In the early weeks of her crash course on royal life, Meghan Markle learned there were a number of things that she could no longer do: Pose for selfies, sign autographs, skip out on pantyhose. But it was what she couldn't say that felt truly restrictive.
Unable to appear as if they were influencing public policy in the slightest, those near the top of the hierarchy understand that they must muzzle themselves on a whole host of hot-button topics, with Prince Harry even admitting he hadn't cast a ballot in his entire life.
But when the Duke and the Duchess of Sussex gave notice, the realization that she could ditch that stiff upper lip was incredibly freeing. "It's something I look forward to being a part of," she told Emily Ramshaw, co-founder of The 19th, of weighing in on things like social justice reform. "And being part of using my voice in a way that I haven't been able to of late."
Like, realllllly use her voice.
Sitting down with Montecito neighbor Oprah Winfrey for their much-hyped Mar. 7 interview, Meghan and Harry took full advantage of their new freedom, going there on topics ranging from why Archie Harrison wasn't give a title to what The Firm played in "perpetuating falsehoods about us." As Meghan put it, "I'm ready to talk."
And with the couple formerly known as His and Her Royal Highness giving such a revealing look at their lives, there is truly no time to keep calm. We've dissected every last second of Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special and rounded up the most fascinating bits and bobs. Grab yourself a cup of tea because the Duke and Duchess are spilling all.
Meghan didn't really know what she was in for, tbh.
While Meghan admitted that she was "of course" aware of the royal family, she wasn't exactly well-studied on the monarchy and even after meeting Harry she was never tempted to go down a Google rabbit hole. "I've never looked up my husband online," she insisted. "I just didn't feel a need to because everything that I needed to know, he was sharing with me. Right? Or everything we thought I needed to know, he was telling me."
Unfortunately, they didn't spend a ton of time going over the lengthy list of responsibilities that came with the role. "I didn't fully understand what the job was," she continued. "What does it mean to be a working royal? What do you do?" The first huge reality check came the first time she met Queen Elizabeth II...
Meghan's first meeting with The Queen involved a crash course in how to curtsy.
"There wasn't actually a huge formality" to Meghan's first encounter with Queen Elizabeth, which happened while the couple was enjoying lunch at the royal lodge with Sarah Ferguson and Princess Eugenie, who Meghan was actually friends with before she began dating Harry.
"It turns out the Queen was finishing a church service, so she was going to be at the house," Meghan explained of the unexpected meeting. "'Do you know how to curtsy?'" was the first thing Harry said to Meghan after learning his grandmother was coming. Surprised she would have to curtsy in an informal setting, Meghan said, "That was the first moment the penny dropped." Meghan quickly practiced curtsying with Harry outside of the house just before the Queen arrived.
"We went in and we met her and apparently I did a very deep curtsy and I don't remember it," Meghan shared. "We sat there and we chatted and it was lovely and it was easy."
We didn't actually see them become husband and wife.
Surprise! Three days before their over-the-top May 19, 2018 wedding, "we got married," Meghan revealed to Oprah. As fun as it is to plan palace vows with a limitless budget, a Givenchy gown and an actual tiara, the spouses-to-be were looking for a touch of intimacy. "We called the archbishop, and we just said, 'Look, this thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us,'" she said.
And though the Sussexes have quite the amazing set of wedding photos, their most prized memento from their nuptials is a simple piece of paper. Shared Meghan, "The vows that we have framed in our room are just the two of us in our backyard with the archbishop of Canterbury." Added Harry, "Just the three of us."
Continued Meghan, "I don't say that to be disparaging to anyone,, because it was a really hard…and she was upset about something and she owned it and she apologized and sent flowers and a note, apologizing. And she did what I would do if I knew that I hurt someone, right, to just take accountability for it."
When Oprah pressed Meghan about what the issue was, Meghan was vague, but confirmed it had to do with the flower girls' dresses. "It made me cry and it really hurt my feelings," she explained, "And I thought, in the context of everything else that was going on in those days leading to the wedding, that it didn't make sense to not be just doing whatever—what everyone else was doing, which was trying to be supportive, knowing what was going on with my dad and whatnot."
Stressing that it wasn't "a confrontation" and that Kate had "apologized and I've forgiven her," Meghan said what "was hard" for her to get over was the "reverse" of what actually happened being circulated by the media more than six months after the wedding. Meghan was upset Kate wasn't allowed to "negate" the story.
"They wouldn't let her, because she's a good person," she said. "And I think so much of what I have seen play out is this idea of polarity, where if you love me, you don't have to hate her. And if you love her, you don't need to hate me."
Meghan felt both silenced and unprotected.
Despite having been quite the independent working woman before entering The Firm, Meghan insisted she was a dutiful rule follower. (Among the musts: Letting everyone in her life know that the only response to the media was a polite "no comment.") Said Meghan, "I did anything they told me to do. Of course I did, because it was also through the lens of 'And we'll protect you.' So, even as things started to roll out in the media that I didn't see but my friends would call me and say, 'Meg, this is really bad,' because I didn't see it, I'd go, 'Don't worry. I'm being protected.'"
But after the intensity of planning one of the world's most highly dissected wedding, "everything started to worsen," she revealed. "I came to understand that not only was I not being protected, but that they were willing to lie to protect other members of the family, but they weren't willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband."
For the newly minted duchess, a big turning point were the erroneous reports that came out about her fight with the Duchess of Cambridge."The narrative about, you know, making Kate cry I think was the beginning of a real character assassination," she said. "And they knew it wasn't true. And I thought, well, if they're not going to kill things like that, then what are we going to do?"
There were "conversations" about Archie's skin color.
After Archie's May 2019 birth, much was made over the decision to not give him a royal title. It turns out his parents did not have any part in that choice. Even more shocking: Meghan speculated that his race may have played a factor. "In those months when I was pregnant, all around this same time—so we have in tandem the conversation of 'He won't be given security, he's not going to be given a title,' and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born."
This, of course, stopped Oprah in her tracks, immediately asking for clarification, with Meghan going on to say Harry had "several conversations" with family members about, in Oprah's words, "how dark" Archie would be. "Potentially, and what that would mean or look like," Meghan said, though she would not say who had these talks with Harry. "I think that would be very damaging to them."
Regarding the conversations, which Meghan was not part of, Oprah asked, "Because they were concerned that if he were too brown, that that would be a problem? Are you saying that?"
Meghan responded, "I wasn't able to follow up with why, but that—if that's the assumption you're making, I think that feels like a pretty safe one, which was really hard to understand, right?"
She stressed that she and Harry had no say in the decision about Archie not being named a prince. "It's not our decision to make," she said. "Even though I have a lot of clarity with what comes with the titles, good and bad, and from my experience a lot of pain, I wouldn't wish pain on my child, but that's their birthright to then make a choice about."
During her pregnancy, Meghan and Harry were informed their child "wasn't going to receive security" without the title. "It's like, OK, well, he needs to be safe, so we're not saying, 'Don't make him a prince or a princess,' whatever it's going to be," she explained. "But if you're saying the title is what's going to affect their protection, we haven't created this monster machine around us in terms of clickbait and tabloid fodder. You've allowed that to happen, which means our son needs to be safe."
Meghan went on to say that a convention was going to be changed specifically "for Archie" so he wouldn't receive a royal title. "It's not their right to take it away, right?"
At the lowest point, Meghan was scared for her life.
Pregnant and enduring a constant onslaught of bullying, Meghan began experiencing the darkest of thoughts in the middle of the night. "Look, I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry, especially, because I know how much loss he's suffered, but I knew if I didn't say it, then I would do it," she said of the constant suicidal thoughts that would race through her mind late at night. "I just didn't want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening and constant thought."
Truthfully, she continued, she felt at one point that it was the right thing to do: "I thought it would solve everything for everyone."
Terrified, she confessed her worries to her husband ("I remember how he just cradled me") and then the senior most person on her team. Her request to seek professional health was rebuffed due to optics. "I went to the institution, and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help," she shared. "I said that, 'I've never felt this way before, and I need to go somewhere.' And I was told that I couldn't, that it wouldn't be good for the institution."
Continued Meghan, "I remember this conversation like it was yesterday, because they said, 'My heart goes out to you, because I see how bad it is, but there's nothing we can do to protect you, because you're not a paid employee of the institution.'"
Instead, the next day, she slipped on a fitted sequin Roland Mouret and attended a charity gala putting on the bravest of faces. "You have no idea what's going on for someone behind closed doors," she told Oprah. "You have no idea. Even the people that smile the biggest smiles and shine the brightest lights."
She's not really bracing for palace backlash.
"I wasn't planning to say anything shocking," Meghan admitted partway through an interview filled with jaw-dropping moments. "I'm just telling you what happened. It's been a lot."
One woman's truth is another's revelation, which is how Oprah felt toward the end of her sit-down with Meghan before Harry joined in, their solo chat ending with Oprah asking Meghan how she believed the palace would react to what was said during their interview and if she was fearful of any backlash.
"I'm not going to live my life in fear," Meghan responded. "So much of it is said with an understanding of just truth." Then she dropped that massive tease from an early clip that was released ahead of the special.
"But I think to answer your question, I don't know how they could expect that after all of this time, we could still just be silent if there is an active role the firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us," she said. "If that comes with risk of losing thing, I've lost…there's been a lot that's been lost already. I grieve a lot. I lost my father, I lost a baby, I nearly lost my name. I mean, there's the loss of identity, but I'm still standing. My hope for people in the takeaway from this is to know there is another side, to know that life is worth living."
Though they chose not to find out Archie's sex ahead of time, they do know that he'll become big brother to a sister this summer. Knowing he'll have both a son and a daughter, Harry told Oprah he's feeling "amazing. Just grateful, like, to have any child, any one or any two would have been amazing. But to have a boy and then a girl, you know, what more can you ask for?"
Nothing, really, which is why the pair aren't trying to add any more tiny Sussexes. "We've got our family," said Harry. "We've got, you know, the four of us and our two dogs, and it's great." Added Meghan, "Two is it."
The parallels to what Princess Diana experienced were terrifying.
Having watched the scrutiny his mom endured before her horrifying death, Harry was particularly affected watching his wife go through the same thing. "My biggest concern was history repeating itself, and I've said that before on numerous occasions, very publicly," he told Oprah of Princess Diana's struggles and untimely death. "And what I was seeing was history repeating itself, but more, perhaps—or definitely far more dangerous, because then you add race in and you add social media in."
With everything they know now decades later, he was horrified that their calls for help went unanswered. "When you can see something happening in the same kind of way, anybody would ask for help," he said, "ask the system of which you are a part of—especially when you know there's a relationship there—that they could help and share some truth or call the dogs off, whatever you want to call it."
Instead, he continued, they received no help and were "told continuously, 'This is how it is. This is just how it is. We've all been through it.'"
Here's the truth about Megxit.
No, Harry did not blindside his grandmother when he and Meghan announced they were stepping down as members of the royal family. "I would never blindside my grandmother," Harry said. "I have too much respect for her."
And the reasoning behind their decision to leave the royal family, Harry simply said, "Lack of support and lack of understanding." Oprah followed up, asking if that meant from the institution or the British press, with Harry clarifying, "It was both."
Harry said his father "stopped taking my calls."
While discussing their decision to step back, Harry casually dropped the revelation that he and Prince Charles weren't on speaking terms for a lengthy spell.
"He asked me to put it in writing," Harry said of Charles' reaction to his request to give up his position as a senior member of the family. "I put all the specifics in there, even the fact that we were planning on putting the announcement out on the 7th of January." And that was when Charles "stopped" answering Harry's phone calls, he shared.
When asked why his father was no longer speaking to him, Harry explained, "Because by that point, I took matters into my own hands. It was like, I need to do this for my family. This is not a surprise to anybody. It's really sad that it's gotten to this point, but I've got to do something for my own mental health, my wife's, and for Archie's, as well, because I could see where this was headed."
Now, he said, "There's a lot to work through there. I feel really let down because he's been through something similar. He knows what pain feels like and Archie's his grandson." Still he continued, "At the same time, of course, I will always love him. But there's a lot of hurt that's happened and I will continue to make it one of my priorities to heal that relationship. But they only know what they know."
Harry was "ashamed" to be honest with his family.
Meghan's tearful mid-tour confession about just how much she was struggling really did come as a shock to Prince William and the rest of the family, with Harry admitting he didn't tell them about her cry for help. "That's just not a conversation that would be had," he told Oprah when she asked if he'd told them about her wanting to seek treatment. "I guess I was ashamed of admitting it to them."
As hard as life in The Firm can be, he continued, he wasn't sure if they'd get it. "I don't know whether they've had the same—whether they've had the same feelings or thoughts," he said. "I have no idea. And it's a very trapping environment that a lot of them are stuck in."
As a result, though they did confide in a select few friends, "For the family, they very much have this mentality of, 'This is just how it is. This is how it's meant to be. You can't change it. We've all been through it.'"
Harry feels his mom would have been in his corner.
Asked what he thought Diana would feel about his decision to leave if she were alive, Harry told Oprah, "I think she would feel very angry with how this has panned out, and very sad." Still, she'd absolutely be his No. 1 cheerleader: "Ultimately, all she'd ever want is for us to be happy."
Thanks to his mother, he had a bit of a nest egg to make their move to California after they'd been cut off financially be the rest of the family. And, perhaps, she'd subsconsciously prepared for this moment. "I think she saw it coming," Harry conjectured. "And I certainly felt her presence throughout this whole process."
Going through all of this, he has even more respect for what his mother endured. "You know, for me, I'm just really relieved and happy to be sitting here talking to you with my wife by my side," he continued. "Because I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like for her going through this process by herself all those years ago, because it's been unbelievably tough for the two of us, but at least we had each other."
Yes, they've watched The Crown.
Prince Harry confirmed, "I've watched some of it" when the topic of Netflix's Peter Morgan-created royal drama arose. But it doesn't seem like the couple has binge-watched the show together, with Harry asking Meghan if she has seen The Crown. "I've watched some of it," she also admitted.
The hit series came up after Oprah said Harry's recounting of the couple's 2018 tours of Australia and the South Pacific reminded her of the show's depiction of Charles and Diana's infamous Australian visit in season four. "Look, I just wish that we would all learn from the past," Harry said of the comparison.
Prince Charles and Prince William are "trapped."
Harry admitted that he would never have considered leaving the royal family if he hadn't met Meghan in 2016. "I wouldn't have been able to, because I myself was trapped, as well," he answered. "I didn't see a way out."
When Oprah commented that "This has been your life your whole life," Harry agreed, going on to say, "I didn't know I was trapped. But the moment that I met Meg and then our words sort of collided in the most amazing of ways."
And it was through Meghan that Harry felt he was able to leave the system, saying the rest of his family is still "trapped" within the system. "My father and my brother, they are trapped," he stressed of the future kings. "They don't get to leave. And I have huge compassion for that."
The Royals have an "invisible contract" with the media.
Pulling back the curtain to the unique relationship between the palace and the press, Harry revealed, "There is what's termed or referred to as the 'invisible contract' behind closed doors between the institution and the tabloids, the U.K. Tabloids."
Going on to detail that tie between the two entities, Harry said, "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."
The institution, Harry explained, "survives based on that perception" that is presented in the papers and that "everyone needs to have some compassion for [the royals] in that situation, right? There is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations…I mean, generations."
So even members of the royal family are terrified of what will be said about them by the press, leading to tabloid reporters getting to attend events at Buckingham Palace while also spreading rumors about the couple.
"See, I think there's a reason that these tabloids have holiday parties at the palace," Meghan said. "They're hosted by the palace, the tabloids are. You know, there is a construct that's at play there. And because, from the beginning of our relationship, they were so attacking and inciting so much racism, really, it changed…the risk level, because it wasn't just catty gossip. It was bringing out a part of people that was racist in how it was charged. And that changed the threat. That changed the level of death threats. That changed everything. "
Meghan called The Queen after Prince Philip's hospitalization.
During the sit-down, Meghan revealed she reached out to the Queen after Prince Phillip was first hospitalized in mid-February. "I just picked up the phone, and I called The Queen just to check in," she said. "That's what we do. It's like being able to default to not having to every moment go, 'Is that appropriate?'"
In addition to keeping tabs on Philip, who recently underwent a heart procedure, Harry shared he's "spoken more" to his grandmother "in the last year than I have done for many, many years," including "a couple of Zoom calls with Archie."
Continued Harry, "My grandmother and I have a really good relationship, and an understanding. And I have a deep respect for her. She's my colonel in chief, right? She always will be."
Meghan has just one regret.
If Meghan could go back and tell her more naive 2016 self one thing, she'd advise her to be a bit less trusting. "My regret is believing them when they said I would be protected," she shared with Oprah. "And I regret believing that because I think, had I really seen that that wasn't happening, I would have been able to do more. But I think I wasn't supposed to see it."
Still she's found the silver lining now that she and her prince have settled into their coastal California palace. "Now, because we're actually on the other side, we've actually not just survived but are thriving," she said, "you know this—I mean, this is miracles. I think that all of those things that I was hoping for have happened, and this is in some ways just the beginning for us."
While they'd certainly been through a lot ("It's felt like a lifetime") their story has a happy ending. Said Meghan, "Greater than any fairy tale you've ever read."
—Reporting by Beth Sobol