Meghan says life with British royals almost drove her to suicide

Meghan Markle's efforts to seek medical help were rebuffed by palace officials, who worried about the effect on the institution. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (NYTIMES) - A year after Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in a fairy-tale wedding, she said in an interview broadcast on Sunday night (March 7), her life as a member of the British royal family had become so emotionally unbearable that she contemplated suicide.

At another point, members of the family told Meghan, a biracial former American actress, and Harry that they did not want the couple's unborn child to be a prince or princess and expressed concerns about how dark the colour of the baby's skin would be.

The disclosures, made in an eagerly anticipated interview on CBS with Oprah Winfrey, were the most incendiary by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, 39, who married into the House of Windsor and discovered less of a fairy tale than what she described as the cruel loss of her freedom and identity.

"I was ashamed to have to admit it to Harry," Meghan said of her suicidal thoughts. "I knew that if I didn't say it, I would do it. I just didn't want to be alive anymore."

She said that while her husband was deeply concerned about her condition - gripping her hand tightly at public events - her efforts to seek medical help were rebuffed by palace officials, who worried about the effect on the institution.

She described herself as sort of a prisoner in Kensington Palace.

"I couldn't just call an Uber to the palace," she said.

Meghan did not say which family member had raised questions about her baby's skin colour, nor did she fully explain why the royal family did not automatically plan to confer a royal title, which would have provided security for the child.

Other disclosures were less revelatory. Her sister-in-law, Kate, she said, drove her to tears in a clash over dresses for the flower girls, rather than the reverse as had been widely reported.

One of Meghan's aides told her she should not go out to lunch with friends because she was overexposed, even though she had been left her residence only twice in four months.

And Harry and Meghan disclosed the happier news that their second child, due this summer, will be a girl.

Meghan, her baby bump clearly visible, spoke casually and with humour about her early encounters with her future in-laws. She described learning how to curtsy moments before she was introduced to Queen Elizabeth II and insisted she knew nothing about what was going to be expected of her as a working royal.

"I didn't do any research about what that would mean," she said. "I never looked up my husband online."

For an American audience that has lapped up the palace intrigue depicted in the popular Netflix series The Crown, it was the equivalent of a juicy bonus episode.

For the royal family, already preoccupied by the hospitalisation of its patriarch, Prince Philip, it was a painful reminder, a year after Harry and Meghan turned their backs on royal life, that the wounds from that rupture have yet to heal.

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey. PHOTO: AFP

On both sides of the Atlantic, it was the most eagerly anticipated royal interview since Harry's mother, Princess Diana, told the BBC in 1995 that "there were three of us in this marriage," referring to her husband, Prince Charles, and his extramarital relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, whom he later married.

Like Meghan, Diana was a glamorous outsider who brought a shower of stardust to the House of Windsor when she married Charles, only to become deeply unhappy within the confines of royal life.

Unlike Meghan, her marriage crumbled amid competing claims of infidelity, and by the time she spoke to BBC journalist Martin Bashir, she said the palace viewed her as a "threat of some kind".

A vivid bookend to her turbulent years in the royal family, Diana's interview was a pop-cultural moment that drew one of the largest British television audiences in history, lived on in parodies on Saturday Night Live, and deepened the media's fathomless hunger for all things Diana. Two years later, she was dead in Paris, the victim of a car crash after a high-speed chase with photographers.

Harry, 36, invoked that tragedy with Winfrey, saying of his wife's recurring clashes with the tabloid press, "my biggest concern was history repeating itself".

He has long blamed journalists for his mother's death and said one of the reasons the couple moved to California was to escape the unrelenting media glare.

And yet, there the couple sat, in comfortable wicker outdoor chairs, across a low round table, from perhaps the United States' most recognisable television host.

Winfrey's list of celebrity interviews includes late singer Michael Jackson, reality TV star Kim Kardashian as well as former US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump - and she is known for considering little to be off limits (in 1993, she asked a nonplused Jackson if he was a virgin).

In a file photo taken on March 9, 2020, Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (left), Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (second, left), Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (third, left), Britain's Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (third, right), Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (second, right) and Britain's Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (right) depart Westminster Abbey after attending the annual Commonwealth Service. PHOTO: AFP

Meghan, however, cast the interview as a chance to reclaim her own narrative, after a period when she claims her reputation was distorted by a ravenous tabloid press fed a diet of falsehoods by jealous palace courtiers.

Even Meghan's choice of wardrobe seemed calculated to telegraph the message of a new start. Her elegant black dress, designed by Giorgio Armani, featured a striking lotus flower design that her staff said symbolised revival and a will to live. She also wore a diamond tennis bracelet that once belonged to Diana.

But the couple's effort to relaunch their public image did not go unchallenged back home.

In the days leading up to the broadcast, new allegations surfaced that Meghan had bullied members of her staff, reducing junior aides to tears and driving two personal assistants out of the palace.

Meghan dismissed the claims as character assassination, while Buckingham Palace said it would look into them.

"What is going on is a significant struggle for the control of the narrative," said Mr Peter Hunt, a former BBC royal correspondent. "What is our settled judgment for why Harry and Meghan left the royal family? Do we accept two hours of Oprah or do we believe those charges of bullying?"

In a photo taken on Sept 25, 2019, Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, hold their son Archie, as they met Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa. PHOTO: REUTERS

Meghan has no shortage of defenders. Patrick J. Adams, an actor who worked with her on the television series, Suits, described her on Twitter last week as having "a deep sense of morality and a fierce work ethic".

The royal family, Adams said, was "obscene" to promote accusations of bullying against her.

Critics have long detected a whiff of racism in how some people react to Meghan, a biracial professional woman who had been divorced before she met Harry.

While initially rapturous in their coverage of the couple, Britain's tabloids turned against them, publishing unflattering articles about how they flew on carbon-spewing private jets and restricted access to their newborn son, Archie.

Some also point out the hypocrisy of Buckingham Palace investigating claims of bullying against Meghan when Prince Andrew, the queen's second son and Harry's uncle, has declined to speak to US authorities about allegations of sex trafficking by his late friend, the convicted sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein.

Though British papers have covered every conceivable angle of the interview, some made clear there were limits to the interest it was generating.

The Sunday Times of London reported that the queen herself had no plans to watch the programme, which is quite predictable, since it will air after midnight London time. It will be shown on Monday evening on Britain's ITV network.

Others in Britain tried to play down its significance, pointing out that there are other more important things going on in the country: Schools are to reopen on Monday, and the coronavirus vaccine rollout continues at full speed.

At least one prominent British leader said he had no plans to stay up for it.

"Of course, I'm interested in all sorts of stuff around the news around the world," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday, when asked about Harry and Meghan. "I think it's quite late our time, so I'll probably miss it."


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