It all began with such promise, pomp, and circumstance. When Meghan Markle married Britain's then-favorite son, Prince Harry, it was clear the 34-year-old "spare" to the heir had finally found love and the couple would usher in a new era of modernity in the monarchy. At the time of their engagement in Nov. 2017, the 36-year-old American actor, who's biracial and had been married previously, was heralded as a breath of fresh air within a centuries-old establishment not exactly known for embracing change. But Meghan was not only marrying her prince, she was marrying an institution that had survived decades of tumult and scandal, intent on remaining relevant in the face of tremendous social change.
To the 29 million people watching, the wedding of the newly titled Duke and Duchess of Sussex on that cloudless day in May 2018 looked to be a modern day fairy tale. But, as Meghan told Oprah Winfrey earlier this month, things were hardly what they appeared to be. During her two-hour tell-all with Oprah two weeks ago, the duchess said that she felt like she was treated more like a prisoner (she had to relinquish her passport, driver's license, and keys) than a princess by "the institution," as she referred to it, in ways that drove her to thoughts of suicide. Her comments eerily echoed those of Harry's mother, Princess Diana, whose unhappiness was laid bare in her own tell-all interview in 1995. Meghan's confession coupled with her jaw-dropping revelation that an unnamed member of the Royal Family discussed the color of her unborn child's skin (confirmed by Harry, who declined to elaborate any further) shattered the myth that she was living some kind of fairy tale existence, and decimated the reputation of the Royal Family in the process.
But Palace insiders say the current crisis could've been at least partially avoided had the royals done one thing in particular. "The royals made the fateful mistake of underestimating Meghan," an insider told Best Life. "She did not grow up in a culture that revered the monarchy or one that embraced the 'stiff upper lip' ethos. She said as much when she spoke to ITV before everything blew up. Meghan wanted to get her side of the story out and in doing so, has plunged the Palace into chaos. Perhaps some of this could have been avoided if the Palace had found a mutually beneficial way of maximizing Meghan's role within the family."
Read on to see how the royals' miscalculation of Meghan's influence has created an unprecedented crisis that shows no sign of going away anytime soon, and for more on the fallout from the interview, check out The One Thing William Must Do to Save the Monarchy, Say Insiders.
Meghan and Harry were never going to "stay silent" or give up on public service.
In Oct. 2019, Meghan and Harry revealed their struggle with life in the royal fishbowl for the first time during an interview with Tom Bradby while on an official tour of Africa. Ever since, the tensions seemed to build between the Sussexes and the Royal Family. A year after that interview, in which Meghan revealed she was finding royal life "really challenging," British historian and author Robert Lacey told Best Life, "The British monarchy will be less rich if it cannot find a way to include the talented but admittedly difficult celebrity of Meghan and Harry inside its future." The prescient remarks from Lacey, who's also the historical advisor to The Crown, foreshadowed what has turned into one of the biggest crises the Royal Family has ever faced.
"When Edward VIII was sent into exile following the Abdication of 1936, he published his memoirs then said nothing more. If this couple is sent into exile, they will not stay silent," a source told Best Life. Now, not only are the couple talking, but they also have friends, like Gayle King, speaking on their behalf, which raises more questions than answers for the royals and allows Meghan and Harry to control the narrative.
The couple have also made clear that although they have been striped of their titles and patronages, their commitment to public service remains strong. Meghan's work with women's organizations like Smart Works will continue and although she is now former vice president of Queen Elizabeth's Commonwealth Trust (Harry was president) and can no longer help the crown, her work can continue as part of Archewell, the couple's charitable foundation. "Meghan was a valuable asset in working with the Commonwealth," said an insider. "That is really a loss." And for more on what's to come for Harry and Meghan this year, check out The One Thing Meghan and Harry Are Really Looking Forward to in 2021.
Meghan "did not hold anything back" in her first interview, and likely won't in future appearances.
While the royals had been bracing for the worst once the announcement about the interview came out, "they had no idea it would turn out to be the absolute disaster it was and continues to be," said an inside source. Courtiers became quite concerned when it was revealed the two-hour program would consist mainly of a one-on-one conversation between Meghan and Oprah, but they hoped Harry's comments would temper things a bit. That, of course, was not the case.
"Harry added fuel to the fire by revealing just how damaged his relationships with his father and brother is now," the source said. "It was one damning revelation after another. Meghan did not hold anything back."
As one insider pointed out, "if there is not some reconciliation that can be reached, there's no reason to believe there won't be other television interviews down the line which can only hurt the Palace." And for more revelations from Meghan, check out Meghan Finally Broke Her Silence on Her Sad Relationship With Her Father.
By alleging racism, Meghan and Harry made clear they "aren't fooling around."
Meghan and Harry's allegation of racism within the Royal Family is "incredibly damaging" to the entire family, explains a source. "By not naming the family member who allegedly raised the question about the child's skin color, Meghan—and Harry—cast doubt on the small group of senior royals."
Both Harry and Meghan were effusive in their praise of the Queen, but comments about the strained nature of Harry's relationship with Prince Charles and Prince William cast suspicion on both his father and brother (as well as Duchess Catherine and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall). The day after the interview, Oprah revealed on CBS This Morning that Harry had told her that neither the Queen nor Prince Philip had made the offending remarks.
"Casting a shadow over the Prince of Wales is very harmful to the very future of the monarchy, as is bringing Prince William into all this. It's really a shame since the Duke of Cambridge has been so vocal in talking about how racism has no place in sport," an insider said. Going down this road proves Meghan and Harry "aren't fooling around," the source said. "They want their concerns addressed. The Queen made a short statement. It doesn't seem to have done much to lessen the controversy."
The public's response to Meghan and Harry is much different in the U.S.
The British press is still reeling from the very idea that members of the Royal Family would sit down for a tell-all interview on American television while here in the U.S., Meghan and Harry are being heralded for revealing their truth. Meghan and Harry have seen their popularity plummet in the U.K. in the wake of Megxit (and even more so after the interview), but their newly minted brand of international stardom is looked upon much more favorably in America.
"In the States, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are huge stars and their disclosures about their troubles within the Royal Family make them far more sympathetic to American audiences than here in Britain," said one source. "The royals have no control over the media in America where producers do not have to worry about access if they do something that displeases the Palace. And they clearly have no control over what Meghan and Harry say. It seems as if they decided they would do whatever it takes to be heard. Perhaps if [the Royal Family] had been more aware of just how hurt and angry the Sussexes were and what allegedly occurred within the Palace, there would have been some way to prevent this from going public." And for more royals news sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Meghan and Harry's disclosures call into question the very existence of the monarchy.
In the days following Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah, #AbolishTheMonarchy was trending on Twitter. It may seem a bit silly that the monarchy is being dissed by a hashtag on social media, but in truth, it's a real threat, as they need the support of the British taxpayers (who partially fund the institution) to survive.
In an editorial for The Independent, author and activist Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, PhD, wrote: "The Royal Family has a lot to answer, and we deserve a full response. And even if people are supporters of the monarchy and of our Queen Elizabeth, we must all remember that neither she—nor the institution—is beyond reproach. They are also accountable for their actions, omissions—and failures." And for more on the future of the institution, check out Can the Monarchy Survive Without Queen Elizabeth?