All the Ways Meghan Markle Has Forever Changed What It Means to Be a Member of the Royal Family

By Natalie Finn Mar 22, 2021 12:00 PMTags
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Can you believe that, at this time last year, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were still on the job?

They had given their notice Jan. 8, 2020, issuing a shocking statement alerting the world that they'd be relinquishing their posts as senior members of The Firm and intended to become financially independent contractors—still proud to support the family business, but remotely and not every day.

Which obviously wouldn't do and negotiations with their boss resulted in them being free to pursue new opportunities, because part-time just wasn't going to cut it. They had until March 31 to get their accounts in order.

Translation: Harry and Meghan quit working for the royal family and are now living in California and producing content for Netflix and Spotify, no longer able to use their His and Her Royal Highness or Duke and Duchess of Sussex titles for business or charity but not exactly needing them to flourish, either. And in February, the cutting of ties was made even more permanent with Buckingham Palace confirming that Queen Elizabeth II's grandson and his wife will no longer have any royal patronages back in the U.K.

Which goes to show just how much can change in fewer than 12 months.

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's History-Making Moments

It was of course obvious in the moment that this would have a lasting effect on Harry's relationship with the queen and with his father and brother, both future kings who had envisioned a larger role for him and Meghan as they continue to reshape the monarchy to better suit the 21st century.

But even if they were still chugging along as senior members of the royal family to this day and the announcement that they're expecting their second child hadn't preceded the scheduling of their unprecedented sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, the very fact of Harry and Meghan's coupling had already rocked the family's stodgy status quo from the beginning.

Harpo Productions/ Photographer: Joe Pugliese

And it's not as if changing addresses lessened the amount of scrutiny directed at Meghan, who's been alternately blamed for what some consider to be Harry's dereliction of duty and cheered for saving the prince (and herself) from a stifling life of pomp and circumstance. Now, at least, she's free to speak her mind.

And she did just that earlier this month. In a bombshell March 7 sit-down with Oprah, she didn't mince words when asked how the palace may react to her truth. "I don't know how they could expect that after all of this time we would still just be silent," she said, "when there is an active role that the Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us."

Meghan would go on to reveal shocking secrets about the time Kate Middleton made her cry, to behind-closed door conversations about son Archie's skin color and thoughts of suicide during her darkest days living within the royal family.

Ultimately, Harry and Meghan's decision to socially distance themselves from the royal family for reasons that had nothing to do with preventing COVID-19 from spreading is not even the most world-rattling scandal to plague the House of Windsor, either this century or last. No lines of succession have been altered, no connections forever broken. Harry and Prince William reportedly didn't speak for a couple of months after the terms of the move quickly dubbed "Megxit" were hammered out, and their communication lately is strained (to say the least) after the Oprah interview.

"There were phone and video calls over the Christmas and New Year holiday and the Sussexes sent presents to the Cambridges and vice versa," royal expert Katie Nicholl told Entertainment Tonight earlier this year. "It was an opportunity in an otherwise very busy and chaotic year for both of the families to come together and connect, albeit virtually."

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But there's no question that the family isn't the same as it was in 2018, when Meghan married into it—or 2016, when Harry first fell in love with her, months before anyone even knew he had a girlfriend.

There are at least two sides to every story (and far more than that to this one), whether you believe the least flattering dispatches or the more glowing takes on how Meghan came, saw, didn't like what she saw and skedaddled. More likely you sense, correctly, that the truth is a complicated melding of all the sides.

But there are no two ways about the fact that the course of the royal family has been forever altered by the addition of Meghan to its tree:

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Bachelor Prince, Seeking Woman (Must Haves: Poise, Grace Under Pressure)

Prince Harry generally made for a happy trio with his big brother, Prince William, and sister-in-law Kate Middleton, but Harry had been open about wanting to start a family of his own. He had never wanted for girlfriends, but finding The One was proving to be a tall order.

"I don't think you can force these things," Harry told Sky News during a tour of New Zealand in May 2015, about a week after his niece Princess Charlotte was born, when asked whether he was ready to settle down. "It'll happen when it's going to happen. Of course I'd love to have kids right now, but there's a process that one has to go through...Tours like this is great fun, hopefully I'm doing alright by myself. It would be great to have someone next to me, sort of to share the pressure. But you know, the time will come and whatever happens, happens, I guess."

Happy, Hasty Harry

A year later, he found someone to share the pressure with! He and Meghan met for a drink in London, set up by mutual friend Violet von Westenholz, and it was practically love at first sight—or at least second sight, Harry feeling as early as date two the very next evening that "they would be together," a friend told Finding Freedom authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand. "She was ticking every box fast."

Harry finding love sent a warm wave of happiness straight to the top of the royal food chain, Queen Elizabeth II always having had a special place in her heart for her rambunctious red-haired grandson.

However, also according to the book, William, who dated—and, at times, dangled—Kate for years before marrying her in 2011, urged his brother to really think it through, worried he was moving too fast. And that didn't sit well with Harry at all.

"Harry could see through William's words," a friend told the authors. "He was being a snob."

A Secret Engagement

In general, royals wait a beat before sharing engagement news with the world, the actual proposal always taking place somewhere private (after the queen has been alerted and her approval acquired) before the announcement goes out. In this day and age, with so many Internet sleuths on the case, you'd think that Meghan would have set off major alarms by wearing a white button-down called the "Husband Shirt" from her designer friend Misha Nonoo's collection on a date with Harry to the Invictus Games in September 2017, more than two months before they revealed their betrothal.

But no. Meghan's smart white shirt and somehow-still-elegant ripped skinny jeans flew under the radar.

Uncharted Territory

The young royals are an increasingly progressive bunch, and their charity work in their own country and others reflects that. But Britain's royal family hadn't had much cause for discussions about race as it pertains to their own family. So it was the beginning of an eye-opening new era when Harry was compelled to entreat the public in November 2016 to respect more than his not-so-new-by-then girlfriend's privacy.

Harry was aware that there will always be fascination with his personal life, read a statement released on his behalf by the palace, "But the past week has seen a line crossed. His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public—the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments."

And so began a struggle with the U.K. press and many of its citizens, famous and not, that continues to this day over whether there's a racial component to the way the media treated (and continues to treat) Meghan, the daughter of a white father and Black mother. Most people see it, that headlines such as the Daily Mail's "Harry's girl is (almost) straight outta Compton" from 2016 are inexcusable. But of course those who have endlessly criticized her (she spent too much money on this, she disrespected Kate, she disrespected the queen, how dare she take a 48-hour trip and leave a 5-month-old baby with only his father and staff to look after him?!) insist that nothing has anything to do with race.

Looming Father Figure

While plenty of people were on the bride's guest list when Meghan and Harry got married at St. George's Chapel on May 19, 2018, including Serena Williams, Priyanka Chopra and the cast of Suits, and the uplifting sermon by a Black pastor from Chicago and music provided by a gospel choir represented the culture that Meghan was bringing to the union, she only had one family member in attendance, mom Doria Ragland.

Her father, Thomas Markle, who has never met Harry in person, had supposedly been planning to attend, but then he had a reported heart attack and Meghan's half-sister (who's older and whom Meghan never spent much time with as a child) started attacking her on Twitter...and on Good Morning Britain...and through whichever avenue was available...and now in a book...

Harry and Meghan's wedding day was undeniably glorious, and Prince Charles was happy to escort his incoming daughter-in-law down the aisle, but these royal occasions are usually packed to the gills with relatives from both sides, no matter how much drama (see: Princess Diana and Charles, 1981) is weighing down the family tree.

The strange, primarily vicarious back-and-forth between Meghan and her father continued, and she and Harry ended up suing the publisher of the Mail on Sunday in 2019 for printing excerpts of a letter she wrote to her dad. On Feb. 11, 2021, the court found in Meghan's favor, agreeing that the tabloid "interfered" with her "reasonable expectation" of privacy.

Just the Three of Us

When Harry and Meghan welcomed their son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor into the world on May 6, 2019, they chose to keep their birth plan private. The local press, which was used to camping out a week in advance to get a prime spot to view Kate and William's hours-old babies, didn't care for that decision at all (eventually Archie's birth certificate revealed he'd been born at Portland Hospital in London). Nor did they appreciate the super-private christening or the couple's decision not to share the identity of Archie's godparents.

Remarkable Royals

Meghan and Harry's tour of Africa in October 2019, their first official trip as parents, was memorable for more reasons than their raw interview with Tom Bradby for ITV, in which they admitted just how miserable they felt being picked apart by the press. Though that was pretty darn memorable, as well as the beginning of the end of their time as senior royals, though no one else knew it yet.

Rather, the (mainly American) press that always talked more consistently about how Meghan was revolutionizing the monarchy focused on her connection with the people they met, how she told an audience at The Justice Desk, a non-profit that provides education and job training in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, that she was speaking to them "as a woman of color and as your sister." 

Harry has spent a lot of time in Africa, particularly in Lesotho and Botswana where his Sentebale charity, which aids families affected by HIV/AIDS, operates. But as Meghan talked to the people, and took time off the official itinerary to visit a memorial erected for murdered student Uyinene Mrwetyana, her commitment to human rights and empowering women was palpable to observers around the world. And in a roundtable discussion about women in education at University of Johannesburg, the Northwestern University graduate mentioned that she was only able to attend college due to financial aid and "families chipping in."

"In a world that that can seem so aggressive, confrontational, and dangerous, you should know that you have the power to change it," Meghan also said during another engagement, per CNN. "Because whether you're here in South Africa, at home in the U.K. or the U.S., or around the world, you actually have the power within you to change things, and that begins with how you connect to others."

It's Been Real

On Jan. 8, 2020, approximately 14 years ago in pandemic time, Harry and Meghan announced they planned to take a step back from full-time royalty, become financially independent from the Crown and start splitting their time between North America and the U.K.

As it turned out, that wasn't going to work exactly as they might have hoped. When Harry met with the queen, Charles and William to negotiate his Megxit package, it was determined that independence means exactly that—Harry and Meghan were free to make their own way, but they would no longer be representing the monarchy in their endeavors, on occasion or at all.

Don't Blame Her

It was a surprise for most longtime royal watchers, as well as close friends and confidantes, when Harry committed to being a full-time royal at such a young age in the first place. Some thought he'd want to settle down in Africa for awhile and focus on his Sentebale charity, or perhaps continue on in the military. 

"Meghan simply emboldened him to make the change," Scobie and Durand contend in Finding Freedom. "She supported him no matter what."
 
A source told them, "Fundamentally, Harry wanted out... Deep down, he was always struggling within that world. She's opened the door for him on that."

A Tyler Perry Production

While there was good reason to think the couple might perch in Canada for awhile, because Toronto had become Meghan's second home while she filmed Suits and she and Harry had some good times there early in their courtship, they answered the siren call of Meghan's hometown of Los Angeles instead.

Tyler Perry offered them the use of his Beverly Hills estate while they set up a virtual office due to the pandemic and also started house-hunting for a nest of their own. 

They eventually settled on a gated mansion in Montecito, Calif., where their neighbors (relatively speaking, because the real estate is rather spread out) include Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe (who swears he saw Harry out driving and the royal had a quarantine ponytail) and Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi.

What Matters to Meghan

While they gave an unusually raw glimpse at the toll that life under the microscope can take on one's psyche, even a royal psyche, Meghan and Harry wouldn't have been anywhere near as free to truly speak their minds as they have in recent months if they had remained full-time employees of the Firm.

"I wasn't sure what I could say to you," Meghan said in a video message addressing the May 25 death of George Floyd. "I wanted to say the right thing...I realized, the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing."

Which is basically the exact opposite approach that the royal family has historically taken with so many things, matters big and small.

On July 1, sitting down virtually with young leaders from The Queen's Commonwealth Trust, both Meghan and Harry spoke frankly about racism and inequality. Calling the ongoing protests and seemingly increased awareness all over the world "a moment of reckoning," Meghan said, "In that self-reflection, it's acknowledging what mistakes we've all made. Each of us, individually, what have we done in our past? … So many people go, 'I need to own that.'"

Then again, so many people also do not take any responsibility whatsoever for what plagues society. "When it comes to institutional, systemic racism, it's there and it stays there because someone, somewhere is benefiting from it," Harry said. "We can't deny or ignore the fact that all of us have been brought up and educated to see the world differently, however, once you start to realize that there is that bias there, then you need to acknowledge it." 

Meghan added, "It's not just in the big moments, it's in the quiet moments where racism and unconscious bias lies and thrives. It makes it confusing for a lot of people to understand the role that they play in that, both passively and actively."

The Duke and Duchess of Netflix

Past forays into TV production and entertainment programming have ranged from merely inadvisable to disastrous for the royals in past decades, but Meghan and Harry seek to break that cycle with the $100 million deal they signed with Netflix to produce documentary-style and scripted series.

"Our focus will be on creating content that informs but also gives hope," they told the New York Times in September 2020. "As new parents, making inspirational family programming is also important to us." Netflix's "unprecedented reach will help us share impactful content that unlocks action."

Reader, She Voted

Ignoring criticism (largely from their most reliable scrutinizers abroad) for weighing in on "U.S. politics" when they stopped short of explicitly endorsing Joe Biden but emphasized a need for change, Meghan performed her civic duty as an American citizen and cast her ballot in the 2020 presidential election Nov. 3.

Appearing together in a video marking National Voter Registration Day, Harry admitted that he had never voted before in the U.K. because royals are supposed to be politically neutral.

"As we approach this November, it's vital that we reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity," Harry said, neutral no more.

Personal Pain

In an op-Ed that ran in The New York Times, Meghan revealed that she had suffered a miscarriage in July 2020. She explained that she was moved to share her experience in order to emphasize how we can never tell what is happening in another person's life, or if they're OK, unless we ask.

"In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage," she wrote. "Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning."

Spotify Royalty

While Kate has dabbled in being a podcast guest more recently, Harry and Meghan have launched their own show, Archewell Audio, with Spotify Studios, synonymous with the branding they've decided upon inspired by their son's name, Archie. "An ancient word for strength and action, and another that evokes the deep resources we each must draw upon," they explained in April.

Fittingly, they kicked off the series with a holiday special in December that included the debut of Archie's voice for public ears.

Baby on the Way

In an announcement more reminiscent of Beyoncé than Buckingham Palace, Harry and Meghan shared on Valentine's Day that she was pregnant again. They didn't put the word out on social media, because they don't have any public accounts right now, but their team circulated an artistically composed photo illustrating their joy all the same.

The Firm may not have ever thought of opening a satellite office in Montecito, but it's open, it's running, and is already the headquarters for a whole new way of doing business.

(Originally published Aug. 4, 2020, at 3 a.m. PT)

True Hollywood Story returns Monday, Oct. 25 at 10 p.m., only on E!.