In many ways, Meghan Markle is like no British royal who came before her. While historians are still debating whether she’s the first British royal of color, she’s certainly one of a very, very small handful — and as a result, she’s endured a barrage of racist media coverage. Beyond that, the Duchess of Sussex is an American divorcee and Hollywood star, which is a tabloid-invented scandal in and of itself. She’s an activist, who isn’t well-suited to gritting her teeth for the sake of the Crown, and she rose up from modest roots. After all, Markle closes her own car door, which is apparently a rare feat deserving of headlines.
Despite the media’s attempt to paint Markle with a distinct sense of otherness — especially after she and Prince Harry stepped away from their royal duties — the truth is that she’s not all that different from her late mother-in-law, a modern princess who challenged the royal’s often antiquated traditions. In fact, though the pair were raised an ocean apart, the parallels between Princess Diana and the Duchess of Sussex are overwhelming. Here’s a look at how Diana’s history is repeating itself with Meghan Markle.
Princess Diana and Meghan Markle went from roommates to royalty
Perhaps the most glaring similarity between Meghan Markle and Princess Diana is the fact that they were both technically considered commoners. According to Time, Lady Di was born into a family of British aristocrats who rolled in royal social circles, but she only had loose blood ties to the Crown through so-called “illegitimate unions.” At the time of her engagement to Prince Charles, Diana was working as a kindergarten teacher and living with three flatmates (who just about lost their minds finding out their gal pal was about to be a princess).
Markle’s story is similar. Like Diana, she attended an all-girls school, then went to Northwestern University, where she studied theater and international relations (you could argue that she used the latter during her brief time at Kensington Palace). Like most struggling college students, she pieced together tuition with a mix of scholarships, financial aid programs, and work-study, according to O: The Oprah Magazine. She also joined a sorority and lived in a sorority house.
Even after making it as an actress with her breakthrough role in Suits, Markle merely brushed elbows with American royalty (Hollywood stars are kind of all we’ve got on this side of the Atlantic). She was not considered a household name until Prince Harry got down on one knee.
Family ties aren't always binding
Despite the fact that they were raised on two sides of the Atlantic, both Meghan Markle and Princess Diana shared a similar childhood experience. They were children of divorce and, at different points in time, estranged from a parent.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Diana’s brother Charles Spencer revealed that the siblings were abandoned by their mother after their parents split. “Our father was a quiet and constant source of love, but our mother wasn’t cut out for maternity. Not her fault, she couldn’t do it,” he said. “While she was packing her stuff to leave, she promised Diana [then aged five] she’d come back to see her. Diana used to wait on the doorstep for her, but she never came.”
Markle was a similar age when her parents, Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle, divorced — but she maintained a good relationship with both of them until she got involved with the royal family. Her dad, a lighting director on a Fox sitcom, helped her land one of her first roles, a small part on another of his gigs, General Hospital. Unfortunately, Meghan became estranged from her father after he staged paparazzi photos and blabbed to the press in the wake of her engagement. According to the book Finding Freedom (via Us Weekly), the Suits star was “hurt and humiliated” when Thomas bailed on her wedding, and as of July 2020, he still seems to be airing out the family business in the press.
Princess Diana and Meghan Markle struggled to adjust to royal life
When Meghan Markle’s prince finally came, he didn’t swoop in on a white horse. Rather, she and Prince Harry were set up on a regular old blind date, which seems so much like the plot of a Lifetime movie that it actually became one. Unfortunately, the fairytale is better than the reality. In actuality, Markle struggled with adjusting to royal life, revealing in a candid ITV interview that she wasn’t “doing okay.”
“You add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed, it’s um … Not many people have asked if I’m okay, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes,” she revealed.
Inarguably, being a royal is a lot, especially if you’re thrust into the spotlight after a whirlwind marriage. Princess Diana had a similar experience and was often spotted with her head down, dodging cameras and earning the nickname Shy Di. In recorded interviews with reporter Andrew Morton (via The Sun), the mother-of-two admitted that adjusting to life in the royal family was “too much.”
“I was just so frightened of the attention I was getting; it took me six years to get comfortable in this skin and now I’m ready to go forward.” she said, adding, “One minute I was nobody, the next minute I was Princess of Wales, mother, media toy, member of this family, you name it.”
Princess Diana and Meghan Markle had whirlwind weddings
Meghan Markle and Princess Diana’s difficulties adapting to royal life were exacerbated by the fact that everything happened so fast. The royals were literally swept away by their respective Prince Charmings in whirlwind romances. Independent reported that Diana claimed to have “only met Charles 12 times” prior to announcing their 1981 engagement. They tied the knot five months later, right after Diana’s 20th birthday.
Markle’s wedding took slightly longer to come about — but not that much longer from the point of engagement. According to Vogue’s timeline, Markle met Harry on a blind date in July 2016. By October, he was reportedly “besotted with her” (which is a very British way of saying crazy in love). Cue the engagement rumors, which emerged a little after their first year dating anniversary. They finally announced their engagement in November 2017 and tied the knot six months later.
Both Diana and Markle also threw non-traditional elements into their wedding, including omitting the word “obey” from their vows, according to reports from The New York Times and People. Markle took her feminist approach one step further and (partially) walked herself down the aisle before Prince Charles escorted her to the altar. Royal precedent? We don’t know her.
Meghan Markle followed Princess Diana's fashion rebellion
Princess Diana and Meghan Markle regularly rallied against royal protocol, which often seems arbitrary through the lens of 2021. In some ways, however, their refusal to fully conform was the first step to a tiny rebellion — against the media who scorned them and the family who placed them in that position. Lest we forget, Diana left the royal family in the wake of Prince Charles’ affair with Camilla and Markle eventually staged her royal exit, unfairly labeled Megxit.
One of Lady Di’s weapons of rebellion was fashion. According to the BBC, she was the “first female royal to wear trousers to an evening event.” She regularly wore black, which was typically reserved for “mourning.” The color was especially poignant in her so-called “revenge dress,” a form-fitting, off-the-shoulder number she donned to mourn her marriage after Prince Charles publicly owned up to his affair, per People. Exposed shoulders are just about enough to cause a minor scandal among royals, and Diana wore them often.
Like Diana, Markle regularly wears trousers, pantsuits, the color black, and exposed shoulders — all things the queen does not recommend for official appearances, according to Glamour. She even had the audacity to walk barefoot on an Australian beach, a major royal no-no. Beyond fashion, Good Housekeeping claims that Princess Diana was the first royal to forgo a home birth and have her children at the hospital. This paved the way for Markle, who did the same with Archie.
Neither Princess Diana nor Meghan Markle were afraid of calling out the royal family
According to The Cut, the press office of the royal family is notoriously quiet about everything from rifts between family members to alleged affairs. In rare cases, they’ll flat-out deny rumors, but you’ll hardly see a royal express a negative opinion.
In some ways, it seems like you get indoctrinated into the royal family by metaphorically stitching your mouth shut (or, more literally, deleting your social media accounts), but Princess Diana was actually remarkably candid about certain gossip. In a 1995 BBC interview, the star outrageously admitted that Prince Charles’ affair led to the dissolution of their marriage. “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” she said.
Diana’s candid demeanor opened up the doors for Meghan Markle, who isn’t afraid to use her voice, particularly now that she’s hung up her royal title and signed a multi-year podcasting deal with Spotify. In a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, the star went as far as directly accusing the royal family of “perpetuating falsehoods” about her family. Beyond that, Markle is using her voice for change. In 2019, the star guest-edited an issue of British Vogue titled “Forces for Change,” which was met with an onslaught of public scrutiny as it touched on topics like climate change, LGBTQ visibility, racism, and body acceptance.
Princess Diana and Meghan Markle got real about mental health
Buckingham Palace is a veritable fortress, one that conceals the real life struggles of the royals within it. Though some reports of strife manage to leak outside of the palace’s walls (much like Britain’s famous rainy weather), it’s typically swept under the rug. Not with Princess Diana, who refused to pretend everything was alright. The royal was ultimately the leaker behind some of her most heart-breaking headlines..
In a series of confessional tapes, which Diana leaked to royal reporter Andrew Morton, the people’s princess blew the lid on her own eating disorder. “The bulimia started the week after we got engaged and would take nearly a decade to overcome,” she recorded herself saying (via Vogue). “My husband put his hand on my waistline and said: ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’ and that triggered off something in me — and the Camilla thing.”
Markle has been similarly candid about her struggles with mental health. The former actor appeared on the Teenager Therapy podcast, where she revealed that being “the most trolled person in the entire world” took a toll on her mental health. “It’s almost unsurvivable,” she said, adding, “If people are saying things about you that aren’t true, what that does to your mental and emotional health is damaging.” Markle was also similarly as candid about her miscarriage, which she disclosed in a heartbreaking op-ed for The New York Times, titled “The Losses We Share.”
Meghan Markle wants her kids to be normal, just like Princess Diana did
Prince William and Prince Harry may have been raised as royalty, but Princess Diana tried to give them a normal childhood — at least, as much as you possibly can with the paparazzi chasing your every move and enough generational wealth to realistically retire before you even get your first job. According to Good Housekeeping, this included taking the boys on the tube, letting them wear jeans and ride bicycles, and taking them on trips to McDonald’s and Disney, where they endured the theme park’s notorious lines. It also meant enrolling them in public school. According to Hello!, Prince William was the first heir to the throne that was “entirely educated in the public school system.”
Meghan Markle wants the same for her children, which is part of the reason why she and Harry gave up their royal titles. An alleged insider that spoke to People revealed that the couple “hope to give Archie as normal a life as possible,” which they’re doing as they split their time between North America and the U.K. As of this writing, it looks like they’ve settled in Markle’s native home of California, where they can be close to her mother, who still works as a social worker and yoga instructor, as they await their second baby.
Princess Diana and Meghan Markle both endured the bad side of the press
It’s no secret that the press was vicious to Lady Di, especially in the events surrounding her death. Though her 1997 crash in Paris’ Pont de l’Alma tunnel initially appeared to be an accident, it was later found that she was “unlawfully killed” by “gross negligence,” according to the BBC. Both the driver, who was under the influence, and the paparazzi, who were chasing her car on motorbikes, were at fault. This understandably rattled Prince Harry, who was 12 years old at the time. In a 2017 BBC documentary, he revealed, “I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with, is the fact that, the people that chased her into the tunnel, were the same people taking photographs of her dying on the backseat of the car.”
Though paparazzi don’t chase Meghan Markle in the same way — since social media has changed the role of celebrity photographers — the tabloids are equally as vicious. Stylist managed to find 30 different tabloid stories, some of which had racist undertones, criticizing the star for claims as audacious as her altering her son’s birth certificate. The Sussexes even took the extraordinary step of taking the tabloids to court (and actually won), but the unending onslaught of false and negative coverage ultimately led them to quit the royal family. “I did what any husband and what any father would do,” Harry told James Cordon in a rare interview. “I got my family out of here.”
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