It’s out now! Andrew Morton‘s Meghan and the Unmasking of the Monarchy is an unbiased look at the history of Rachel Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. It is an incredible resource for royal enthusiasts. While Andrew clearly explores contradictions in anyone and everyone’s story, it’s actually a really thorough exploration of the woman that went from Hallmark princess to real-life Duchess of Sussex.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Andrew Morton about the rerelease of his Meghan book, we learned exclusive details about Prince Harry‘s relationship with Oprah Winfrey, the infamous Oprah interview, and discussed Princess Diana‘s impact on the couple’s everyday lives.
Kinsey Schofield: I loved this book, and you know, what was really interesting to me was how kind… you’re very kind to her. I think that people might be surprised because if you open up a newspaper or you watch television there’s so much negativity thrust at her, it feels like it’s the only agenda. While I was skimming through this book, while you are upfront and honest about contradictions, that are in her life, in no way, shape, or form is this a hit piece, is this a cruel piece of literature… if I were Meghan Markle, I would love this book. I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed reading it.
I want to know because there are so many parallels between Meghan and Diana, how much of it do you feel is sincere? And how much of it, do you think, perhaps is intentional? The conversations with Oprah when they made a lot of those comparisons… is it all sincere? Or does she try to be like Princess Diana?
Andrew Morton: Well Kinsey, thank you very much for those very kind comments. I try to be fair to Meghan, and Harry, and to the men in gray, to the backroom staff. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a biographer, try to be even-handed. And I had to accept that what they said was their true story… not the true story. There are many contradictions in there. Meghan, when she was a teenager, was captivated by Diana. She had my book, Diana: Her True Story on her shelves, they watched the funeral, she and her friends were saddened and very moved by it. I think they did some charity collections afterward. Took toys and things to the charity store.
And there are significant differences between Diana and Megan. Especially growing up. One of the things I noticed was that Diana was achingly shy when she was a kid, and she always said to me, ‘I was the twit that stood at the back of the performance on stage at school.’ Whereas Meghan was the one that took the microphone and would actually hand out prizes for the best teacher, she was the one who led a march against the first gulf war back in, what, 1990. When she was just… she wasn’t even a teenager! She was a very different kind of girl. Very, far more confident. I think if Diana had been around today she would be quite admiring but also a little bit jealous of her skill at the microphone because Diana always wanted to give speeches and be celebrated for what she had to say rather than how she looked. It’s interesting that she focused on those people on the way out, the sick, the dying, the homeless. Really focused on individuals. Meghan, by contract, she focuses on communities. The Grenfell women who cook and bring a sense of community. The women who have lost jobs and are trying to get clothes and confidence with the charity Smart Works, that she works for, that she’s patron of. Meghan is someone who has said, ‘I don’t want to be loved, I want to be heard.’ So, she’s a different kind of campaigner than Diana.
One of her friends said ‘Oh, she always wanted to be Diana 2.0,’ whereas I’ve always argued that she wanted to be Meghan 1.0. That is to say, she wanted to be herself and not a reflection of somebody else.
But at the same time, what struck me as I was writing the book and as I was researching the book was the astonishing similarity in the media narrative… that within a matter of months Diana was being called fiend and monster, The Mouse That Roared, responsible for the firings of private secretaries, bodyguards, and others. She once came up to a group of us standing outside of a royal engagement and said, ‘Look, I don’t sack people! That’s not what I do!’ And I later realized, at the time, she was literally just trying to keep her head above water because she had bulimia nervosa and she had all kinds of depressions and jealousy and so on. I found it astonishingly, remarkably similar to the narrative that Meghan went through. She went from Duchess Dazzling to Duchess Difficult. The woman who, and I found this quite an extraordinary story, the Queen had said, ‘She gets the tiara I’ve chosen for her.’ So, that narrative began where she changed from the girl that walked down the aisle at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor on that wonderful day in May, and it was a glorious moment! How quickly things change from being that kind of person and that kind of moment to being someone who is being accused of snubbing the Queen, as it were.
KS: I’m glad you said that and I’m glad you write about that in the book because we remember Princess Diana as the second coming of Mother Theresa. We don’t even think about all of the negative press anymore. We just remember her as a saint.
AM: It’s a very good point you’re making there. She was, in the last weeks of her life, and all of the newspapers would like to forget this… she was viciously attacked for dating Dodi and for her behavior and of course… everything was reined in very rapidly after the car crash in Paris.
KS: You wrote about someone saying there was a danger in Meghan becoming bigger than Diana. I think it was a courtier or somebody said that there was concern that Meghan would become bigger than Diana and it would shrink The Cambridges and it would shrink Charles and Camilla and their objectives and what they were trying to do. Do you think that was really an option? That Meghan Markle could become bigger than Princess Diana?
AM: Well, this is what was being said at the time, and remember, we didn’t have social media when Diana was around and now we do so you could be incredibly well known, globally, very quickly. I think that what happens is that, in the royal family it’s all about position. Not popularity. Now, let me take you back to the 1960s when Princess Margaret married Lord Snowden, a photographer, and they were the most popular people on the planet! Alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The paparazzi and they didn’t even have a name for the paparazzi in those days, chased them all around Europe to these exclusive islands and people couldn’t get enough of this couple, this golden couple, and they outshone the Queen and Prince Philip. That balloon eventually sinks and you’re back to the position. Margaret always acknowledged the fact that she was the number two and it was always the Queen who was number one. There is a similarity between Meghan and Harry and Catherine and William in the sense that Meghan and Harry were enormously popular when they did that first tour of Australia. But as the Queen, if she sat them down, would remind them… when she did her first tour of Australia in 1954, the crowds were astonishingly big and I remember when I did the first tour of Diana in Charles in 1983, well over a million people turned out to see them but the second time and the third time, not quite so many. Meghan and Harry came back from Australia on a high and thought that they were the golden couple, yes they were, but that only lasts for so long. In 10 years’ time, when Meghan’s 50, would as many people turn out to see them? No, they would want to see George, and Charlotte, and Louis. That’s the immutable royal round, as it were.
KS: I liked this part where you talked about ‘Meghan lived in fear of being exploited by her father and could no longer trust him.’ This is in regards to the wedding and the letter and all of this stuff. Do you think that the Cambridges and Prince Charles feel the same way about Harry and Meghan at this point? That they live in fear of being exploited by them and can no longer trust him? It just feels like after the Oprah interview, there’s quite a ways to go to gain trust back. It just felt like so much was exposed there.
AM: Yeah, I mean, the subtitle of the book is called the Unmasking of the Monarchy, I mean Harry accusing his father of being trapped, accusing William of being trapped… and that doesn’t say much about the central institution in British life… that if the apex of that is stultifying and doesn’t give you the chance to be yourself. It works both sides, I mean, Harry didn’t want to write down what he wanted in terms of rearranging his and Meghan’s life inside the royal family because everything had been leaked in the past, and sure enough, when he did write it down and addressed it as a memo to his father, sure enough, it was leaked in a tabloid newspaper. So there was a lack of trust on both sides. Certainly, Harry and Meghan have said some pretty devastating things. Certainly about the racial makeup of Archie. I do find it will take some time, I think to smooth over the cracks because it’s not just a crack, it’s a chasm. Certainly, Meghan and Harry have taken a claw hammer to the monarchy. They’ve really given them a bashing!
KS: Do you think that Harry and Meghan feel like they are continuing something that Diana started? Do they feel like this is revenge for the way his mother was treated and her untimely death or is this just them reacting to their circumstances?
AM: I think it’s reacting to their circumstances but at the same time, as I make the point in the book, never a day goes by without Diana’s shadow being there in the decisions that they’re making and certainly their decision with regards to the protection of Archie and Lili is in response to what happened to Diana and they are hyper-focused on it. What I find baffling is that they both had bodyguards themselves and traditionally what happens is that if you’ve got a baby, recently born, they will always travel with them so they don’t need them. Archie didn’t really need a bodyguard or protection for a long time. It struck me as being a bit premature. With regards to Diana, remember she was an independent humanitarian. Separate from the royal family. We’ve seen the same with Harry and Meghan. They are now independent humanitarians on the world stage. They went to New York recently, they were met by Bill de Blasio, the mayor, and by the governor of New York state. They were celebrities. There are parallels between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor! When they first came to America, more people came out to see and watch them, to look at them, when they went to New York and when they went to Baltimore and when they went to Washington than the King and Queen when they visited in 1939. They had that golden aura. That charisma around them. Fifteen years later, after the umpteenth visit to Palm Beach and New York where they had a suite at the Waldorf hotel… people wouldn’t even bother turning their heads. You have your day in the sun and then the caravan moves on. I think that Harry and Meghan are probably aware of that. That they’ve got a few years to make a real impact and then the caravan will move on.
KS: I hear a lot of people describe the Sussexes as impulsive. Like the Oprah interview, that was an impulsive move, they didn’t think about it but you describe Meghan in your book as ‘someone who likes to consider things carefully, to pause before she jumps in and considerate of other people’s feelings.’ So, are they really impulsive?
AM: I think that, and I’ve found new information out since this book has come out… that Harry was very keen to do an interview with Oprah within six months of the wedding and he was having meetings with Oprah in a London hotel with other tv executives with regards to doing an interview. So right off the bat, Oprah was in their sights. There was nothing impulsive about it. Oprah had spoken to Meghan before the wedding, elements of that conversation were contained in her interview where she says that there was somebody listening in from the press office and that, to me, was disingenuous anyway because you know, Meghan is enough of an old campaigner to know if you’re a tv celebrity, as she was, or you’re a businessman or if you’re a politician, you always have to get past the gatekeeper, and especially if you’re a member of the royal family, you’ve got to get past the gatekeeper. But what I understand from my Hollywood sources is that Harry was specifically in touch with Oprah, secretly went to see her in London in December of 2018… so the plan for an Oprah interview had been going on for some time. So don’t run away with the idea that it was all impulsive. It wasn’t.
KS: I liked the part where you’re talking to Christine Knudson. She was the woman that organized Meghan’s camp or school retreat. She says, ‘I remember Meghan saying, why can’t we do it this way, has anybody thought about that… she was always thinking about a better way to do something, not just complaining.’ I am that way. I don’t know what type of personality that is but I’m a solutions finder and I realized in newsrooms, you are considered a problem if you try to change something. Is that little quirk that Meghan has, figuring out solutions in her head, what ticked people off in a palace that has done things a certain way for a million years?
AM: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question about that. It’s like the classic divide between Americans and Brits. Like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Individual, rule-breaking, the snubbing of authority. Well, Meghan is in that kind of American tradition. The British hierarchy is class-driven, rather stuffy. So, that caricature is there. The reason why the palace do it in a certain way is because they’ve been doing it that way for years, obviously, some of it can be remedied but at the same time, the reason why they do it in a certain way is because that’s the way it works. The one thing you’ve got to realize when you enter the royal family is that it ain’t a sprint… and Meghan thought it was a sprint… and it’s not. It’s a marathon. In fact, it’s an ultra-marathon and you’ve got to be steady you’re going to have ups and downs. They had some great ups and a lot of downs and they whizzed off. There’s an element, in all of this, that Harry was looking for a way out. That he, as he said himself, found himself sweating and panicked every time he saw cameras and just wanted to leave the room. That’s hardly the best way to be a prince… when you know that all eyes are going to be upon you. Ironically they’ve changed one microscope, and that’s media, for a microscope they’ve invented themselves. Where they’re now promoting themselves via Spotify and Netflix and so on. Now the jury is out for them. They’ve done these deals. Now they’ve got to produce. The whole point to being a producer, which is what they are now, is being able to read a script and say, ‘Yeah, that’s good. We’ll do that.’ or ‘That’s poor.’ or ‘That needs developing.’ It’s an art. And neither of them have spent the time doing that. You’ve got to read a lot of scripts before you can see that piece of gold. That nugget!
KS: Although Meghan did watch Trevor do it for a few years.
AM: Yeah, that’s a good point. But Trevor was compulsive. He was reading scripts in the shower, he was reading scripts on the plane, he was reading scripts whilst he was driving his Porsche. I take your point, obviously, she’s got more experience but they can only get so far with The Invictus Games.
KS: We talk about how she rejected the idea of marriage to level up but then she’s talking about Ashley Cole and she’s getting all worked up and excited about this random personality in London. Deep down, doesn’t it feel like she was looking to date someone in London that would elevate her? Maybe the prince was not on her radar because that seems like an impossible task but it feels to me like she was looking to utilize a relationship to level up and to be more on a global stage.
AM: Well, she was certainly looking for a relationship. I think she would be the first one to admit that she was looking for a boyfriend and she had been in correspondence with Ashley Cole and she was warned, ironically by tabloid reporters, to keep away from him. He had a bit of a name as a philanderer. Of course, she had the blind date with Prince Harry, it could have been a blind date with, I don’t know, an international banker. She was looking for a relationship, so was he, and the point I make in the book is that he was more of a supplicant than she was. Because he realized how difficult it was, even if a woman liked him, his personality, and so on. Would they be able to stick, the scrutiny, the protocol, the life of being a member of the royal family? It’s not just a gig that you fall into. It’s a genuine life change. He’d had several girlfriends. Chelsy Davy and others who just didn’t want to know. The same was true with his father. Prince Charles had asked numerous women to marry him who all said ‘thanks but no thanks.’ We live in a different world. In the past, you would sacrifice your life for duty on the alter of monarchy or the aristocracy… now women want to live their one chance at life themselves. They don’t want to sacrifice their lives. Fergie didn’t want to do it. Diana didn’t want to do it.
KS: Do we know when Meghan went from Rachel to Meghan? When or why she changed her name?
AM: It’s a question I’ve never answered. I would like to know that. Why does she call herself Meghan and not Rachel? She was called Flower, Bud, Meg as a kid. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe she just didn’t like the name.
Andrew Morton’s Meghan and the Unmasking of the Monarchy is available for purchase wherever books are sold.