My reaction to yesterday’s royal bombshell announcement that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry would be stepping down from their position as senior members of the royal family and dividing their time between the U.K. and North America going forward? Like the rest of the world, I’m still processing.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Just Rewrote the Royal Fairy Tale—and Princess Diana Would Approve
And as a lifelong supporter of Princess Diana (a poster of her still hangs in my childhood bedroom), Prince William and Prince Harry (I penned letters to them regularly and had my thoughts about them published more than once in People’s Mailbag column growing up) and the rest of the royal clan, I found myself on the receiving end of numerous texts following the news.
The sentiments ranged from sadness (“But what about their relationship with William and Kate?”) to curiosity (“Do you really think they didn’t inform the queen?”) to anger (“Meghan is responsible—Harry wouldn’t have done this alone”). All of this caused me to ruminate a tad more than usual about the gravity of a royal announcement like this.
My take? We all want and expect a fairy tale from Harry and Meghan. But the duo just rewrote what the words “fairy tale” even mean—and Princess Diana would be 100 percent behind their choice.
Think of it this way: Royal boy meets working girl. Working girl falls in love and quits her job, her Instagram account, her life as she knew it to move across the pond and plan the wedding of the decade (sorry, Wills and Kate). She has to embrace a new philanthropy-focused identity with rules and restrictions and she has to learn brand new traditions nearly overnight. It’s what she signed up for, so she does all this with grace, with elegance, with poise. Heck, she even makes pregnancy look like a breeze despite the royal pressure—both internally from Buckingham Palace and externally via the media.
The British tabloids skewer her...and Harry. Their response? They retreat. They sue. They take a leave of absence during the holidays just to get away from it all. And when they come up for air, they realize: It’s actually totally within their royal power to just walk away.
Backing up for just a minute, to vilify Meghan—and Meghan only—would absolutely be wrong. For quite some time, Prince Harry has been working hard to strike out on his own—to find a way to leave a royal mark and continue his charitable efforts with the knowledge and freedom that, most likely, he will never be king. (He’s currently sixth in line to the throne after Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and, finally, Prince Louis.) But he also has a much heavier burden to bear: the fact that he was just 12 years old when his mother, Princess Diana, tragically died.
Of course, he’s grown up now. And, at 35 years old, he continues on, working hard to champion mental health initiatives with his brother and sister-in-law Kate Middleton by his side. (Head’s Together is the initiative that the trio started and continues to build upon together.) But his familiarity with Princess Diana’s story—and the eery and gut-wrenching parallels he sees happening to his own wife daily—are something he’s keenly aware of. And now with their child, Archie, involved, it’s a far too similar pattern that’s tough to ignore.
I’m not saying this role shift couldn’t have played out differently. As details of the announcement become less murky, it would have been nice to have had the queen, Charles or William on board. There’s also a lot of fine print that clearly still needs to be worked out (namely, what it means to be “financially independent” and how they can have it 50/50). But as we know all too well with Diana, royal tradition and pomp and circumstance often prevail over matters of the heart.
Would Diana have supported her son? As a mother, I believe she would have. She would have championed his right to choose a different life where his beliefs, his family, his happiness come first. It’s what she wanted with Prince Charles. And I think it’s what she would have wanted for herself, sadly, had she lived past the age of 36.
Still, we’re broken up about this—at first look, it seems like the end of a fairy tale. But, in reality, it’s not. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are simply choosing a different sunset. One where they can have it all: royal ties to continue the goals of the monarchy, with permission to be themselves, speak their minds and take a stand on causes they care about. The best part? They can do this free from the pressures of protocol and the British’s infamous stiff upper lip, which as Meghan so aptly described to ITV last fall can, internally, be pretty damaging.
Because here’s what we know about Diana: Her decidedly non-royal ways may have aggravated the queen, but they also emboldened the palace to lean into change, to modernize and to show even a touch more vulnerability, something that has shaped their future and ensured they have a stake in it, too.