going after her unborn child, and being met with silence from the institution, took this to a new level. This is when Markle began to fully understand what a life continuously run by the institution would look like—a life of incited racism, denied protection and covered truth.
Amidst the frustrations with the institution, and its blatant lack of support, Markle described not wanting to be alive anymore, and how this was a “very clear and real and frightening constant thought.” Markle contended that the process of seeking help is a difficult one, one that many are afraid of voicing. After going to the institution for assistance, they told her it would not look good if the press found out about her mental health struggles and denied the help she needed. Following this breaking point, Markle and Prince Harry finally decided to take a step back from the royal family. This was a calculated decision discussed with Queen Elizabeth for many months, despite the media blaming Markle for this “Megxit.” To this day, Prince Harry blames the paparazzi for his mother’s death. He is grateful that Markle sought help for the racism and hatred that caused her suicidal thoughts, actions perpetrated by the institution, as he was worried history would repeat itself.
Markle and Prince Harry moved to Canada, still part of the Commonwealth, at the end of 2019, and now reside in Los Angeles, where they have lived since March 2020. Last year, the couple founded Archewell, a non-profit organization that works to “unleash the power of compassion to drive systemic cultural change.” The two now live a “basic but fulfilling lifestyle” with Archie, their two dogs, and a daughter on the way.
What can we learn from this interview? That even those who look the most put-together can be struggling, that tabloid-press and harmful comments hurt, that staying silent and offering no comment is just as bad as contributing to hatred in the first place. The institution, like many other aspects of our society, thrives on image and perception—when we acknowledge that there is no way to fully understand what is going on in the lives of others, both those in the public eye and otherwise, we can live more compassionate lives.
Markle, now having sought help, wants to remind people that there is another side, and that life is worth living. She and Prince Harry are content with their now quiet lives of freedom, independence, and are looking forward to continuing their work towards social justice and speaking more truth in the future.