Dubai: Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have a lot to say about their former life — and as with anything to do with the royal family, the world is waiting to hear everything.
The couple, who got married in 2018, have spoken to famed TV star Oprah Winfrey on March 7 about their decision to break away from royal life, and how Buckingham Palace and the British press played a big part in it. In the interview, Harry invokes his late mother Princess Diana, while Meghan talks about “falsehoods” spread about them. Days prior to this tell-all talk, Meghan has been hit with allegations of bullying staff — which she has denied — and an investigation into the claims has begun.
It’s a complex and fraught affair, which many have likened to the days of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, who died on August 31 at age 36, the same age that Prince Harry is now.
We examine the parallels between Harry and his charismatic but troubled mother, and the stormy relationship between Harry, Meghan and the media.
The Harry and Meghan relationship timeline
July 2016: Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle meet on a blind date set up by a mutual friend. Meghan said in a BBC interview: “I didn’t know much about him, and so the only thing that I had asked her when she said that she wanted to set us up, was, I had one question. I said, ‘Well is he nice?’” They meet on two more dates in July and then Harry invited Meghan to join him on a trip to Botswana.
October 31, 2016: After a few months of dating quietly, the romance hits the headlines, when an anonymous source tells the British tabloid Sunday Express about Harry’s new girlfriend.
November 8, 2016: In a statement, Prince Harry confirms Meghan is his girlfriend and condemns press coverage of her. He says he fears for her safety and says press coverage crossed the line and used “racial undertones” in its stories. His comments remind many that his mother, Princess Diana, had died in a car crash while being pursued by press photographers. It was the first time a UK royal has issued such a statement.
September 6, 2017: Meghan opens up in a cover story of Vanity Fair magazine about her relationship with the prince saying, “At the end of the day I think it is really simple. We’re two people who are really happy.”
September 25, 2017: Harry and Meghan are photographed together for the first time when they are holding hands during tennis competition at the Invictus Games in Toronto.
November 2017: Meghan says she’s quitting her acting role in the US television series ‘Suits’ and moves to England.
November 27, 2017: It’s official. The couple’s engagement is announced. Harry and Meghan then appear for photographers on the grounds of Kensington Palace, and Harry says he’s “over the moon.”
January 9, 2018: Kensington Palace confirms that Meghan has shut down her social media accounts in line with royal tradition. The American closed her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
March 12, 2018: Meghan makes her first public appearance with Queen Elizabeth II. She joins the queen and other senior royals at the Commonwealth Day service at London’s Westminster Abbey.
April 25, 2018: Meghan appears for the last time in the US television series ‘Suits’ and bids farewell with an on-screen wedding during the season seven finale.
May 19, 2018: The couple gets married in a grand royal ceremony at Windsor Castle. Their wedding was a lavish ceremony in Windsor Castle and was heralded as a sign of a more modern monarchy. (Harry broke tradition by marrying not only an American, but a divorcee who is of African-American decent when he married Meghan. She was also an actress. This caused quite a stir, especially from the traditionalists.)
October 15, 2018: Meghan and Harry announce their pregnancy. Kensington Palace announced the news on social media with a statement saying: “Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Sussex is expecting a baby in the Spring of 2019.”
May 7, 2019: The couple’s first child is born. The couple bucked royal tradition by declining to say where the baby was born and opting not to come out to pose with the newborn just hours after the birth.
May 10, 2019: New parents Meghan and Prince Harry present their two-day-old son to the world and reveal his name: Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.
January 9, 2020: Harry and Meghan say they plan “to step back” as senior members of Britain’s royal family. Harry and Meghan intend to become financially independent and to balance their time between the UK and North America. “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” the statement said. “We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the royal family and work to become financially independent while continuing to fully support her majesty the queen.”
March 31, 2020: The couple officially drop his-and-her “royal highness” from their Duke and Duchess of Sussex names because they are no longer working members of the family. They plan to repay taxpayers for renovations made to their home near Windsor Castle and give up public financial support.
August 14, 2020: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle move into a new family home. Real estate agents and tax records point to a seven-acre estate in Santa Barbara County, according to The Los Angeles Times.
November 25, 2020: Meghan reveals that she had a miscarriage in July, giving a personal account of the traumatic experience in hope of helping others. Meghan described the miscarriage in an opinion piece in The New York Times, writing that “I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.”
February 15, 2021: Meghan and Harry are expecting their second child, their office confirms. A spokesperson for Prince Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, said in a statement: “We can confirm that Archie is going to be a big brother. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are overjoyed to be expecting their second child.” In a black-and-white photo of themselves, the couple sat near a tree with Harry’s hand placed under Meghan’s head as she lies on his lap with her hand resting on her bump.
February 19, 2021: Buckingham Palace releases statement confirming that the couple would not return as working members of the family.
March 2, 2021: Oprah teases an exclusive interview with Meghan and Harry, in which Prince Harry reveals the memory of his late mother, Princess Diana, who had to find her way alone after she and Prince Charles divorced. The interview special is scheduled to air on March 7 on CBS and the following day in Britain.
— Inputs from AP
Harry vs the British press: A brief history
The only way you could possibly be surprised by Harry’s recent comments that the British press were “destroying” his mental health, would be if you hadn’t been paying attention to anything he’s said in the past two decades.
At 36 years old, Harry has had a long, tenuous, no-love relationship with the British tabloid media and has often discussed his disdain for them in the staunchest of terms.
It stretches all the way back to the heavily publicised passing of his mum, Princess Diana, whose death was partially attributed to paparazzi pursuing her vehicle. But, Harry was only 12 at the time.
Once the Duke of Sussex was old enough to speak for himself, it seems, he rarely held back.
“I don’t like England that much”
When Harry was 23 years old in 2008 — far before Meghan entered the picture — he explicitly expressed his feelings on the press. He had been serving in Afghanistan for 10 weeks at the time.
“I don’t want to sit around at Windsor because I just generally don’t like England that much, and it’s nice to be away from all the press and the papers and the general [expletive] that they write,” he told Reuters.
These frank admissions continued for years — especially after the Sun published nude images of Harry in 2012 while he was in Las Vegas.
Harry the following year, again serving in Afghanistan, said his distrust of the press goes way back, alluding to mum Diana.
“I think it’s fairly obvious how far back it goes — to when I was very small,” he said.
Despite this, he couldn’t help but read what the press had to say about him.
“My father always says don’t read it, everyone says don’t read it, because it’s always rubbish. I’m surprised how many in the UK actually read it. Everyone’s guilty for buying the newspapers, I guess, but hopefully nobody actually believes what they read. I certainly don’t,” he said.
“But of course I read it, because if something’s being written about me, I want to know what’s being said. All it does is just upset and anger me that people can get away with writing the stuff they do, not just about me, but about everything and everybody,” he added.
Phone hacking scandal, explained
Harry also alluded to the long-running phone hacking scandal that involved the now-defunct News of the World paper (replaced by The Sun when it closed down) in the early 2000s.
“Because we haven’t got mobile phones out here [in Afghanistan], they can’t bug our phones, so they don’t know what we’re saying,” said Harry, then 28.
This goes back to 2007, when Clive Goodman, then royal correspondent of News of the World, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, were both jailed for intercepting voicemail messages of royal aides.
By using factory-set pin codes to hack into celebrity voicemails, they were able to access — and publish to the masses — sensitive information.
A trial in 2011 revealed that Harry and Kate Middleton were both victims of said phone hackers.
The scandal is ongoing today. Harry revived the issue in 2019, when he began to take legal action against The Sun and The Daily Mirror over phone hacking concerns.
Meghan’s private letter to father goes public
These legal claims from Harry arrived just days after he and Meghan had taken legal action British tabloids, including The Sun, for publishing a private letter from Meghan to her father.
“Unfortunately, my wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences — a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son,” wrote Harry in a statement.
He called it “one incident in a long and disturbing pattern of behaviour” exhibited by the British tabloid press.
“For these select media this is a game, and one that we have been unwilling to play from the start. I have been a silent witness to her private suffering for too long. To stand back and do nothing would be contrary to everything we believe in,” he said.
Harry vs the press: Where does it stand now?
In an interview last week with James Corden, Harry rode around LA on an open-top bus (for the first time), and revealed just how badly the press had impacted him.
“It was a really difficult environment as a lot of people saw. We all know what the British press can be like. And it was destroying my mental health. I was like, this is toxic,” said Harry.
He also told Corden that he is far more comfortable watching the fictional depiction of the royal family on the TV series ‘The Crown’ than he is with the actual press.
“They don’t pretend to be news,” said Harry.
“It’s fictional, but it’s loosely based on the truth. Of course it’s not strictly accurate, but loosely, it gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle, what the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everything else, what can come from that.
“I’m way more comfortable with ‘The Crown’ than I am seeing the stories written about my family, or my wife, or myself. Because it’s the difference between, that is obviously fiction, take it how you will, but this is being reported on as fact because you’re supposedly news. I have a real issue with hat,” he added.
Analysis: Are there parallels between Princess Diana’s life and Harry’s?
In 1995, the late Princess Diana gave a landmark BBC interview with journalist Martin Bashir that showed the public a raw and painfully human side of her. She spoke openly about suffering from bulimia, the affair between her husband Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla Parker-Bowles, and intrusive media scrutiny.
An oft repeated quote from that interview — “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded” — might reflect the current state of affairs involving Diana’s second son Prince Harry and his wife Meghan. The couple have been in the eye of the media storm ever since their courtship and marriage in 2018. Their every step has been questioned, picked apart and incessantly followed by the media and public.
Following their departure from the royal family, it seems Meghan and Harry will give an interview as explosive and revelatory as Diana’s account all those years ago. In previews of their chat with TV legend Oprah Winfrey, set to air on March 7, Harry is seen referring to his mother as he talks about his split from the royal family.
“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 has been unbelievably tough for the two of us — but at least we had each other,” Harry tells Winfrey.
The Duke of Sussex could have been referring to the sense of loneliness Diana might have felt following her divorce from Prince Charles in August 1996, and being reportedly shunned by the royal family. Diana died the next year in a car crash in Paris, which Harry has said was caused by the paparazzi that relentlessly chased his mother.
“I think being part of this family, in this role and this job, every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back,” Harry said in a 2019 interview, when asked if he feels at peace about his mother’s death.
Harry has had his own battles with the media when he was a rebellious young man, but in his new role as Meghan’s husband and soon-to-be father of two he has been trying hard to make sure his family does not suffer the same fate as Diana.
“My biggest concern was history repeating itself,” he tells Winfrey in one clip.
Harry was 12 years old when his mother died, and would have been too young to help his mother in any tangible way. But now, he’s using his words and actions to change the course of his life and that of his family — even if it means upsetting the status quo.
Harry has fiercely defended Meghan, a biracial actress, from the British press and slammed their harsh coverage of her — coverage that has been called sexist and racist. In a 2019 statement that made headlines, Harry attacked tabloids for their “ruthless campaign” against Meghan and said he would be taking legal action.
“Unfortunately, my wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences — a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son,” he said.
“There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face — as so many of you can relate to — I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been. Because in today’s digital age, press fabrications are repurposed as truth across the globe. One day’s coverage is no longer tomorrow’s chip-paper.”
During that time, a personal letter Meghan wrote to her estranged father was leaked.
“Up to now, we have been unable to correct the continual misrepresentations — something that these select media outlets have been aware of and have therefore exploited on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. It is for this reason we are taking legal action, a process that has been many months in the making,” Harry added.
Both Harry and Meghan have since won legal cases related to their privacy, and this reflects a massive shift from two decades ago when Diana might not have been able to fight for such justice for herself.
When Meghan was asked by Winfrey how she felt about the palace watching their interview, the former ‘Suits’ star stood up for herself.
“I don’t know how they could expect that, after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that The Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us,” she said.
Buckingham Palace and other royals have largely remained silent about Harry and Meghan’s very public exhortations for change; the most recently statement being one to announce the couple would be quitting royal life. While it might not be true that they are alone in this, to the outside world it seems that way.
There are parallels to be drawn between Harry and his mother — they were both independent and bright characters. But more than anything, it seems like it’s Meghan who has experienced what Diana went through as a woman who didn’t fit expectations.
If anything, Harry is doing for Meghan what he could not have done for this mother — protecting the person he loves, no matter what.
Rebel prince: A timeline of Harry’s controversies
Prince Harry, who was born on September 15, 1984, is no stranger to controversy. From breaking monarchial rules to playing a slapdash game of strip billiards even while paparazzi look on agog, he’s done it all. Here’s a look at a timeline of famous controversial moments from the carrot-top prince.
2001: At age 16, Prince Harry wasn’t like many other teens — people were watching his every move — not that this would stop him from living his life. He lived a life of relative carefree behaviour, showering his then girlfriend with public displays of affection and even having to go to rehab. For one day, when he was 16 for trying illegal substances, Prince Charles reportedly bade him to stay in a rehab facility. When the news went public, St James’s Palace said, “This is a serious matter which was resolved within the family, and is now in the past and closed.” Of course no more was said about it.
2004: Prince Harry’s hate for paparazzi is neither unfounded nor is it new. But there have been moments when his exchanges have turned heated, like in 2004 when he had scuffle with photographer, who claimed the prince lashed out at him without warning or provocation at 3am. The scuffle occurred days after news of him cheating in art class at Eton were making the rounds.
2005: In 2005, when Prince Harry kitted out as a Nazi for a costume party, boy did he get some brickbats. Later, he apologised, but the tone-deaf choice did entice rage from politicians and well-wishers alike. “I am very sorry if I caused any offence or embarrassment to anyone. It was a poor choice of costume and I apologise,” he later said.
2006: Harry’s military career began in 2005 at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. And this is when he made a home video, too, which would only come out in 2009. He used the racial slur “Paki” to describe his friend. He also used the term “raghead.” St James’s Palace issued an apology on behalf of Harry when the video came out, saying, “Prince Harry fully understands how offensive this term can be, and is extremely sorry for any offence his words might cause. However, on this occasion three years ago, Prince Harry used the term without any malice and as a nickname about a highly popular member of his platoon.”
2007: Prince Harry snorted alcohol. We have no idea what made him do it, just that he did. The British tabloid News of the World carried what is said were photos of that incident in Namibia.
2012: What happens in Vegas, when you are Prince Harry, gets photographed for posterity. But he didn’t know that at the time. Then, Harry played strip billiards in Las Vegas. At the end of the game, well, he didn’t have much to lose. As per someone who was there, “There was a pool table and he was playing air guitar with pool sticks. He was screaming out, ‘Somebody get me a glove! I’m going to do a Michael Jackson impression!’
2014: After a trek to the South Pole, the expedition team celebrated — with tonnes of drink and laughter. Reportedly, he also drunk out of one of the prosthetic limbs of Duncan Slater, who lost his legs in Afghanistan in 2009, who was on the trek with Harry.