Under the watchful eyes of Britain’s voracious press pack, the Duchess of Sussex found herself grappling with a confronting reality: “I’m everywhere, but I am nowhere.”
In an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey this week, Meghan Markle said she hadn’t left the confines of Buckingham Palace in months. And yet there she was, plastered across the front page of news tabloids, at the mercy of the daily media cycle.
“There was a day that one of the members of the family came over and said, ‘Why don’t you lay low for a little while because you’re everywhere right now’,” she recalled.
“And I said, ‘I’ve left the house twice in four months’.”
Giving a rare glimpse into life inside The Firm, Markle spoke of her constant loneliness.
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Her passport, driver’s licence and keys were taken from her when she joined the Royal family, she lamented, and her requests to meet with friends were met with a blunt rebuke: “It would be best not to.”
Markle revealed she and Prince Harry had been struggling with a tug-of-war between their need for protection and the constraints of living the “trapped” life of royals: “Of course that breeds loneliness when you have come from such freedom,” she said.
But it was the couple’s discovery that their son Archie would not receive security that led them to a crossroads.
“We haven’t created this monster machine around us in terms of clickbait and tabloid fodder,” Markle said. “[The institution] allowed that to happen, which means our son needs to be safe.”
Contention began long before the royal exit
While those within the Royal family receive security for public duties, it should come as little surprise that the details surrounding these arrangements are a closely guarded secret.
The Royalty Protection Group, part of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), is tasked with providing round-the-clock security for the Palace, including uniformed and plain-clothed bodyguards who protect select members of the Royal family, and a team of armed escorts to guard motorcades.
There is also speculation a specialist commando group, “potentially made up of SAS troops”, watches over the palaces occupied by the Queen, though “this is never discussed”.
The Royal and VIP Executive Committee handles a list of essential public figures and royals who have round-the-clock protection, and is responsible for reviewing and monitoring security expenditure “with a view to ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in line with threat or potential threat”.
Royal protection is paid for by the UK government’s Treasury, which does not disclose how much it costs or who benefits most, citing concerns that doing so “could compromise the integrity of these arrangements and affect the security of the individuals protected”.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were both beneficiaries of the agreement prior to stepping back from royal duties last year, but it would appear contention over their security detail began much earlier.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle both received royal security, including for events like their wedding.(Danny Lawson/pool photo via AP
According to Prince Harry, there were “obvious signs before we got married that this was going to be really hard”, with the Palace purportedly suggesting Markle “carries on acting because there’s not the money to pay for her [security]”.
While pregnant with the couple’s first child in 2018, Markle said she was told that their son, Archie, would not receive the title of prince, “which would be different from protocol”.
“They said [he’s not going to get security], because he’s not going to be a prince,” she said, noting there were concerns within the institution “about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.
Though the Palace is yet to directly address those claims, some royal pundits and tabloids have rebuked suggestions that withholding the title from Archie the seventh in line to the throne was breaking “protocol”.
Meghan Markle said someone in the palace aired concerns about her dark her son’s skin would be.
The push for a ‘slimmed-down’ monarchy
In the background of growing fractures within the Royal family has been a tightening of purse strings.
Prince Charles has long advocated for a “slimmed-down monarchy”, so that “just those at the top of the line of succession represent the sovereign”.
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In 2011, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie the daughters of Prince Andrew had their security stripped because they were not “working royals”, leaving them to foot the reported $500,000 ($AUD900,000) a year price tag on their own.
While Prince Andrew is still entitled to protection as the son of the reigning monarch, after withdrawing from royal duties following a widely criticised interview about his friendship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, reports emerged that the Home Office was also recommending a “major downgrade of security”.
“Prince Charles’s generation of ‘younger royals’ attracted a lot of criticism in the 1980s precisely because they seemed to be a lot of people with no obvious role,” Sean Lang, a specialist in the history of the British Empire at Anglia Ruskin University, told the ABC.
“The inescapable corollary of that is that the royals outside that line of succession need to think about their role.”
After stepping aside as senior Royals and moving to North America last year, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle too declared that they would no longer accept money from the taxpayer-funded Sovereign Grant, which had covered 5 per cent of their expenses.
But while they had been largely funded through income from Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall estate, Harry said his family “literally cut me off financially” shortly after announcing their exit from the Royal family.
Prince Chares has long advocated for a more “slimmed-down monarchy”.(@SussexRoyal: Chris Allerton, AP
Metropolitan Police protection officers from London had accompanied the couple to Canada during their initial move, but the Prince said he was advised “at short notice” that they would be removed.
“By this point, courtesy of the Daily Mail, the world knew our exact location,” he said.
“It dawned on me: borders are closing, the world knows where we are, it’s not safe or secure. We probably need to get out.”
‘There is a reason the tabloids have parties at the palace’
Addressing their financial situation, Harry was candid: “I’ve got what my mum left me,” he said of the money left for him in Princess Diana’s estate. “Without that, we would not have been able to do this”.
While the couple have since forged lucrative deals with Netflix and Spotify to help pay their way (“That was never part of the plan,” Harry said), the Prince said he “never thought” he would have his security removed.
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“I was born into this position, I inherited the risk,” he said. “That was a shock to me.”
In desperation, Markle said she wrote letters to the royal family, begging them to “keep my husband safe”.
“[The letters said] ‘Please, it’s very clear the protection of me or Archie is not a priority, I accept that, that is fine please keep my husband safe,” she said.
“I see the death threats, I see the racist propaganda, please keep him safe, please don’t pull his security and announce to the world when he and we are most vulnerable.”
This sense of confinement two people who feel “trapped” at the same time as they’re afforded great freedoms by virtue of their privilege is a recurring theme in the royal fallout.
Pointing to the tabloid media, Harry said there was a “level of control by fear that has existed for generations”.
“I think there is a reason the tabloids have holiday parties at the palace,” said Markle. “They are hosted by the palace. The tabloids are.
“There is a construct that’s at play there … from the beginning of our relationship, they were so attacking and inciting so much racism.
“That changed the threat, the level of death threats, changed everything.”