Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family
By Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand
I’ve cried for Meghan Markle three times.
The first time was two years ago, shortly before she married Prince Harry, when her father appeared out of thin air and embarrassed his daughter on the eve of her wedding. Weeks later, I cried tears of joy when I watched her walk down the aisle on Prince Charles’s arm, and as the camera went from her face to Prince Harry’s. The third time I cried for Markle was after she told ITV’s Tom Bradby that not many people had asked her how she was.
I, like many others, am obsessed with the Sussexes’ love story. I grew up with a Zambian mother, who, like many other African mothers, was obsessed with Diana, Princess of Wales, and we are both invested in seeing her younger son find love and success. As a college student, I was a fan of “Suits” in its early days and followed Markle’s lifestyle blog, The Tig, until it was taken offline in 2017.
Surely, part of my fascination with Markle is because of her race. It meant something to me to see an institution as old, rigid and white as the British royal family welcome Markle, who is divorced, American, older than Prince Harry and biracial, with an African-American mother and a white father. Their wedding, with its inclusion of African-American history and culture as well as nods to the Commonwealth countries, seemed to usher in a new era for the Firm, as the royal family is often called.
This is the context in which I entered passwords and downloaded an app to access a PDF of “Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family,” by two veteran royal reporters, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand. To ensure safekeeping, each page was stamped with my email address and the word “CONFIDENTIAL,” both in at least 18-point font. The measures taken to keep the book a secret for as long as possible signaled that there would likely be a lot of new information in its pages.
Yet “Finding Freedom” did not deliver.
The book chronicles the couple’s relationship, from their first date at Soho House in London to the prince’s courting of Markle. Their first year together is depicted as one of bliss, facilitated by an inner circle who helped preserve their privacy by offering homes and personal jets. That first year was filled with romance, with flights between Canada and London and details of things like Prince Harry’s favorite emoji (the ghost). This honeymoon phase came to a screeching halt when news of their relationship went public and the press descended.
The authors investigate the so-called scandals that landed on the front pages of several British tabloids and went viral across the globe time and again, many of which showed the prince as spoiled and out of touch and most of which made Markle out as the Difficult Duchess. It’s clear that Durand and Scobie spoke with several people about these incidents to provide record-correcting context. But their efforts become exhausting, bogging down the story with tedious details. The authors write that all information included in the book has at least two sources, but do not mention if the couple was involved. Scobie has insisted that they were not, and the Sussexes have also denied being interviewed or participating.
While the book offers no new bombshells, it does add small details to stories everyone thinks they already know. Markle and Prince Harry were secretly engaged for months before the world knew; Prince Harry had a secret Instagram account with the handle @SpikeyMau5; the prince said “I love you” first and she responded immediately.
However, a visit to George and Amal Clooney’s Lake Como home seems to serve only as a reminder that the royal couple is friends with the Clooneys. Too much space is dedicated to clarifying that, counter to what the British press claimed, Markle did not make the Duchess of Cambridge cry at a bridesmaid dress fitting. Five pages are spent explaining that Markle did not demand and then fail to receive the emerald tiara that she supposedly wanted for her wedding, another viral story from 2018. It’s clarified that Markle and the duchess (the former Kate Middleton) were together only a handful of times before the 2018 wedding and that, instead of sending flowers for her birthday, Markle would have preferred that the duchess check in during difficult moments.
The examples of when Prince Harry’s own family failed to defend him and his wife stack up in a way that makes it easier to understand why the couple felt the need to exit the Firm by the end of 2019: They had to take a back seat to the other royals’ engagements, they disliked the bureaucracy of Buckingham Palace and they couldn’t speak up for themselves when attacked in the press. That, combined with the royal silence — despite multiple requests from Prince Harry that someone in the family defend Markle — left them feeling that the institution was using them for their popularity.
“Finding Freedom” successfully illuminates Prince Harry’s obsession with the press. What has typically been described as Markle’s preoccupation with the media seems to be more of an issue for him. He is the one who reads the comments on stories about them, not her. He blames the press for his mother’s death and worries that his wife could suffer a similar fate.
The book fails to answer the pressing question of why the queen’s staff, or that of the Cambridges or even Charles and Camilla, stayed silent when one of their own felt as if he and his wife were under attack — to the extent that, according to the authors, Prince Harry likened a week of meetings with his family’s various aides as having been spent “standing in front of a firing squad.” The Sussexes brought modernity, youth and popularity to the royal brand, so why were they left standing alone in the end? The book also fails to explore how much it mattered within palace walls that Markle is Black.
“Finding Freedom” does offer an alternative to the story line that has become a go-to for the couple’s detractors, in particular for those who argue that Markle is high maintenance and controlling, and has forced her husband to leave his family. Here she is presented as the independent woman who emboldened him to stand up for himself and do whatever it took to get what he wanted: a life outside the Firm.