Things we learned from Finding Freedom, the book about Meghan and Harry
With 'Finding Freedom: Harry, Meghan and Making of a Modern Royal Family,' British royals weathered a big controversy this summer. Written by journalists Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, the book has a number of eye-openers about the family feud that led to Harry and Meghan's departure. What's new in the book?
According to the publishers, the book is "an honest and up-close portrait" of a modern couple that broke with the traditions of the British royal family. Harry and Meghan themselves, however, say that they have not cooperated with the authors and were not interviewed for the book. It is entirely based on the observations and insiders' reports that Scobie and Durand collected.
An important revelation in the book is that Prince Harry had been "deeply unhappy" in the royal palace long before he married Meghan Markle. People in the Palace often found him "too sensitive and outspoken" about the pressures of being a Prince. His break from the British Royal Family may have been on his mind for a much longer time than we assumed.
The book describes the alleged estrangement between the two brothers from the perspective of Harry. According to the book, William was very protective of his brother in the early months of his romance with Meghan, and he "wanted to make sure the American actress had the right intentions." Harry didn't like his brother's caution at all. He found it "snobbish" and "condescending."
Vanity Fair reads in the biography that Meghan and Harry "discussed leaving the Royal Family even before they got married." The book also suggests that a concrete plan for the break was in the making nine months before they actually told the family in January 2020.
Going back in time, the book (and its excerpt in the Times) describes how Meghan and Harry fell in love. Through stories of close friends, it reconstructs the couple's first (blind) date in London's Soho House in July 2016, their second date the day after, and their flirtations on Instagram. Within weeks, their third "date" would lead them on a vacation together in Botswana.
Things got very serious very fast. After three months, they were saying "I love you," according to a friend of Meghan: first Harry said it, and then Meghan reciprocated.
They managed to keep their relation a secret for months. Meghan worked on the series 'Suits' in Toronto and Harry regularly visited her there. "Harry took commercial flights," making sure to be "the last on the plane and the first off," the book recounts. "In an effort to maintain a low profile, he flew into Toronto with just one plainclothes protection officer instead of his normal two. A generic-looking sedan would be waiting just outside the terminal to whisk him the 12 miles to Meghan’s two-story townhouse."
Early on, Harry warned Meghan that the press would eventually catch onto their romance. "Make the most of this time we have," he said. For six months, they did. Then, by the end of 2016, their relationship became public. "Harry was in Toronto with Meghan and received word from the Palace that a tabloid was going to break news of their relationship," Elle reports. "Meghan's life drastically changed, with paparazzi starting to follow her in Toronto."
Once the press started following them, the public learned a lot more about the couple. What 'Finding Freedom' adds to this picture are the details about tensions inside the Palace after their engagement. Harry, for one, was "extremely protective" of his fiancée, the authors say. He felt that the staff, family, and even his brother were "condescending" and suspicious towards her.
Buckingham was not Hollywood, the royal staff appears to have indicated to the couple. According to the book, the Palace's "men in the grey suits" and senior courtiers constantly tried to "rein in" the movements and popularity of Meghan and Harry. The book reports that Meghan and Harry "grew frustrated with being restricted on what they could do and when they could do it," ET Canada reports.
According to those on the side of Meghan and Harry, the restrictions were responses to their immense popularity. They suggest that there may have been jealousy among the other royals. The couple believed they were "propelling the monarchy to new heights around the world" and that they were "a major draw for the royal family." According to the book, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex felt they should be getting more support from the others in the palace; not less.
Meghan appears to have been impopular among the royal staff. Or at least, that's what people on the side of the Sussexes think. They "simply didn’t like Meghan and would stop at nothing to make her life difficult," Harry is quoted in the book. One of the courtiers of the Palace said that relations between the Sussex couple and the rest were tense and that they fitted like a "squeeky third wheel" in the royal family.
The book speaks of grave tensions between the families of Harry, William, Prince Charles, and even Queen Elizabeth. "The atmosphere inside the three households was 'competitive,' 'miserable,' and 'full-on.'" Other royal households supposedly leaked stories about Meghan and Harry to the press, ET Canada reports. "There were just a handful of people working at the Palace they could trust... A friend of the couple’s referred to the old guard as ‘the vipers’."
With the biography, there will finally be more clarity about the competition between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle. Did they really hate each other as much as the media said? No, not really, the authors of 'Finding Freedom' say. Even though Meghan "would agree... that the duchesses were not the best of friends," they "were not at war with each other either," Scobie and Durand say. "The truth was that Meghan and Kate just didn’t know each other that well."
Scobie and Durand are critical of the media's description of Meghan as a 'difficult' personality. She and her friends say in the book that press coverage was often sexist and racist. Scobie adds in the Times that "we only need look at the Duchess Difficult narrative. What is 'difficult'? Difficult is pushy, aggressive. It’s all the things that we throw on black women as a society regardless of what their actual personality is."
The Duke and Duchess suffered very much from the criticism by journalists and anonymous commenters. Meghan described one headline as "death by a thousand cuts," a phrase from a Taylor Swift song, while Harry had a tendency for doomscrolling: he read the hateful comments below articles about the couple and "his stomach tied into the same knot every time he saw them."
The couple broke the news about their plans to leave on January 8, 2020, right after their return from a long Christmas vacation on Vancouver Island. They thought about going to Buckingham Palace before telling the press, but they decided to keep the Queen and their family in the dark. Meghan and Harry "had brought up the subject enough times with family members over the past year," a source told the authors, "and they were fed up of not being taken seriously."
Unsurprisingly, the Queen was not amused. Harry was called into Sandringham House to discuss his shocking announcement with his father, his grandmother, and the rest of the family. He had "created a lot of ill will," the book says. For his brother and Kate Middleton, a source said, "it's not anger. It's hurt.”
On Commonwealth Day 2020, their last public appearance as Senior Royals, it seemed like most family members were giving Harry and Meghan the cold shoulder. Scobie and Durand confirm that this is how it went. "Meghan tried to make eye contact with Kate, and the duchess barely acknowledged her." Scobie adds in the Times that Kate Middleton "purposefully" snubbed her sister-in-law.
Family feuds are often two-way streets. According to the book, "the courtiers blame Meghan, and some family do." Meghan, on the other hand, "tearfully" told friends: "I gave up my entire life for this family. I was willing to do whatever it takes. But here we are. It’s very sad."
It will be a best-seller. It will tell a positive story about Harry and Meghan from their perspective. However, whatever it says about 'finding freedom,' romance and the couple's charity will stand in the shadow of their "still-raw rage" that "leaps off the pages," reviewer Royah Nikkhah writes in the Times. A reconciliation with the Palace still seems far away.