Extraordinary exchange paints picture of rift with family as couple say royals questioned how dark Archie’s skin would be.
The Duchess of Sussex accused the royal family on Sunday night of fostering an atmosphere of racial hostility so intense that she came close to suicide while pregnant with her first child.
In a series of stunning revelations during a two-hour, hotly anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan claimed that members of the royal family had openly expressed concerns about how dark her son Archie’s skin would be, that they had gone to extraordinary lengths to deny him a royal title, and that they had refused to provide him with security.
When the tabloid newspapers had started race-baiting Meghan openly, nobody from the royal household had lifted a finger to defend her or reconsider the decision about Archie’s security, she claimed.
She said she had felt utterly unprotected from the tabloid onslaught and undermined by what she called the “firm” – the apparatus surrounding the royal household – which had repeatedly turned down her appeals for help and discouraged her from leaving the house for months.
“It was all happening just because I was breathing,” Meghan said, breaking down in tears at one point and prompting Winfrey to do the same. “I just didn’t want to be alive any more. That was a clear, real, frightening and constant thought.”
Asked if she had thought about her biracial background or her American nationality or the fact that she was divorced when she joined the royal family, Meghan replied: “I thought about it because they made me think about it.”
The interview was broadcast on CBS in the US on Sunday night and will be aired in the UK on ITV at 9pm on Monday.
Both Meghan and her husband, Prince Harry, went out of their way to heap praise on Queen Elizabeth and would not point fingers directly at individuals. Rather, they portrayed family members trapped within the institution that defines them as terrified, above all, of the tabloid “monster machine”, as Meghan called it, that could at any moment turn on them as it had turned on her.
Still, the account that both of them gave – of a family that had welcomed Meghan with open arms at the beginning, only to strike a very different tone as soon as she became pregnant and started to earn plaudits for her composure as a public figure – seemed likely to cause uproar at Buckingham Palace following a week of intense sniping in the run-up to the interview’s airing.
One episode Meghan described as a turning point came several months after her fairytale wedding to Harry at Windsor Castle (three days after the archbishop of Canterbury formally married them in a private ceremony), when the tabloids reported that she had made her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, cry.
The true story, Meghan claimed, was the reverse: that Kate had made her cry but later apologised and offered her flowers. What shocked her was not just that the tabloids turned the story around but that nobody at the palace denied its veracity.
Meghan said her biggest regret was believing the royal household when they said they would protect her. From early on, she disclosed, they suggested she continue with her acting career because there was no money available to put her on the royal payroll.
When she went to the personnel department at the height of her despair, she said, she was told: “My heart is going out to you, but there’s nothing we can do because you’re not a paid member of the institution.”
She said other members of the royal household had told her flatly that she couldn’t seek psychiatric help because it wouldn’t be good for the institution. Prince Harry said the attitude of his relatives had been that they had all been through something similar and the only thing to do was to tough it out.
Harry, though, did not agree. “What was different for me was the race element,” he said. “I said, guys, this is not going to end well.”
In the interview, Harry and Meghan reviewed photographs of a public appearance at the Royal Albert Hall when Meghan was widely viewed to have been looking radiant in the later stages of her pregnancy.
But she said it was clear from close-ups that Harry was in fact clutching her hand for dear life. Meghan had attended not because she wanted to face the public but because she was afraid of what she might do to herself if she was left alone.
Just that morning, she said she told her husband about her suicidal thoughts. “I was ashamed to say it,” she told Winfrey, “ashamed to admit it, but I knew If I didn’t say it, I would do it.”
Harry, she said, cradled her and, over time, began to formulate a plan to ease the pressure and ensure that the tragedy that had engulfed his mother, Princess Diana, would not repeat itself.
The couple – who also revealed they would have a girl in the summer – announced in January 2020 that they would be stepping back from their royal duties. They went first to Canada, thinking they could still play a role while based in a Commonwealth country, but the royal family cut off their security – citing a “status change”, according to Harry – just as the first Covid-19 lockdown was looming.
Feeling exposed and unprotected, the couple first moved to Los Angeles, where the film producer Tyler Perry invited them to stay in his house and offered his own security, before purchasing a home in the gilded hillside enclave of Montecito, outside Santa Barbara, where Winfrey herself lives. The interview was shot on the garden terrace of a mutual friend close to both their houses.
The couple’s comments come at the end of an acrimonious week between them and Buckingham Palace. On Wednesday, allegations were made that Meghan had bullied two personal assistants out of the Sussexes’ household and undermined the confidence of a third staff member.
A spokesperson for the couple dismissed the claims as a “calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation” but the palace said it would investigate the allegations.
The Sunday Times said the Queen would not watch the interview and reported the palace would respond only if individual members were attacked in the interview.
Harry said the family had cut them off financially when they moved to the US, and it was only the money he had inherited directly from his mother that enabled them to set up a home and negotiate deals with Netflix and Spotify that point to a very different future – as entertainment producers – from the one they had expected.
The couple said their relations with several members of the royal family were strained. Harry defined his relationship with his older brother, William, with the single word “space”. He said his father had stopped taking his calls for a while and that there was “a lot to work through there”. “I feel really let down,” he said of Prince Charles. “There’s a lot of hurt that has happened.”
Helen Sullivan contributed reporting