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Meghan tells Oprah Winfrey she had suicidal thoughts as part of the royal family: ‘I just didn’t want to be alive anymore’

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, spoke with Oprah Winfrey about turning away from life as senior royals in an interview that aired on March 7, 2021. (Video: The Washington Post)

In the days leading up to Oprah Winfrey’s highly anticipated prime-time interview Sunday night with Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, CBS released a clip that showed Winfrey telling the couple, “You’ve said some pretty shocking things here.”

That may have been an understatement.

Here are 10 takeaways from the interview, in which Winfrey noted that no subject was off-limits; Harry and Meghan didn’t know what she was going to ask in advance; and they were not paid to appear in the special.

1. Meghan said she had suicidal thoughts as a member of the royal family.

Winfrey noted that Meghan had once said the daily onslaught of vitriol and condemnation from the U.K. press was “almost unsurvivable.” (Meghan, who is biracial, in particular faced racist and sexist coverage in the tabloids not long after she and Harry started dating.) When Winfrey asked whether there was a breaking point, Meghan said that at one point after they got married in 2018, “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.”

“That was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought,” she said. Meghan said she went to several people in the “institution” (apparently meaning the palace and royal family, although she didn’t name names) to get help and said, “I’ve never felt this way before, and I need to go somewhere.”

“And I was told that I couldn’t,” Meghan said. “That it wouldn’t be good for the institution.”

She also went to royal Human Resources. In response, Meghan said, while they were sympathetic, she was told, “There’s nothing we can do to protect you, because you’re not a paid employee of the institution.”

“This was emails and begging for help, saying very specifically, ‘I am concerned for my mental welfare,’ ” Meghan said. They agreed the attacks she was under were “disproportionately terrible,” but no action was taken. “So we had to find a solution,” she said.

“Did you ever think about going to a hospital?” Winfrey asked. “Or is that possible, that you can check yourself in someplace?”

“That’s what I was asking to do … I couldn’t, you know, call an Uber to the palace,” Meghan said. “You have to understand, as well, when I joined that family, that was the last time … that I saw my passport, my driver’s license, my keys. All that gets turned over.”

Winfrey said it sounded like, “you were trapped and couldn’t get help, even though you were on the verge of suicide.”

“That’s the truth,” Meghan said. She added that Harry was very supportive, and he didn’t want her to be home alone after she told him all of this. When Harry joined the interview later, he said at first he was “ashamed” to admit to his family that Meghan needed help and ultimately realized it was an issue that they wouldn’t understand.

The royal line of thinking about his and Meghan’s struggles with the loneliness and scrutiny of their lives, he said, was: “This is just how it is, this is how it is meant to be, you can’t change it. We’ve all been through it.”

“But what was different for me was the race element, because now it wasn’t just about her — but it is about what she represents. And therefore, it wasn’t just affecting my wife. It was affecting so many other people, as well,” Harry said. “That was the trigger for me to really engage in those conversations with senior palace staff and with my family to say, ‘Guys, this is not going to end well.’ ”

“When you say ‘end well,’ what did you mean?” Winfrey asked.

“For anyone, it’s not going to end well,” Harry said. “Because the way that I saw it was, there was a way of doing things. But for us, for this union and the specifics around her race, there was an opportunity — many opportunities — for my family to show some public support.”

2. Meghan said someone at the palace expressed concern about Archie’s skin color.

Meghan also revealed when she was pregnant with their now nearly 2-year-old son, Archie, there were “concerns and conversations” about how dark his skin would be when he was born — and that race may have played a role in why she and Harry were told he would not be given the title of prince, nor would the baby be given security after he was born.

Winfrey, upon hearing this, was stunned. “That’s a conversation with you?” she asked. “About how dark your baby is going to be?” When Meghan didn’t respond, she followed up: “You’re not going to tell me who had the conversation?”

“I think that would be very damaging to them,” Meghan said.

Later, Winfrey asked Harry to reveal more details. “That conversation, I’m never going to share,” he said, and declined to say any more on the topic or specify who had talked to him about this.

3. Ultimately, they decided to ‘step back’ as senior royals because of a lack of support.

At one point, Winfrey clarified: Did they make their bombshell decision to “step back” as senior royals and leave the United Kingdom for North America in January 2020 because “you were asking for help and couldn’t get it?”

“Yeah, basically,” Harry said. “But we never left.”

Meghan agreed, adding that they envisioned just stepping back from their senior roles, and not necessarily giving up everything. (Buckingham Palace recently announced that the pair also will lose their royal patronages and honorary military titles.) But it became clear that the royal family was not going to be able to help them, or offer protection, and they needed to seek it elsewhere. They left Britain early last year, and ultimately settled in Montecito, Calif., where they have a $15 million estate and count Winfrey as a neighbor.

4. At one point, Prince Charles stopped taking Harry’s calls.

Although the U.K. media reported that Queen Elizabeth II was “blindsided” by their decision to leave their royal duties, Harry said that he was in communication with his family before they released their statement in January 2020 and announced it to the world. However, at one point, his father, Prince Charles, stopped taking his calls.

Now, Harry said, he has talked to his father, but “there’s a lot to work through there.” He also expressed disappointment that his family didn’t speak up to defend Meghan.

“I feel really let down,” he said, adding that he hoped his father, who has been through similar painful situations, would support him more than he did. “I will always love him, but there’s a lot that’s happened.”

He reiterated previous statements he made that he will also always love his brother, Prince William, but they’re on separate paths. He also said that he has a “great relationship” with his grandmother, the queen, and they have talked more this year than they ever have before — including some Zoom calls with Archie. (Meghan said she also has always had a very good relationship with the queen.)

5. Meghan is still stunned at how she wasn’t protected by the royal family.

When Winfrey asked if the couple had any regrets, Harry said no, and that he was proud of how he and Meghan handled things — their lives are much better now, compared with when he would come home in London and Meghan would be crying as she breastfed Archie. “So, we did what we had to do, and now we’ve got another little one on the way,” he said. The couple recently confirmed Meghan is pregnant with their second child, due this summer, and they announced during the special that it’s a girl.

Meghan, however, was more blunt about her regrets. “I have one,” she told Winfrey. “My regret is believing them when they said I would be protected.”

6. Meghan strongly disputed the story about how she made Catherine cry before the wedding.

About six months after Harry and Meghan wed, U.K. tabloid stories cropped up claiming that during a disagreement over Princess Charlotte’s bridesmaid dress, Meghan reduced Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, to tears. On Sunday, not only did Meghan vehemently deny this, she said it was the opposite: Catherine made her cry.

“I don’t say that to be disparaging to anyone, because it was a really hard week of the wedding. And she was upset about something, but she owned it, and she apologized,” Meghan said. “And she brought me flowers and a note, apologizing.” (Catherine is married to William, who also holds the title Duke of Cambridge, and Charlotte is one of their three children.)

So months later, Meghan was shocked to see the story twisted in the tabloids — and although she said there were many witnesses who could have come to her defense or shared the real story, none did. That marked a “turning point” Meghan said, as she realized she would be left to her own devices when there were negative media stories — and the general palace guidance was to always say “no comment.”

7. Harry elaborated on the strange relationship between the royals and British press.

After Harry said that the royal family gives full access to reporters so they will receive favorable coverage, Winfrey looked genuinely confused: “What do you care about better press if you’re royal?”

“There is a level of fear that has existed for generations,” Harry said, and added that the “institution survives” on public perception. Meghan noted that the palace hosts holiday parties for the tabloids, and alluded that this symbiotic relationship may have explained why the family never pushed back against racist coverage of her in the media, even though “that changed the threat — that changed the level of death threats.”

8. Harry and Meghan were ‘cut off’ by the royal family last year.

The couple moved to Canada in late 2019 and the following January made their announcement that they were stepping back as senior royals. Shortly after, the palace said they would be cut off financially and also wouldn’t have security because of their change in status. The Daily Mail published their location in Canada, and Harry said he was worried about security — especially with pandemic lockdowns looming — so they scrambled to move to the United States. Luckily, they said, media mogul Tyler Perry came through and let them temporarily borrow his house.

9. Harry and Meghan got married in secret three days before their public wedding.

They revealed that the archbishop of Canterbury actually married them in private, three days before the televised ceremony.

“We just said, ‘Look, this thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us,’ ” Meghan said. “So the vows that we have framed in our room are just the two of us in our backyard with the archbishop of Canterbury.”

10. Archie’s Chick Inn

The interview as a whole was very intense, so Winfrey made sure to include some lighter moments. Although the interview with the couple took place in a friend’s backyard, she also visited Harry and Meghan’s home, where they took her to see their rescue hens and chicken coop, appropriately named “Archie’s Chick Inn.”