If there are two sides to every story, and one of those sides is the Royal Family backed by a spectacle-hungry media and tabloid circus while the other is the very couple they’ve both placed under an unsparing microscope – which holds the truth? In the new documentary series Harry & Meghan, the first three episodes of which are now streaming on Netflix, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle make a case for their perspective: “When the stakes are this high, doesn’t it make more sense to hear our story from us?”
When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex split from the Royal Family in 2020, complete with a move to North America, they left behind their duties to serve a life of public service and ditched the institution’s penchant for keeping its perpetual mess behind closed doors along the way — giving them the upper hand over those roaming the grounds of Buckingham Palace, and those stationed outside of it. An early title card in the first docuseries episode reads: “Members of the Royal Family declined to comment on the content within this series.”
Directed by Liz Garbus, Harry & Meghan follows last year’s Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special as their first on-camera interviews since the conversation that exposed the racism, harassment, and financial retaliation that drove them away from the palace, and later from the U.K. entirely. The six-part docuseries — the first release in a rumored $100 million deal with Netflix — goes back to the couple’s relatively normal beginnings (if there’s anything normal about your friend setting you up on a date with a literal prince) and maps out how it all went wrong, coincidentally after they tied the knot.
Ahead of the premiere, senior members of the British press — described by historian David Olusoga as fostering a “toxic” mentality — alleged that footage and images featured in the docuseries trailers included misleading footage. Analysis from BBC claimed that videos meant to depict the media frenzy the couple often faced were actually pulled from the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Other clips capture model Katie Price appearing at a courthouse and lawyer Michael Cohen being swarmed by paparazzi.
The second set of episodes drops Dec. 15. For now, here are the key takeaways from the first half of one side of the story.
The Royal Palace Silenced Meghan and Harry When It Came to Racism
Before her relationship with Prince Harry went public, and months after they began dating, Markle says she wasn’t often treated like a Black woman. “It’s very different to be a minority, but not be treated as a minority right off the bat,” she explained. When press headlines and commentary made the Black element of her biracial identity the centerpiece of their grievances against her, the Prince added, the palace issued clear instructions to them both: “Don’t say anything.”
“As far as a lot of the family was concerned, everything that she as being put through, they’d been put through as well,” he explained. “So it was almost like a rite of passage. Some of the members of the family were like, ‘But my wife had to go through that, so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently? Why should you get special treatment? Why should she be protected?’ And I said, ‘The difference here is the race element.’”
Markle recalled instances during her early childhood where she realized that her Black, darker-skinned mother was treated differently, even though it would be years before she would directly face racism in a way that disrupted her known experience. She remembered women questioning her mother in the grocery store, insisting that she had to have been a nanny. Then, there was the time a woman screamed the N-word at her mother in the Hollywood Bowl parking lot. “She was just silent the rest of the ride home,” she said. “We never talked about it.”
Appearing on camera for the first time, Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, expressed regret for not having the racism sit-down with her daughter sooner. Now, her own children are positioned to be subject to the same scrutiny. During their primetime special last year, the Duchess first detailed the institutional racism she faced while pregnant with her first child, Archie. According to Markle, a high-level member of the Royal Family — suspected to have been King Charles III or Prince William, possibly both — expressed concern about how dark his skin would be. The reveal stumped a rarely-ever speechless Oprah.
Prince Harry Felt ‘Ashamed’ After Wearing Nazi Costume
While Markle addressed injustice and racism woven into both her own life and the fabric of England and America, Prince Harry made note of the time he’s spent “blissfully sleepwalking through life,” but asserted that he believed his travels had made him sufficiently privy to unconscious biases and varied living conditions throughout the world.
“The thing with unconscious bias is it’s actually no one’s fault,” he said. “But once it’s been pointed out or identified within yourself, you then need to make it right. It’s education. It’s awareness. And it’s a constant work in progress.” This same conversation had emerged in 2020 when images resurfaced of Prince Harry wearing a Nazi uniform at a private party in 2005, something he now references as being “probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life.”
He added: “I felt so ashamed afterwards, all I wanted to do was make it right.” His plight to do so led him first to a chief rabbi in London, then to a Holocaust survivor in Berlin. “I could’ve ignored it and probably made the same mistakes over and over again in my life. But I learned from that.” The then 20-year-old issued a statement of apology for the press recognizing “any offense or embarrassment” he had caused.
In the book Battle of the Brothers, published in 2020, royal correspondent Robert Lacey alleges that the Nazi uniform incident drove a wedge between Harry and William, particularly citing an imbalance of blame distributed between Harry and William, who was 22 at the time and supposedly accompanied his brother on his outing to purchase the costume.
In January, Prince Harry will release a 415-page memoir titled Spare, a reference to the phrase “heir and spare,” referring to himself and William, who is first in line for the throne. The New York Times reported that the book has faced multiple delays, namely due to a reluctance from the prince to share certain elements of its content.
Meghan’s Mother Was ‘Stunned’ By Ex-Husband’s Royal Wedding Shenanigans
In the lead-up to Harry and Meghan’s 2018 wedding, familial drama took center stage in the press. The stories started small in comparison to what would later come, centering in on the Duchess’s paternal half-sister who allegedly fabricated the extent of their relationship, though a title card reads: “Samantha Markle maintains that she and Meghan had a close relationship until 2018.” And while Markle denies having any meaningful connection to her, she became expressly close with her niece, Ashleigh Hale, raised by Samantha’s parents.
“How do we explain that this half-sister isn’t invited to the wedding, but that the half-sister’s daughter is?” Markle recalled questioning the royal communications team at the time. Still walking on eggshells, the actress-turned-royal was understandably hesitant of feeding the hungry media frenzy, even when she was trying to do the right thing. “The guidance at the time was to not have her come to our wedding,” she explained. “I was in the car with H. I had her on speaker phone and we talked her through what guidance we were being given and why this assessment was made. And that’s painful.”
It proved to have been a mostly futile decision once news broke of Markle’s father, Thomas Markle, staging photos for the press in the weeks before he was meant to walk her down the aisle and meet Prince Harry for the first time. “I was absolutely stunned that Tom would become part of this circus,” her mother shared. “It’s sad that the media would run with this, that he would capitalize. Certainly as a parent, that’s not what you do. That’s not parenting.”
When Markle found out that her father would no longer be attending the ceremony, it didn’t come directly from him. “The unraveling happened that week when he wouldn’t pick up my call,” she said of the days after she offered to have him picked up early to avoid the swarms or paparazzi that would surely appear outsie of his home. “And instead you’re talking to TMZ. And I’m finding out that you’re not coming to our wedding through a tabloid.”
Archival footage pictures Markle with her father, flashing back to a once-healthy relationship that crumbled away as her life went full Princess Diaries. “She had a father before this, and now she doesn’t have a father,” Prince Harry lamented. “And I shouldered that. Because if Meg wasn’t with me, then her dad would still be her dad.”
Meghan Knew She Was Fighting a Losing Battle
Early in the docuseries, Prince Harry speaks of the “pain and suffering of women marrying into this institution,” now being able to speak both from his experience watching his mother navigate it and standing with Markle as she does the same. Even from when they announced their engagement in a staged press opportunity at the palace, she had come to understand an essential truth: “No matter how hard I tried, no matter how good I was, no matter what I did, they were still gonna find a way to destroy me.”
This bled into her everyday life down to her fashion choices. In 2019, a royal source told ELLE that Markle’s closet full of neutral clothing — all department store beiges, navy blues, and inoffensive black and white options — was strategic in creating a so-called “functional work uniform” that wouldn’t distract from her philanthropic and charity work. Now, the Duchess has shared that she actually just didn’t want to poke the bear any more than she already had, however unintentionally.
“To my understanding, you can’t ever wear the same color as Her Majesty if there’s a group event,” she explained. “But then you also should never be wearing the same color as one of the other more senior members of the family. So I was like, ‘Well, what’s a color that they’ll probably never wear?’” All of the camel, beige, and taupe outfits were also helpful in allowing Markle to hide in plain sight. She added: “It was also so I could just blend in. Like, I’m not trying to stand out here.”
Markle claimed during her interview with Oprah that she hadn’t done any digging on Harry or the Royal Family when she first started dating him. In the docuseries, she confessed that her first instinct was to dissect his Instagram feed, rather than to google him. But it’s hard to know if a crash course on dating a royal would have done her any good when she follows more in the footsteps of Princess Diana than her sister-in-law Kate Middleton, or even Queen consort Camilla. The Duke and Duchess don’t speak at length about Princess Diana in the first set of episodes, but a preview for the coming footage features Harry admitting: “I was terrified. I didn’t want history to repeat itself.”