Just months after he married Meghan Markle, Prince Harry had a secret discussion with Oprah.

The following is an excerpt from The Queen by Andrew Morton, a definitive, most comprehensive account of Queen Elizabeth II's legendary reign.

While Harry and Meghan’s royal life together had started brightly, it soon began to unravel, and they began crafting a road map for their future that ran parallel to that of the Royal Family rather than being directly part of it. The Windsors and their officials had been aware of the couple’s discussions about living in both North America and Britain, being financially independent and focusing on their own humanitarian mission from around May 2019.

During the summer and autumn of that year, it became even more apparent that Harry and Meghan were unhappy with the unrelenting media criticism and what they considered to be a lack of support from inside the institution. With no change on the horizon, Prince Harry had spoken to the Queen and his father about stepping back as senior royals and raising funds privately so that they would not need the Sovereign Grant nor monies from the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles’s estate, to subsidize their lifestyle. As private citizens, they would not be beholden to the media but would still be able to serve the monarchy, albeit in a limited capacity. The Queen’s initial reaction to this idea was that it was almost impossible to be half in and half out of the Royal Family. It was akin to being ‘slightly’ pregnant.

Listen to Andrew Morton speak to Holly Wainwright about his new book, The Queen. Post continues after audio.

The couple, who spent Christmas 2019 at a borrowed Canadian mansion on Vancouver Island, watched the smoke signals emerging from Buckingham Palace and realized that the message did not include them. First came the Queen’s Christmas message, when there was clearly no photograph of Harry, Meghan and Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor – her most recent great-grandchild who was born in May 2019 – visible on her desk alongside the other members of her family. Then, in early January, an official royal photograph was released. Taken at Buckingham Palace, it featured the reigning Monarch and her direct heirs in the line of succession: Charles, William and George. It was only the second time the existing and future Sovereigns had been pictured together.


Prince Harry, notoriously thin-skinned at the best of times, interpreted this in the most conspiratorial way possible, that they were no longer part of the Royal Family. It all fed into the couple’s decision-making as they carefully worked out their future. On 8 January 2020, Harry and Meghan announced on Instagram, giving minimal notice to the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William, that they were indeed ‘stepping back’ from royal duties and dividing their time between Britain and North America. Their official statement, which was issued against the Queen’s express wishes, read in part: ‘After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as “senior” members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen.’

They aimed to ‘collaborate’ with the Queen and the rest of their family to make this happen. This choice of wording clearly demonstrated how weakened the Queen’s position had become. The idea of a junior member of the Royal Family ‘collaborating’ with the Head of State on an equal footing left historians, royal officials and commentators aghast. If it was anything, the Royal Family was a clearly defined hierarchy, not a republic of equals.


The couple’s declaration of independence, some 244 years after the US original, was met with disbelief by the rest of the family and their officials. A new front in the War of the Windsors was about to break out. Though increasingly incapacitated, Prince Philip’s indignant and mystified response summed up the feelings of many inside and outside the institution: ‘What the hell are they playing at?’ The idea of a royal not wanting to be a royal any more nor willing to accept the Queen’s authority without question was simply incomprehensible, particularly to a man who had sacrificed his whole life in supporting the Queen and upholding the monarchy.

The Sovereign agreed to a meeting at Sandringham a few days later with herself, Charles, William, Harry and their senior staff. Officials were told to work ‘at pace’. For once she was not prepared to let this matter drag on as she had with her sister’s marital separation and the damaging War of the Waleses that had erupted when Charles and Diana separated in December 1992. Nor was there any ‘ostriching’, that is to say her habit of avoiding unpleasant realities.

From the off, it was clear that the Queen wanted to carve a workable solution to accommodate the Sussexes while maintaining the integrity of the monarchy, especially in regard to finances. The idea that Meghan and Harry could monetize their royal brand ‘Sussex Royal’, for example, was a non- starter. Subsequently, however, they were able to craft deals for themselves as individuals, the couple going on to surprise the family and the wider world by quickly snagging multi-million-dollar agreements with the likes of Netflix, Spotify and other media outlets.


In a warm and friendly statement issued after the initial talks, the Queen conveyed the following sentiments: ‘My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family. Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.’

It was clear from the start of negotiations that if they wanted freedom; they had to give up their royal privileges. After much back and forth, the couple agreed to pay for the renovations of Frogmore Cottage at Windsor (the home they had moved into after their marriage), underwrite their own security, abandon the ‘Sussex Royal’ brand and relinquish Harry’s honorary military patronages, notably his position as Captain General of the Royal Marines, a post he had held since taking over from his grandfather in 2017.

On 18 January, just ten days after Meghan and Harry’s stepping back announcement, the way forward was mapped out, drawn up and agreed. Though Charles and William had doubtless pushed matters along, in the end it was still the Queen who issued the statement about the departing royal duo. While she hoped that the young couple would ‘start building a happy and peaceful new life’, not everyone was so fulsome.


The awkwardness and tension between the Cambridges and the Sussexes, the quartet once dubbed ‘the Fab Four’ after The Beatles pop group, was very much on public display at the televised Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey on 9 March 2020. The brothers barely exchanged a word. Shortly afterwards, Meghan and Harry flew back across the Atlantic and returned to their Canadian retreat, keeping out of sight at a waterside mansion on Vancouver Island.

In fact, once they had made their great escape, they had a secret weapon already primed. Just a few months after their wedding, in December 2018, Harry had held secret discussions in a London hotel with talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey, who had been a guest at their nuptials, about the possibility of an interview. When they flew to Canada for the winter, the media deal was already in the bag. Then the term COVID-19 was on everybody’s lips. And nothing was ever the same again. Just two days after the Commonwealth Day service, the World Health Organization formally declared a pandemic because of a coronavirus that was sweeping across the globe. This resulted in the shutting down of schools, retail stores, pubs, and restaurants, public gatherings, while all except vital travel was discouraged. Within two weeks the UK had been placed in lockdown, and the royal drama was suddenly forgotten in the midst of a life-or-death struggle that the British nation had not seen since the Second World War.


Image: Supplied.

The Queen by Andrew Morton is now available for purchase, here.

Feature Image: Getty/CBS.

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