The saying usually goes that you can’t know what happens behind closed doors. But thanks to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s new docuseries, Harry & Meghan, the world now has a pretty good idea.
The door in question? One at Sandringham, where on January 13, 2022, Prince Harry, Prince William, Prince Charles, and then-reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II discussed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s future in the royal family. (Days earlier, the couple had released an explosive Instagram statement saying they were to “step back” from their duties.) After that private meeting concluded, it turned out that “back” really meant “down,” as on January 18, Buckingham Palace released a statement declaring that Harry and Meghan were “no longer working members of the Royal Family.”
In the Liz Garbus–directed Netflix series, the couple reveals the chaotic, volatile moments behind the scenes that led to that decision. In the process, they not only give greater clarity to their own experience, but also pull the curtain back on one of the most private families in history.
Harry and Meghan cast the Windsors as a deeply divided group driven by individual agendas, with offices leaking stories about other members of the family to ensure their “principle” royal has the more favorable press coverage. That toxic dynamic, according to Harry, catalyzed their departure: The Sussexes were crumbling under incessant negative media coverage that included an intimate letter between Meghan and her estranged father published in The Daily Mail. (The duchess even began to have suicidal thoughts.) Harry claims his family did little to protect them despite it all: “They knew how bad it was. They thought, Why couldn’t she just deal with it? No one would have private conversations with the editors saying, ‘Enough,’ ” he says.
Yet Harry says the Firm’s complicity went far beyond their silence. Claiming they felt threatened by the Sussexes’ explosive popularity, Harry suggests some family members’ offices gave the tabloids damning information about himself and his wife. “There’s leaking, but there’s also planting of stories. So, if the comms team wants to be able to remove a negative story about their principal, they will trade and give you something else about someone else’s principal,” he explains. “You can always say, ‘I didn’t know about this.’ But have you done anything to stop it? And the answer is no.” Even worse, he believed his brother William’s team was behind some of it: “William and I both saw what happened in our dad’s office, and we made an agreement that we would never let that happen to our office. I’d rather get destroyed in the press than play along with this business of trading. And to see my brother’s office copy the very same thing we promised we’d never do, that was heartbreaking,” he says.
So, he and Meghan developed a plan to move abroad. They considered New Zealand at first before settling on South Africa—until someone leaked the plan to the Times of London. Harry believed it was a family member, although he does not name whom. “That whole plan was then scrapped because it’s now become a public debate,” he notes. The couple tried again with Canada: In December 2019, Harry called his father up from a rented house on Vancouver Island, where they were spending Christmas, to talk about it. The former Prince of Wales, he explains, asked him to put the idea in writing. “Five days later, it was on the front page of a newspaper,” Meghan says.
Here, Harry makes the source of the leak clear: “The key piece of that story that made me aware that the contents of the letter between me and my father had been leaked was that we were willing to relinquish our Sussex titles. That was the giveaway,” Harry continues. “Our story, our life, literally got taken from underneath us.” Afterwards, the couple released their now (infamous) statement on Instagram.
Harry then called his grandmother and asked to speak when the couple returned to the U.K. While he says that Queen Elizabeth originally agreed, her office later canceled the meeting. Instead, the Sandringham summit was arranged—which excluded Meghan. “Imagine a conversation, a roundtable discussion about the future of your life. When the stakes are this high,” Meghan says. “And you, as the mom and the wife and the target, in many regards, aren’t invited to have a seat at the table.”
The meeting, according to Harry, was a bitter one. He wanted to maintain a part-time role in the family, but he claims his family did not see a middle-ground. William in particular allegedly became volatile: “It was terrifying to have my brother scream and shout at me, and my father say things that simply weren’t true and my grandmother quietly sit there and sort of take it all in.” Days later, Buckingham Palace confirmed the couple would no longer undertake official engagements or represent the queen.
Adding salt to the wound? After a January 2020 story in The Times claimed that Harry and Meghan felt “bullied” by Prince William, Kensington Palace issued a denial signed by both brothers. Harry said he never approved such a statement. When Harry told Meghan, he says she burst into tears. “Within four hours, they were happy to lie to protect my brother, and yet for three years they were never willing to tell the truth to protect us,” Harry recalls.
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Following the death of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Harry, Prince William, the Duchess of Sussex, and the Princess of Wales all made a rare joint appearance at Windsor Castle—their first since the Sussexes’ departure. Whether that will ever happen again remains to be seen.