Although royal life may seem as if it's all tiaras, ball gowns, and formal engagements from the eyes of us commoners, living within the British royal family isn't what it seems. The reality of what occurs beyond the gates of Buckingham Palace is far darker, a notion cemented by Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday. From facing racism to grappling with mental health woes without professional help, here are three painful realities of royal life -- as told by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
1. Racism is a reality of royal life -- and even babies aren't immune.
Of all the reasons why the couple chose to take a step back from royal life, racism "was a large part" of their decision to leave the U.K., Harry explained to Oprah, citing a specific conversation he had with a family friend privy to the inner workings of the UK's media landscape. "Please don't do this with the media," Harry says the friend warned him. "They will destroy your life." After asking for clarification, his friend specified, speaking to the country's racist tendencies. "He said, 'You need to understand that the UK is very bigoted.' I stopped and I said, 'The UK is not bigoted, the UK press is bigoted, specifically the tabloids, is that what you mean?'" Harry explained. "But unfortunately if the source of information is inherently corrupt or racist or biased, then that filters out to the rest of society."
The tabloid's disdain for Markle, which many have attributed to racism, has been apparent since the couple began dating in 2016, with several stories painting her in a negative light. Yet even in the face of these attacks, Markle says she felt the palace didn't support her in combatting these problematic rumors, saying they were "willing to lie to protect other members of the family, but they weren't willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband."
However Markle wasn't the only royal grappling with racism -- her almost two-year-old son Archie experienced racial prejudice well before he was even born. In a breach of protocol, Archie did not receive a royal title and therefore, does not have a security team, a notion she heavily implied was the result of institutional racism. Although the Duchess continually reiterated that the safety implications of this choice concerned her the most, fearing for her son's wellbeing, she also expressed that it wasn't right that her child, the royal family's "first member of color" would be treated differently than his cousins, a decision that despite popular misconception, was not in her or her husband's control.
"The other piece of that is this convention is that when you're the grandchild of the monarch, automatically Archie and our next baby would become prince or princess," she explained. "It's not their right to take it away," she continued. "They wanted to change that convention, for Archie."
However, these alarming conversations expanded well beyond her child's title and safety, speculating on what Archie's skin color would look like well before he was even born. "In the months when I was pregnant… we have in tandem the conversation of he won't be given security, he's not going to be given a title, and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born," Markle explained, looking visibly upset.
Although Markle declined to name who brought up this topic, saying doing so would "be very damaging" to the royal family she says Harry's relatives had "several" conversations about what their child's skin tone could be and "what that would mean or look like."
2. Public image is prioritized over seeking help for mental health struggles.
This terrible racism had tangible consequences on Markle's mental wellbeing, leading her to experience suicidal thoughts -- even while pregnant. "Look, I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry especially, because I know how much loss he's suffered, but I knew that if I didn't say it, then I would do it," Markle explained. "I just didn't want to be alive anymore, and that was a very clear, and real and frightening constant thought."
As Markle struggled, expressing that she didn't feel safe being alone and falsely believing that dying by suicide would "solve everything for everyone," the Duchess says that senior officials dissuaded her from seeking help.
"I went to the institution and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help," she recalled. "And I was told that I couldn’t, that it wouldn’t be good for the institution. I remember this conversation like it was yesterday, because they said, 'my heart goes out to you because I see how bad it is, but there’s nothing we can do to protect you because you're not a paid employee of the institution,'" she continued. "I share this because there are so many people who are afraid to voice that they need help, and I know how hard it is to not just voice it but to voice it and be told, 'No.'"
3. Royal life can be extremely confining
While many see life as a royal to be glamorous and aspirational, the reality is far darker, verging on claustrophobic. "I didn't see a way out," Harry explained of his life in the royal family. "I was trapped but I didn't know I was trapped. Trapped within the system like the rest of the family." As such, he says he empathizes with his family still existing within the institution. "My father and my brother are trapped," he continued. They don't get to leave and I have huge compassion for that."
Although Oprah challenged the notion, noting that he often appeared happy during public appearances, Harry elaborated, saying that the experience of royal life is more than what meets the eye, saying he wasn't "enjoying [royal] life" simply "because there were photographs of me smiling while I was shaking hands and meeting people."
Life in the public eye -- royal or not -- is always difficult. Yet when working within a centuries-old institution with historical ties to racist happenings, and a regard for public image seemingly above all else, living as a royal is much more complicated than meets the eye.