16 Aug 2020

'We wanted to set the Harry and Meghan story straight'

From Sunday Morning, 2:08 pm on 16 August 2020

Meghan Markle is often portrayed as the woman who took Harry out of the royal family, but the co-author of a book on the subject says it was Harry who made that decision.

Written by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, Finding Freedom is the book about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and their dramatic exodus from the UK.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive at the Esplanade in front of the Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, on February 13, 2018, on their first official joint visit to Scotland.

Photo: AFP

The publisher says there was unique access and the book was written with the participation of those closest to the couple.

Scobie - the royal editor for Harper's Bazaar - said Harry had an uneasy relationship with the royal press pack.

"Harry always found himself sort of at pains or at war with that situation, I think. He found it very uncomfortable to be alongside people who of course were writing very respectfully about his work, but were representing publications who had reduced his wife to tears on many occasions."

Scobie said Harry grew up knowing about the possible impact of the tabloid press.

"He's a man that grew up and saw how much of a disastrous and tragic impact the toxicity of certain tabloid media had on his own mother and that's obviously a story that still haunts him to this day."

Harry holds the media to blame for what led to his mother's death and you can see why he would do everything within his power to protect his wife and child from that, Scobie said.

Scobie said Meghan is often portrayed as the woman who took Harry out of the monarchy when in fact it was Harry who made the decision to step back in order to protect his wife and child.

Harry and Meghan married at a time when there was a clickbait culture and a desire for information 24/7 on social media.

Certain parts of the institution did not know how to handle this, he said.

"There were issues of racist comments being made towards Meghan on their own social media accounts and it took quite some time and many conversations with social media companies to try and put a stop to that."

He said as well as the racial slurs, Meghan's American work ethic did not fit within the confines of the royal family.

Racist attitudes

Scobie said many overtly racist attitudes surfaced in the British press when the couple were courting with one newspaper saying that Meghan was "straight out of Compton" with others reporting that "Meghan's dreadlocked mother and how that would shock the Queen".

A more subtle form of that racism continued, Scobie said, with the emergence of the "Duchess difficult" character.

"And that 'Duchess difficult' fed off many racist and sexist stereotypes we see attached to successful women and successful women of colour. Meghan was too loud, too difficult, too different, too everything.

"Instead of her differences being celebrated, they were being weaponised against her in a very ugly way," Scobie said.

Why the book was written

Scobie said it became evident Harry and Meghan were a very different couple to the one being described in sections of the British tabloids.

"I think in many ways we wanted to correct a lot of the stories that were out there, but also paint a more human portrait of a couple that had almost virtually become caricature of themselves in the press."

Scobie said there has been a lot of speculation about why they wrote the book and whether Harry and Meghan were involved in it.

But Harry and Meghan had nothing to do with the book and it contains no interviews with them - either on or off the record, he said.

"We were very focused on the work that they did and wanting to get to the bottom of a lot of the inaccurate reports out there and it was how we were able to establish a sort of connection and trust with the people closest to them."

He said the fact it is an unauthorised, unofficial biography gave them a certain distance from the couple.

The authors wanted the freedom to be able to speak to other sources close to the Cambridges, the Prince of Wales and even the Queen herself to give a balanced overview of where things went wrong, he said.

Scobie said they also wanted to set the record straight.

"But I think what we found time and time again with the people close to Harry and Meghan was that they were very frustrated. They were seeing things about their friends or their colleagues written in the papers that were very different to what they were experiencing.

"Some of those people who'd been in the room during some of these moments and were tearing their hair out because the tabloid tales were so far from reality."

Asked how the authors gained access to such detailed and personal information such as Meghan chatting on Facetime with a friend while in the bath the night before her wedding, Scobie said many people are involved in the lives of members of the royal family and generally the information does not come just from one person.

He said information about the couple does not have "to come from the horse's mouth" or even anyone in the room at the time.

"We have a detail in the book about Harry always requests for his dry-cleaning to not have the plastic on it and someone said 'well you must've been there when he picked up the dry-cleaning' as if we were there.

"Well no actually not, he's an eco-advocate and he talks about his preferences to the staff around him and so these things become known in wider circles and so these are the things we really wanted to get hold of for the book to humanise the couple."

Harry's relationships with members of the royal family

Scobie said recently Harry's relationships with members of the royal family have improved.

Harry has continued a very close relationship with the Queen who has constantly reminded the couple that the door remains open should they want to return, he said.

His relationship with his father Prince Charles has improved, and Harry and William have spoken together again for the first time, Scobie said.

"I think that those are the first steps that hopefully will lead to an improvement in their relationship."

Scobie said Harry has spoken about it saying "they are at different points in their lives, on very different paths and 'sometimes we don't see each other as much as we used to and that's okay'."

Scobie said hopefully the brother's paths will rejoin some time in the future.

Although Prince William initially warned Harry "to take as much time as you need to get to know this girl", Prince William was nice to Meghan when they met, Scobie said.

He said a "duelling duchesses" narrative emerged in the media between Meghan Markle and the Duchess of Cambridge.

"It couldn't have been further from the truth, but unfortunately what was there was a rather cool friendship, almost surface level if you will.

"I think a lot of that was to do with the fact that they hadn't really ever bonded, they had very little in common but I think also Meghan felt a sense of disappointment that ... Kate didn't really reach out during some of those difficult times, particularly during her pregnancy."

Scobie said the royal institution is run on an hierarchical basis and for Harry and Meghan that meant their success and popularity did not match with their position within the household.

"So there were many times they wanted to utilise the fact that they were popular and to speak to larger audiences and take on more duties and go on more overseas trips.

"I think they found themselves very frustrated that the budget wasn't there for them and that they were often told to wait because there are more senior members of the royal family that have other things to do before we get to them."

Scobie said Harry felt that at that age and that point in his life he deserved a little better.

There are moments where the couple felt very alone within the House of Windsor, Scobie said.