Eight months ago, Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, appeared on prime-time television to drop bombshell after bombshell during an Oprah Winfrey special. The interview nearly became an international incident after they detailed how they had been mistreated as part of the royal family, to the point where Meghan said she had suicidal thoughts and the palace did not help her.
The story gripped the Internet for days, and then as most controversies do, it disappeared — and for the most part, so did Harry and Meghan. They dropped out of the public eye as the stories and rumors swirled around them, and kept a very low profile until June, when they announced that Meghan had given birth to their second child, a baby girl named Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor. Unlike when their son Archie was born in 2019, they released no pictures or videos.
In the months since, they have occasionally reemerged to attend philanthropic-focused events: the Global Citizen Live event in New York to promote coronavirus vaccines, a gala to raise money for a museum, a visit to Afghan refugees at a military base. In August, to celebrate her 40th birthday, Meghan enlisted her husband and celebrity pal Melissa McCarthy for a video in which she announced a mentorship program for women who were forced out of the workforce during the pandemic. Obviously, everything the couple does attracts attention, but selecting these types of activities is a pretty good strategy if you want to emphasize that you are a celebrity committed to public service and are not, we repeat not, seeking the type of brutal tabloid attention that they say almost destroyed them.
On Thursday, the Sussex’s attempt to remain as low-key as possible continued with Meghan’s surprise interview on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” her first American talk-show appearance in years. The show broke the news Wednesday morning and released a couple clips leading up to her appearance. But given that the teasers — which usually have something juicy — included Meghan sharing anecdotes about driving a beat-up car to years of auditions on the Warner Bros. lot, and how her kids didn’t really like Halloween this year, it was apparent that this interview might be a bit dull.
Indeed it was. And that is far from an insult, because this could be exactly what Meghan is going for: After years of being dragged by the tabloids and British media, she just wants to show that she’s as normal as it gets. Choosing DeGeneres’s show — and ignoring all of the upsetting headlines about DeGeneres and allegations of her show’s “toxic” work environment, leading to the firing of three producers — honors a basic Hollywood practice. If you’re a celebrity who is friends with a fellow star, it’s commonplace to ignore all criticism of them and proceed as usual.
This is one of the things audience members learned on Thursday’s episode: She and DeGeneres have been friends for a long time. In fact, in a story they have shared before, DeGeneres persuaded Meghan to adopt one of her dogs years ago, pre-royal life, when Meghan was an actress best known for USA drama “Suits.”
“You just looked at me and said, ‘Are you getting that dog? … You have to take it home,’” Megshan told the audience, recalling the two bumped into each other at a rescue shelter. “And I said, ‘Well if Ellen says I have to take it home, I’m getting this dog.’”
Other anecdotes: Meghan, who grew up in Los Angeles, had her own scrunchie-making business in elementary school. She and Harry, who now live in Montecito, love the California weather. Back when she and Harry were dating, he came to visit her in Toronto with his cousin Princess Eugenie and her husband, and the four of them went incognito to a Halloween party. Archie was reluctantly a dinosaur for Halloween. Baby Lili is teething now. Archie loves being a big brother but is having some trouble adjusting.
“Somebody told H and I, when you have one kid it’s a hobby, and two children is parenting,” Meghan said. She also said she hopes the United States will institute a mandated federal paid leave program for parents. “The fact that we don’t offer that here is something that now, as a mom of two, I will do everything that I can to make sure we can implement that for people,” she added.
After DeGeneres congratulated Meghan on her and Harry being two of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people this year, she got into the real purpose of the appearance: promoting her new children’s book, “The Bench.” Meghan said it originally started out as a poem she wrote for Harry for Father’s Day, and “it was about my observation of him and him being a dad, which was the most beautiful thing to watch.” But some friends commented on how much they connected with it, so Meghan decided to turn it into a book, and made sure the story and illustrations were inclusive and representative: “I remember as a little girl you didn’t always see someone that looked like you, and I thought that was really important,” said Meghan, who is biracial.
Then, of course, Meghan had to undergo the ritual celebrity humbling (humiliation?) of being on DeGeneres’s show: Pull a “prank” on an unsuspecting regular person. This time, Meghan wore an earpiece and went to a vendor on the Warner Bros. lot, as DeGeneres instructed her to make weird noises and sing and eat hot sauce and refer to herself as “Mommy” multiple times. Then they both redeemed themselves in the next segment, where they gave a combined $40,000 gift to a single mom from Nashville who runs a nonprofit group.
Finally, it ended with a classic talk show surprise: DeGeneres and Meghan announced that DeGeneres’s in-studio audience would be coming back for the show’s famous “12 Days of Giveaways” holiday episodes, where they will receive all manner of free presents. The audience went wild, ending an episode that will make some people very happy, but will almost immediately be forgotten by the rest of the viewing public — which, for the duchess, is entirely the point.
An earlier version of this story said that Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, currently live in Malibu, Calif. They live in Montecito, Calif. The article has been corrected.