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Royal life a blight on Meghan and Harry’s storybook romance

When Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in 2018, it was called a fairy tale.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/03/2021 (695 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in 2018, it was called a fairy tale.

Here was a couple, obviously in love. The “Markle sparkle” had yet to be scoured off by the British tabloids; instead, the Royal Family’s welcome of Markle — mixed-race, American, divorced and an actor — was supposed to represent a progressive shift in a centuries-old institution. The wedding was the dawn of a new era.

But women don’t tend to fare very well in fairy tales, do they? Fairy tales need heroes and villains. Fairy tales keep princesses locked up in towers. Fairy tales require women to give up their voices in order to marry the handsome prince.

Joe Pugliese / Harpo Productions Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sit for an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

So, in that way, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were living a fairy tale — and, in early 2020, decided to say goodbye to all that and depart for America. The U.K. press had a frenzy, dubbing the move a “Megxit” and alleging that Harry had “blindsided” his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. Meghan, who had already endured months of having her character assassinated in the tabloids, was cast as the villain yet again.

On Sunday night, we finally heard the couple’s side of it in a much buzzed-about interview with Oprah Winfrey on CBS. It was appointment TV at its finest, as Meghan, in particular, dropped bombshell after bombshell that reverberated all over social media Monday.

Under a verdant pergola in a palatial California garden, Winfrey conducted a far-ranging interview — first with Meghan solo, then with the couple — that ended up being truly revealing, not just because of Winfrey’s prowess as an interviewer, but also Meghan’s striking candour.

Pregnant with their second child — a girl, as they shared on the two-hour special — Meghan spoke honestly about what it was like living within the rarefied world of the royals.

“It’s easy to have an image of it that is so far from reality,” she said. “And you’re being judged on the perception, but you’re living the reality of it.”

Aaron Chown / Associated Press files Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ride in an open-topped carriage after their wedding ceremony at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle in Windsor, England in 2018.

Her reality was one of isolation, lack of support and pressure. Her reality was having her face on the front page of every tabloid despite only leaving the house twice in four months — “I was everywhere and I was nowhere” — and trying to reconcile the fact that Archie, their son, would not have a royal title, and therefore would not have protection.

And perhaps the most damning revelation of them all: the reality that there were racist “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.” (It’s hard to make Oprah speechless, but that response elicited an astonished, “What?”)

Things got so bad Meghan contemplated suicide. “I didn’t want to be alive anymore,” she told Winfrey. And when she tried to ask for help — an act of bravery on its own — she didn’t receive any. That heartbreaking admission is a reminder that you can never know someone else’s struggles, and that fairy tales are almost always darker than they seem.

It’s always easy to think of the royals as fictional characters, which explains the success of Netflix series The Crown. People are drawn to the drama, but there are real lives at the centre of it.

To that end, it’s hard to watch this interview and not think of Princess Diana, another vibrant, strong-willed woman whose lights were dimmed by the grim realities of being royal. Harry was just 12 in 1997 when that horrific car crash in Paris tragically took his mother at 36 — the same age he is now. But he was old enough to understand the role the tabloids played, as well as how little support she received from the people who were supposed to be her family.

Chris Jackson / Tribune News Service files "I didn’t want to be alive anymore," Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey.

“My biggest concern was history repeating itself… and when I’m talking about history repeating itself, I’m talking about my mother,” Harry told Winfrey.

The difference, as he pointed out, is that he and Meghan have each other, whereas his mother was alone. Indeed, it’s clear they love each other; together, they have chosen a different life for the family they are building together. The centuries-old institution into which Harry was born saw, in Meghan, a liability where they should have seen an asset. Ultimately, it’s their loss.

What Meghan and Harry did takes a tremendous amount of resolve. Living their life on their own terms is their best shot at a happily ever after.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Henk Kruger / Pool / Associated Press files Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, holding their son Archie in 2019.
Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.

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