It was the interview that some within Buckingham Palace must have feared – but Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s discussion with Oprah Winfrey was more revealing, explosive and potentially damaging to the royal family than many could have imagined.
Allegations of racism within the family itself, and Meghan’s admission that she felt suicidal during her pregnancy, have been splashed across newspapers in the United Kingdom.
Throughout their two-hour TV special, both Harry and Meghan spoke with eye-opening candor, delivering accusations and rebukes that outweighed even Princess Diana’s landmark interview more than two decades earlier.
Here’s a round-up of what we learned from the conversation.
Meghan had suicidal thoughts
The duchess has hinted before that her mental health suffered during her stint as a senior royal, but during her interview with Winfrey she spoke for the first time about how severe the experience had been.
She revealed that life within the royal family was so isolating and lonely, and that she felt so unsupported by the institution, that she contemplated suicide while pregnant with her son Archie.
She added that she raised those issues with the palace, but felt unprotected by them. “I went to the institution, and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help, I said I’d never felt this way before … and I was told that I couldn’t, that it wouldn’t be good for the institution,” Meghan said, adding that she went to “one of the most senior people” to raise the concerns.
Emails were sent in which she was “begging for help,” she added.
She told Harry about the ordeal because “I knew that if I didn’t say it, that I would do it – and I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,” Meghan said. She revealed her thoughts to her husband as they sat on the steps of their cottage. Hours later, the pair had to attend an event in London. “I can’t be left alone,” she remembered telling Harry, after he suggested she stay home.
“I wasn’t prepared for that,” Harry said during the interview. “I went into a very dark place as well. I wanted to be there for her.” He said that every day he came home from work after Archie was born, he would arrive to see Meghan crying while breastfeeding their child.
But he said he did not broach the topic with other family members. “That’s just not a conversation that would be had,” Harry said. “I guess I was ashamed of admitting it to them … For the family, they very much have this mentality of: This is how it is.”
The duchess also revealed that she reached out to an unnamed friend of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, to talk through her struggles. “I didn’t know who to even turn to in that. And one of the people that I reached out to, who’s continued to be a friend and confidant, was one of … Diana’s best friends. Because it’s like, who else could understand what it’s actually like on the inside?” she told Winfrey.
How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.
There were ‘concerns’ in the royal family about Archie’s skin color
Meghan said there was concern within the royal family about her baby’s skin tone, and Harry condemned his relatives for failing to criticize colonial undertones in media coverage.
Meghan told Winfrey that an unnamed member of the family raised the issue of how dark their unborn baby Archie’s skin would be while she was pregnant.
There were several “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he was born,” she said, in one of the most stunning revelations from the interview.
“That was relayed to me from Harry. Those were conversations that family had with him,” Meghan added, declining to reveal who was involved in the conversations. “That would be very damaging to them,” she said.
“That conversation, I am never going to share,” Harry added. “At the time, it was awkward, I was a bit shocked.”
When Winfrey asked if he could share the questions posed during the conversation, he declined, saying “I’m not comfortable with sharing that.” On Monday, Winfrey told CBS that Harry had said the royal in question was not the Queen or Prince Philip.
“But it was right at the beginning,” he added. “What will the kids look like? That was at the beginning when she wasn’t going to get security, when my family suggested that she might continue acting (because there wasn’t going to be money for her).”
In another part of the broadcast, Harry also criticized the royals for failing to support them when lawmakers pointed out “colonial undertones” in the way that Meghan was covered in the British press.
Harry and Meghan felt ‘trapped’ in the family
“My father and my brother, they are trapped,” Harry said, lifting the veil on the extreme constraints the couple felt as members of the family. “It’s a very trapping environment that a lot of them are stuck in,” he added at another point in the broadcast.
The pair spoke several times about those constraints, relating them to their relationship with the media, their mental health, and their personal freedom.
Harry said he could not have left the family had he not met Meghan. “I was trapped, but I didn’t know I was trapped,” he said. “They don’t get to leave,” he added of his relatives, saying they are “trapped within the system” and that he has “huge compassion for that.”
When Meghan joined the family, she said “that was the last time, until we came (to the United States), that I saw my passport, my driver’s license, my keys. All that gets turned over.”
“I couldn’t call an Uber to the palace,” she joked at one point.
Meghan also said she never received guidance on the formalities of the role. “Unlike what you see in the movies, there’s no class on how to speak, how to cross your legs, how to be royal,” she said, describing how she would Google the words of the British national anthem at night to avoid embarrassing the family.
The details behind their split from the royals
Winfrey asked Harry whether they quit as working members of the royal family because they were asking for help and couldn’t get it. “Yeah, basically,” Harry said. But the pair insisted they “never left” the family, and merely stepped back from their official roles.
“Lack of support and lack of understanding” was the simplest reason they left, he said.
But the prince hit back at stories last year that they blindsided the Queen by not telling her of their plan until it was public.
“I’ve never blindsided my grandmother, I have too much respect for her,” Harry said. Asked where that report came from, he said: “It probably could have come from within the institution.”
“This isn’t working for everyone,” Meghan recalled telling the royals.
“My biggest concern was history repeating itself,” Harry said, adding that he saw the circumstances that affected his mother, Diana, unfolding again – but more dangerously, given that racism and social media added to their challenges.
The pair said they suggested moving to a Commonwealth country and continuing to support the monarchy where needed, but they ultimately settled in the US after their security was removed.
“I got confirmation that no, the risk hadn’t changed,” Harry said, but given their change in status their protective detail would be revoked regardless. The issue of who would provide the couple’s security was heavily covered in the media at the time, and the couple made clear that it was a decisive factor in their decision to move from Canada, where they stayed temporary, to California.
Their relationships with the Queen and Princes Charles and William
Few senior members of the royal family were portrayed positively in the interview, but the Queen was the exception.
Harry said the pair have spoken to the monarch several times since their move to the US, and also informed her of their decision to step down as working royals. “My grandmother and I have a really good relationship, and an understanding and I have a deep respect for her,” he said.
But he admitted his relationships with his brother, Prince Wiliam, and his father, Prince Charles, are far more strained.
“I had three conversations with my grandmother and two conversations with my father, before he stopped taking my calls,” Harry said, recalling the events surrounding their decision to leave last year.
“There’s a lot to work through there. I feel really let down, because he’s been something similar – he knows what pain feels like, and Archie’s his grandson.
“But at the same time, of course, I will always love him,” Harry said, adding that repairing the relationship was one of his priorities.
He also hinted that he attempted to reveal to his family the constraints of royal life that he had discovered. “I’ve tried to educate them,” he said.
Asked why Charles was not answering the phone, Harry suggested it was because he “took matters into my own hands.”
Turning to his brother, Harry said: “I love William to bits, he’s my brother, we’ve been through hell together … but we’re on different paths.” He added that “the relationship is space at the moment,” and that “time heals all things – hopefully.”
“My family literally cut me off financially” in the first quarter of 2020, he added – a move that necessitated their lucrative media deals with Netflix and Spotify.
Meghan has seen some of the headlines about her
Winfrey presented Meghan with a series of headlines about her in the British media, contrasting them with far more positive stories about her sister-in-law Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
In one example, Winfrey read a story about her eating avocados which said the fruit was “linked to water shortages, illegal deforestation and environmental devastation” – while a separate story simply reported Kate was eating them to help with morning sickness.
“That’s a really loaded piece of toast,” Meghan responded, admitting she saw the story.
The pair both took aim at the British press in the interview, as they have done on several occasions before. And Harry said the palace is in “fear” of its media coverage, meaning they had little freedom while part of the family.
“To simplify it, it’s a case of if you as a family member are willing to wine, dine and give full access to these reporters, then you will get better press,” Harry said.
“Why do you care about better press if you’re royal?” Winfrey asked.
“I think everyone needs to have some compassion for them in that situation … there is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations,” Harry replied.
But the racial undertones of some coverage made it more than “catty gossip,” Harry said. “It was bringing out a part of people that was racist and how it was charged … and that changed the threat, that changed the level of death threats, that changed everything.”
Kate made Meghan cry, not the other way around
Meghan was asked about stories in the British media that she made her sister-in-law cry while preparing for her wedding with Harry. Those stories were heavily covered in many tabloids, and were emblematic of media accusations about Meghan’s behavior to royals and staff.
But the reality was “the reverse,” Meghan said – Kate made Meghan cry during a discussion about the ceremony, and months later the incorrect story appeared in the media.
Meghan said Kate gave her flowers and apologized, and that she forgave her, adding that “she is a good person.”
But she said the reporting of the incident was a “turning point” in their experience.
“If you love her you don’t have to hate me,” Meghan said, urging people not to pit the two duchesses against each other.
Meghan called the Queen about Prince Philip
Segments of the broadcast, in which Winfrey toured the couple’s home, were filmed hours after Prince Philip was admitted to a hospital last month.
“This morning I woke up earlier than H and saw a note from someone in our team in the UK, saying that the Duke of Edinburgh had gone to hospital,” Meghan told Winfrey.
“I just picked up the phone and I called the Queen, just to check in,” she said, adding that the ability to do so freely would not have existed in the royal set-up.
The 99-year-old husband of the Queen has spent three weeks in hospital and has undergone a heart procedure.
Her one regret
Meghan said her one regret is “believing them when they said I would be protected.”
“Now because we’re actually on the other side, we’ve actually not just survived but are thriving,” Meghan added, comparing the couple’s situation today with their time as working royals.
Harry added that he does not feel any regrets about the way they left. “I am really proud of us,” he said. “I am so proud of my wife. She safely delivered Archie during a period of time that was so cruel, so mean.”
‘It’s a girl’
The couple revealed that their second child will be a girl.
“Amazing, just grateful,” Harry said, describing his feelings. “To have any child, any one or any two, would have been amazing. But to have a boy and then a girl, what more could you ask for?” he said.
But they will not be trying to become parents for a third time. “Two is it,” Meghan said, adding their daughter is due in the summer.
The pair revealed in February that they were expecting another child. In November, Meghan revealed she suffered a miscarriage last year.
Their lives today
Harry said that having outdoor space has been a huge benefit during lockdowns in California, where they moved shortly before the pandemic began.
Taking Archie outside is his favorite activity, he said. “The highlight for me is sticking him on the back of the bicycle” – something he was never able to enjoy himself as a child.
“Hydrate” was Archie’s recent favorite word, Meghan said. She wrapped up the interview by describing their lives today as “greater than any fairytale you’ve ever read.”
CNN has reached out to the royal family for comment.
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