Hi, everyone. August was a busy month of travel, but I’m back now. Today I want to dive into The Cut’s cover story on The Duchess of Sussex, but I know that I still owe recap posts on the rest of Revenge (which I’m going to intertwine with The Palace Papers since they start to cover similar ground) and we’re overdue a round-up post on the rest of the British Royal Family (the Berkshire move, Balmoral, etc.). I’ll knock that stuff out as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, let’s turn to The Cut article.
To set the stage, Meghan and Harry’s financial independence is premised, in part, by deals they have struck with Netflix and Spotify, and bolstered by additional projects such as Harry’s forthcoming memoirs, speaking engagements, and corporate partnerships. And before we go any further, I want to state that there’s no inherent problem with that in and of itself. Over the last few months, however, there has been increasing speculation from the media and online conversation as to why we haven’t seen much content from the Netflix and Spotify projects.
Indeed, there have been rumors that both companies are growing impatient. In truth, we have no idea what’s been going on behind the scenes, but last week, Meghan dropped the first episode of her podcast Archetypes for Spotify featuring an interview with Serena Williams. A second episode came out earlier this week featuring Mariah Carey. (I know there’s been a lot of angst over the South African “fire” incident, but I’m going to circle back on that in a separate post.) As such, this interview with The Cut is premised around promoting Archetypes, though the discussion goes much broader.
So, let’s get into it.
With regards to Meghan giving up her personal social media accounts prior to her engagement (and after telling the writer that she’s considering rejoining Instagram): Meghan was permitted to join Harry, Kate, and Will on a preexisting account, @KensingtonRoyal, that she had no control over. “There’s literally a structure by which if you want to release photos of your child, as a member of the family, you first have to give them to the Royal Rota,” the U.K. media pool, she explains. Usually, the photos would be on media outlets before she could post them herself. That didn’t sit right with Meghan, given her strained relationship with the British tabloids (“Harry’s girl is [almost] straight outta Compton” is how the Daily Mail introduced her to the British public), and especially since she would soon have a child of her own to protect. “Why would I give the very people that are calling my children the N-word a photo of my child before I can share it with the people that love my child?” she asks, still ruffled. “You tell me how that makes sense and then I’ll play that game.”
First of all, I find it strange William is referred to as “Will” here. Wills, sure. I guess? I just feel like he’s pretty much known as William. But whatever. Kind of the least of our problems with this passage.
Secondly, hold the phone – this whole bit about the photos is conflating a few different things. Annual birthday photos are following a precedent – not a rule – whose current rhythm has been established by William and Kate purely because their children are older. The images they release on birthdays, specifically, are *for* the media. It’s a way of acknowledging the public interest in their children given, particularly in the case of George, but also Charlotte and Louis, the roles they will eventually fulfill. And it’s a way of thanking the thousands of people who take time to send birthday messages online (separate and apart from the snail mail cards, which are usually responded to).
As a new parent, I get that that’s weird and uncomfortable. There is absolutely a weird sense of ownership that the public can get up in arms about when they don’t get to “see the baby,” and if I were a parent in Kate or Meghan’s position, I’d be pretty uncomfortable too. BUT, that’s kind of where the palaces and public role come in. And in the case of the Cambridge kids, it *is* important that the public feel like they’re watching – from a distance – these kids grow up so they continue to be invested in the concept of a Royal Family.
This is clearly something – based on Meghan’s words here and elsewhere over the years – that Meghan has never fully grasped. It also answers the question she asks at the end of this – that’s why. To support your children’s role with the media and public…*if* you envision a royal life for them.
I will also say that I think there was absolutely room for Harry and Meghan to handle things differently. There was a lot of pushback on Archie’s christening, but they were “allowed” to proceed as they wanted to. Archie – and Lili – would have held very different positions within the family and if Harry and Meghan didn’t want to release official photographs to the media, then honestly, they probably could have won that battle over time. It wouldn’t have helped their popularity, but it was certainly doable.
Additionally, all of that only pertains to birthday photos, really – and a handful of pre-arranged formal photos like christenings, family portraits, etc. Otherwise, Meghan could have shared as much as was agreed upon internally. William and Kate have certainly shared fresh pics on Instagram, albeit sparingly for obvious reasons.
If a British tabloid or journalist ever called Archie the N-word, it’s the first time I – and according to Twitter, most UK reporters – have ever heard this. The idea that the N-word would make print in that context is unbelievable. It’s also not a particularly British word, as far as slurs go. My guess is that Meghan is once again conflating online abuse with “media,” a constant problem she and Harry have when trying to communicate their issues with privacy and coverage.
Though she has been media trained and then royal-media trained and sometimes converses like she has a tiny Bachelor producer in her brain directing what she says (at one point in our conversation, instead of answering a question, she will suggest how I might transcribe the noises she’s making: “She’s making these guttural sounds, and I can’t quite articulate what it is she’s feeling in that moment because she has no word for it; she’s just moaning”), at this stage, post-royal, there’s no need for her to hold back. She’s flinging open the proverbial doors to her life; as any millennial woman whose feminism was forged in the girlboss era would understand, she has taken a hardship and turned it into content.
There’s been a lot of mockery of this moment for Meghan. Frankly, I think the most important line here is in regards to her “Bachelor producer” brain, which is the first of multiple indications throughout the article that the writer knows she’s being “handled.” And she is. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. But it’s worth commenting on, I think, given what the Vanity Fair reporter told Tom Bower.
Finding a house to start their new life wasn’t easy, Meghan tells me. “We were looking in this area” — she’s referring to Montecito, the tony beachside hamlet north of Los Angeles — “and this house kept popping up online in searches.” At first, they’d resisted going to visit. “We didn’t have jobs, so we just were not going to come and see this house. It wasn’t possible. It’s like when I was younger and you’re window shopping — it’s like, I don’t want to go and look at all the things that I can’t afford. That doesn’t feel good.” How utterly humbled we all are when confronted with a depressingly aspirational Zillow hunt.
Ok, so on the one hand, yes, Harry and Meghan absolutely faced some *relative* financial insecurity when they left the Royal Family, most of which is premised around security costs. A house absolutely plays into security, because Harry and Meghan quite literally can’t just buy a normal house in a normal neighborhood, where anyone could just drive on by. And absent the commercial deals they’ve made since, yes, they would have run out of their private fortune eventually.
What is irritating about this language, and has consistently been a weakness for the Sussexes when they communicate, is that they don’t acknowledge the incredible relativeness of that insecurity, particularly in a post-pandemic, high-inflation world. They are – and have always been as a couple – multi-millionaires. They have also always had options, many of which Harry was born into. To ignore that privilege when discussing this period of time is grating to many. And a little dishonest to many more.
To me, it continues to speak to a lack of self-awareness. To not even pay lip service to acknowledging their good fortune, figuratively and literally, undermines their credibility and strategic competence in my book.
“One of the first things my husband saw when we walked around the house was those two palm trees,” she coos. “See how they’re connected at the bottom? He goes, ‘My love, it’s us.’ And now every day when Archie goes by us, he says, ‘Hi, Momma. Hi, Papa.’ ”
This is one of those things that is either to your taste or it’s not. It’s not to mine, so I find this a bit cringey for Harry.
I’m including this primarily because of the author’s use of “coos.” It’s truly open to interpretation the extent to which the author is providing side-eye throughout the narrative.
Even if she and Harry have stepped back from their royal duties, Meghan is still very aware that people see her as a princess. “It’s important to be thoughtful about it because — even with the Oprah interview, I was conscious of the fact that there are little girls that I meet and they’re just like, ‘Oh my God, it’s a real-life princess.’” But her ambitions for herself (and the little girls who look up to her) are more than to marry into a position. “I just look at all of them and think, You have the power within you to create a life greater than any fairy tale you’ve ever read. I don’t mean that in terms of ‘You could marry a prince one day.’ I mean you can find love. You can find happiness. You can be up against what could feel like the greatest obstacle and then you can find happiness again.”
Ha, ok, so I found this passage interesting on a few different fronts. I’ll start by saying I mostly agree with Meghan and I appreciate her consideration of what girls think when they meet her, because the “princess” thing is real and means something very different for children than when we’re discussing literal princess. To put that more simply, the difference between a working royal and Disney princesses. I think this is in the back of a lot of working royals’ heads, particularly for women who marry into “the firm,” since I think they have a greater appreciation for this dichotomy and it’s usually a part of their narrative in the media. Even the Queen Mother alluded to this thought process re: why she always chose to dress up, no matter the occasion. It was a sign of respect for who she was meeting to uphold her end of the bargain, so to speak.
And this awareness is part of why I think Meghan, in theory, could have been such an asset for the Royal Family. Being an American and media savvy could well have been valuable tools in her arsenal. Particularly since Kate has stumbled on this front in the past – when once asked by a child what her favorite part of being a princess was, she responded that she was well taken care of, or something to that effect. It was off the cuff, but it was wince-inducing.
On the other hand, Meghan here is relating to the word “princess” as though it signifies only a Disney-esque love story. It doesn’t. It’s a literal job with a historical institution in public service, and the latter doesn’t actually just mean charity work. And that’s the part Meghan has always stumbled on.
The day before, while Meghan was on the photo shoot for this issue, Harry had been left to his own devices, he tells me. “You were gone for, like, ten hours yesterday,” he marvels to his wife. “Tell her the first thing you said when you got back last night,” he says, turning to me. “She said, ‘I’m not a model.’ “I was like, ‘No, you are, of course you can be a model.’ And she’s like, ‘I’m a mom!’ And it’s like, ‘You can be both,’ ” Harry says, earning himself so many points.
I recognize this isn’t the point of this passage, but imagine being astounded that your partner is gone from the home for 10 hours. Because in my world, we call that having a full-time job. And I get that they’re not your average working couple, but again, the tone deafness! You’re in front of a reporter! STOP!
The two run Archewell from their shared home office, specifically from two plush club chairs placed side by side behind a single desk, facing into the room like thrones. “Most people that I know and many of my family, they aren’t able to work and live together,” Harry says in passing as I take a peek at their command center. He enunciates family with a vocal eye roll. “It’s actually really weird because it’d seem like a lot of pressure. But it just feels natural and normal.”
Hoo, Harry, coming in hot. So, once again, we can’t have an interview for a post-royal professional endeavor without spilling tea and taking swipes at the Royal Family. Got it. He is saying that married couples within his family – for whom he apparently has disdain, according to this language – don’t actually work and live well together. And given that the family with whom he is most closely related and has public issues with are Charles, Camilla, William, and Kate, he is essentially casting aspersions on either their marriages or careers.
Now, we know that Charles and Camilla do take time to live apart here and there, often because Charles is traveling solo, but that’s still a very unkind way to allude to that dynamic. And he has to know that casting any doubt on William and Kate at this point, given the toxicity of the online conversation, is potent.
It’s all so completely unnecessary, unkind, and immature.
“I think we always knew the first few years of creating this new life from scratch were going to be the busiest — ” says Harry.
“Well, it’s a start-up,” Meghan interjects. “We were building a business. During lockdown — ”
I mean, ok, but you guys, please – Archewell is hardly your average start-up. And not acknowledging that is annoying.
Attempts to learn what those other projects might be, or what their plans are, are met with an institutional paranoia by a team that responds to press inquiries as if it’s protecting nuclear codes. Contact with nonapproved employees invites fear and suspicion, confrontation. Questions about rumored projects — for example, an At Home With Meghan and Harry–type docuseries that reportedly has an attached director, Liz Garbus, and footage shot by teams of cameramen, who have been spotted following the couple around — are met with half-answers shrouded in winks, codes, and redirection. Meghan herself gives off an effortless, arms-wide-open, relatable affectation; she dangles the glimpse behind the curtain while the machine in place around her slams the door.
While I understand that skittishness can be a consequence of negative press, I actually find this pretty damning. Maybe it’s from watching too many scammer documentaries over the last couple of years, but hearing about a secretive, paranoid institution with a charismatic leader and not a lot of tangible product makes me immediately suspicious. It’s just not a good look. And not being able to hide that better is also not a good look.
The couple has directly smashed rumors of a reality show, both in statements made to publications and in conversation with me. But, Meghan explains, there’s a difference between a historical documentary and a reality docuseries.
Well yes, there is. But there’s also a difference between a historical documentary and a documentary. And I would imagine the latter is what we’re actually talking about if the subject matter is Meghan and Harry.
Anyway, long story short, Meghan says that she can’t confirm whether a documentary is in the works because she doesn’t know what’s public yet. So, yes, there will be a documentary.
Your eye contact is good,” she says suddenly. “You’re, like, looking into my soul.”
I stammer out an apology.
“I feel it. It’s good. I’m, like, so excited to talk.”
Again, this is a matter of taste, and it’s not mine. These interviews are professional conversations and this is all a little too much for me.
“I just want to genuinely show up for them,” Jackson [a neighbor and friend] says of why she opened her home to Meghan so freely. “To be able to get them out of their house because it’s complicated for them to go anywhere. You know what I mean? I want Harry to be able to come up here for their birthday or share a time and people to know that I’m not telling anyone when they’re here. So I want to keep it that way. So don’t give out my address.” She laughs and then sighs. “I hope that people take their foot off the gas a little bit on all the negative spin because they’re really good people.”
And that’s the frustrating part – I think they probably are perfectly decent people. But they also create a lot of problems for themselves, and the public (media, people, um, me right now) raising their hand when they find discrepancies, inaccuracies, or hypocrisies isn’t the public being “mean.” If they want to push out and profit from product, then they have to know they are opening themselves up for criticism and rejection, alongside praise and fandom. It’s not unfair. And it’s not unique.
The cottage is still theirs and has remained mostly untouched since they left. “You go back and you open drawers and you’re like, Oh my gosh. This is what I was writing in my journal there? And here’s all my socks from this time?” The blue-and-white linen pants she’s wearing today were something from the cottage, actually: “They’re like $30 pants from Boden, and I brought them back.” It was “surreal” to walk right back into the life she’d been building in that cottage. There were all the things she’d had shipped from her old apartment in Toronto and barely gotten to unpack: her sofa, posters of art she’d collected traveling with her girlfriends and thrown into “good old Ikea frames,” a past message from a single self she hadn’t fully wanted to leave behind.
I found this part interesting, because I have to imagine stepping back into Frogmore Cottage was incredibly strange after everything that went down. Particularly since when they left, I’m not sure they quite understood how long it would be until they were back. Or maybe Meghan, at least, did. That part’s open to interpretation. But two things: 1) how were things left untouched, and yet Princess Eugenie was living there for a period with her husband and baby? The cottage doesn’t seem large enough that they wouldn’t have been overlapping the bedrooms they used… and 2) yeah, the references to specific price points and Ikea aren’t lost on me. I think it’s a little tacky and a little Marie Antoinette playing at cottage core. Like, I’m sure they are Ikea frames and $30 pants, but if that seems notable to you, then it’s probably not a good idea to reference it. There were more graceful ways to make these points.
How did it get so hard? She had tried to play royal. “I was an actress,” she says. “My entire job was ‘Tell me where to stand. Tell me what to say. Tell me how to say it. Tell me what to wear, and I’ll do it.’ And I’ll show up early, and I’ll probably bake something for the crew.” Every movie about an American woman who ends up becoming a princess has a pivotal scene in which she thinks she’s doing the job correctly, just by being herself, but then some older royal gives her a speech about duty and decorum. I cite, specifically, The Prince & Me. She hasn’t seen it. “Yeah. That would’ve been really helpful. That would’ve been a very key tutorial to have had in advance of all this,” she says, not quite sarcastically, but the delivery is a sentence with a steel rod in it. By her own analysis, her problems stemmed from her being an American, not necessarily a Black American, she explains. Her desire to ask lots of questions and to never be involved with something she couldn’t totally have her hands on seemed to violate an unspoken social norm.
Well, hold on. Which is it? She was an actress who has happy to stand and speak as directed? Or she was a question-asking American who needed to have control over her own projects? And no, watching a Julia Stiles movie wouldn’t have been helpful instruction. Doing your homework and, if we take Meghan at her word, using more than Harry as a point of reference on how to enter the Royal Family would have been good starts.
And “playing royal” isn’t really a thing. Understanding you serve the monarch and are part of a team larger than yourself is key.
They also thought it best to leave the U.K. (and the U.K. press) to do it. They were willing to go to basically any commonwealth, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, anywhere. “Anything to just … because just by existing, we were upsetting the dynamic of the hierarchy. So we go, ‘Okay, fine, let’s get out of here. Happy to,’” she says, putting her hands up in mock defeat. Meghan asserts that what they were asking for wasn’t “reinventing the wheel” and lists a handful of princes and princesses and dukes who have the very arrangement they wanted. “That, for whatever reason, is not something that we were allowed to do, even though several other members of the family do that exact thing.”
For Meghan to assert that she and Harry were willing to be exiled to any Commonwealth country to preserve the egos of more senior members of the family is a calculated choice. And it’s a narrative they laid the groundwork for in the Oprah interview. It’s also meant to say that the primary issue that Charles and William – and Camilla and Kate – had with the Sussexes is one of jealousy. While I think there is competition within the Royal Family, and it absolutely leads to toxicity, this is a vast oversimplification of what happened in 2018 and 2019 and one that, of course, takes zero accountability.
Furthermore, there are absolutely no members of the Royal Family who officially represent the monarch, have roles within the Commonwealth, and have the ability to contract massive commercial deals and speaking engagements with a clear, progressive agenda. Particularly that high up in the line of succession.
Why do you think that is? I ask.
“Why do you think that is?” she says right back with a side-eye that suggests I should understand without having to be told.
Well, I can’t put words in your mouth, I say instead.
And then a pause as she looks down and inspects her hands; The Bachelor producer in her head deliberates how much should be said. “I don’t know,” she says, casting a knowing gaze out into the middle distance.
Infuriating, bizarre, and not respectable.
She recalls a moment from the 2019 London premiere of the live-action version of The Lion King. “I just had Archie. It was such a cruel chapter. I was scared to go out.” A cast member from South Africa pulled her aside. “He looked at me, and he’s just like light. He said, ‘I just need you to know: When you married into this family, we rejoiced in the streets the same we did when Mandela was freed from prison.’ ” Of course, she knows she’s no Mandela, but perhaps even telling me this story is a mode of defense, because if you are a symbol for all that is good and charitable, how can anybody find you objectionable, how can anybody hate you?
The only South African member of the cast has subsequently stated that he’s never met Meghan.
And it’s a shame she chose this as a way to make this broader point, because the fact of the matter is, her marriage did mean something very important to a lot of people.
In October 2021, the company Bot Sentinel released a study that found not only that the press around Meghan was disproportionately negative but that 70 percent of hateful posts about her came from just 83 accounts that reached up to 17 million Twitter users. I wonder if she was relieved by any of this: After being gaslit, she at last had proof that she had been harassed but also that it was just a small group of people. It didn’t really matter what she did; she would still have elicited this hatred. There has to be some freedom in that.
That’s true, but put another way: online abuse on Twitter and Instagram has often been used by the couple as evidence they received this level of abuse from the media. And while I do think some of their coverage was problematic and unnecessary, some of it was very fairly critical.
In regards to Thomas Markle and the lawsuit: When I ask about it, Meghan doesn’t stay in her sadness for long; instead, she uses it to discuss how toxic tabloid culture has torn two families apart. “Harry said to me, ‘I lost my dad in this process.’ It doesn’t have to be the same for them as it was for me, but that’s his decision.”
Omid Scobie, author of Finding Freedom and a reporter heavily biased towards the Sussexes who is believed to be briefed on occasion by their camp to get their POV across, has said it is his understanding that this was meant to mean Harry has told Meghan *she* has lost her father in this situation and she hopes that he doesn’t lose his.
If that’s true, then the use of punctuation is highly problematic here. Perhaps the writer misunderstood her. Or perhaps this has been walked back after Harry saw it in print. Regardless, Meghan has effectively underscored that Harry and Charles don’t have a good relationship right now, which is a point the Royal Family has been trying to blur. Notably, however, unlike in the Oprah interview when the party line was that Charles stopped taking Harry’s calls, this is essentially an admission that Harry is the one potentially turning his back on the relationship.
At a stoplight, she reaches into the trunk and produces a brand-new black backpack and hands it to her security detail to give to an unhoused man on the corner. They are teaching Archie that some people live in big houses, some in small, and that some are in between homes. They made kits to pass out with water and peanut-butter crackers and granola bars.
Just so we’re clear, this wasn’t a coincidental moment. And that’s par for the course, but let’s not get it twisted.
Earlier in our conversation about her goals for the life she’s creating here, she’d remarked upon how, if Archie were in school in the U.K., she’d never be able to do school pickup and drop-off without it being a royal photo call with a press pen of 40 people snapping pictures. “Sorry, I have a problem with that. That doesn’t make me obsessed with privacy. That makes me a strong and good parent protecting my child,” Meghan says. For now, even though two Montecito moms waiting in front of the school stopped mid-chat to do a double take, Archie is just the cheerful kid who brings a week’s worth of freshly picked fruit for his fellow classmates and enjoys playing a “roaring” game at recess.
This is false. With the exception of the very first day of school, there aren’t photo calls on school drop off and pick up. In fact, there are strict laws in the UK on this matter. This is further evidenced by the fact that William and Kate – particularly Kate – regularly do the school run for their children in London without incident. And like I said earlier, if Harry and Meghan didn’t want to make the first day of school a public thing, then they could have set it up as such. It’s not a rule, it’s a precedent, and it’s one that it’s more on William to follow.
Finally, and this is admittedly on the pettier side, but two moms doing a double-take doesn’t make it sound like they’re used to seeing Meghan.
And less on the petty side, the irony of having this conversation about protecting the privacy of her children while bringing a reporter along for the school run is laughably hypocritical.
I wonder if, given all she’s put behind her now, she thinks there is room for forgiveness between her and her royal in-laws and her own family. “I think forgiveness is really important. It takes a lot more energy to not forgive,” she says wisely. “But it takes a lot of effort to forgive. I’ve really made an active effort, especially knowing that I can say anything,” she says, her voice full of meaning. And then she is silent. She breathes in and smiles and breathes out and says, “I have a lot to say until I don’t. Do you like that? Sometimes, as they say, the silent part is still part of the song.”
I’m sorry, but this sounds threatening to me. “I can say anything” coming on the heels of the Oprah interview and with Harry’s memoir still out in the ether doesn’t sound like someone at peace. It sounds like someone who knows she can attack again as she deems fit.
Elizabeth Holmes, who many of you may follow and whose coverage I enjoy (even if I don’t always agree – and that’s okay!), said in her reaction to the article that she thought if you were inclined to dislike Meghan then you’d find plenty of fodder, and if you’re a fan, then there’s plenty in here for you to enjoy. Personally, I don’t think I fall into either camp, though I suppose I’m close to the former at this point (I started out in the latter, for what it’s worth!); in reality, I’m just very wary, but I do try to keep an open mind.
So, for those of you who are still on the Meghan train, I’d appreciate hearing a rational explanation of the other side.
As it stands right now, I’m left with this: Had it not been for the couple’s mentions of the Royal Family, I probably wouldn’t have covered this. Nor would it have sparked such intense backlash online and, for the first time in a significant way, in mainstream American media. They are continuing to feed this narrative, and I have to wonder what the long-term plan is here, because this simply isn’t sustainable.