Meghan Markle was left suicidal by her experience with a British royal family that refused to protect her from hateful tabloids and fretted about the skin colour of her unborn child.
Her husband, Prince Harry, was cut off financially by his father Charles, the Prince of Wales, who also stopped taking his calls.
Those were among the revelations when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — the ex-royals who have settled in California — told US television personality Oprah Winfrey the story of a biracial fairytale romance that captivated the world and has descended into a crisis for the British monarchy.
The two-hour broadcast on Sunday was preceded by so much briefing and counter-briefing by the warring royal camps that it was exhausting before it even aired.
In the event, it had something for everyone. For “woke” fans of Meghan and Harry and committed Republicans, there was new evidence of a cruel and archaic institution that tolerates racism.
For traditionalists, there was the pleasing spectacle of two privileged young people who quit work early and then complained about their family. For broadcasters, there was a rare event in the digital era capable of capturing a truly mass audience. And for those weary of pandemic-era lockdowns, there was the temporary distraction of watching another family’s problems.
The one clear loser was Britain’s royal-watching press. Its members will have sat gobsmacked as Winfrey, one of the US’s most celebrated interviewers, unearthed enough gossipy nuggets in one session to sustain tabloids for a decade.
Viewers learnt that Markle is expecting a girl this summer; that she and Prince Harry married in secret three days before the royal wedding; that they were informed their son, Archie, would not have a royal title or official protection; and that they have adopted “rescue” chickens.
“I just love rescuing!” Markle said.
The most gripping part of the interview was Markle’s confession that the stress and isolation of her royal life led her to contemplate suicide. “I just didn’t want to be alive any more,” she told Winfrey. “I thought [suicide] would have solved everything for everyone.”
Markle said she asked a senior member of staff for help but was told: “There’s nothing we can do to protect you.” Rather than checking into a hospital, as she had hoped, she went to an official event that evening with her husband because, she warned him, “I can’t be left alone”.
The pair sought to draw a distinction between the members of the royal family and the institutional scaffolding of the monarchy. Both repeatedly heaped praise on the Queen, with Markle at one point recalling a fond memory of the beloved head of the royal family sharing a blanket with her during a frigid trip.
“The Queen has always been wonderful to me,” Markle said.
But they were critical of the faceless functionaries who run “the Firm”, as the royal family is known, accusing staffers of refusing to protect Markle, in particular, from a venomous tabloid media that was determined to cast her as a villain.
As an example, Meghan cited a sensational story that the demanding bride-to-be had brought sister-in-law Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, to tears during a dress-fitting session. In fact, she said, it was the other way round — but nobody from the palace would correct the record.
“The narrative about making Kate cry was the beginning of a real character assassination,” she said.
The issue of race infused everything, with Markle eventually concluding: “I realised it was all happening just because I was breathing.”
Markle said that while she was pregnant there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.
Prince Harry saw their 2018 Australia visit as a turning point. Markle’s charming performance, he argued, had reminded his family of another glamorous — but troublesome — young bride who shone on a similar tour Down Under in 1983: his mother Diana, Princess of Wales.
“That brought back memories,” Harry said.
Markle’s biracial identity — and social media — had made their plight even worse, he argued.
Prince Harry expressed hurt that his father had not done more to support him, but also a measure of sympathy for a man born into a form of gilded captivity. “I’m acutely aware of where my family stand and how scared they are of the tabloids turning on them,” he explained.
“My father and my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave,” he added.
But Prince Harry did. He and Markle live in California splendour down the road from Winfrey, straddling the worlds of British royalty and American celebrity.
“This year has been crazy for everybody,” Harry said. “We did what we had to do.”