Watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle speak directly to the camera in Netflix’s Harry & Meghan, feels fresh even if we have already heard plenty of the stories before. But two voices in the documentary are truly new, and they both belong to Meghan’s relatives. Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland opens up about the “challenge” of the last five years. “I’m ready to have my voice heard, that’s for sure,” she said. “A little bit of my experience as her mom.” The other new voice is Ashleigh Hale, Meghan’s niece and the biological daughter of Samantha Markle, Meghan’s half-sister. Together, their contribution to the series directed by Liz Garbus provides crucial insight into how the relationship between Meghan and her father, Thomas Markle, got so strained in the run up to the royal wedding in 2018.
Ragland spoke about her close relationship with Meghan and how she felt when she first heard about Harry. “We were on the phone and she says, ‘Mommy, I’m going out with Prince Harry.’ And I started whispering ‘Oh my god!’ She says, ‘You can’t tell anyone.’ And so it was from the beginning, it was very ‘oh my god, nobody can know.’”
The Rift’s Roots in Meghan’s Childhood
In the show’s second episode, Ragland also provides insight into what it was like to raise Meghan as a single mother after she and Thomas separated when their daughter was two. During one scene, Ragland shares a memory and she and Meghan drive by their old home. “I remember you came home one day from Immaculate Heart and said, ‘We live over a garage,’ and it was like, yeah, and it’s a great spot,” Doria remembered.
The divorce was difficult on Meghan, and her parents split custody. Meghan spent weeknights with Ragland and weekends with Markle. During the episode she shares a poem about the difficulty of splitting her times between two homes. “There’s so much from anyone’s childhood that you bring with you into the present. Especially when you’re the product of divorce,” she said. “Even though my parents co-parented well, you think about how that informs what you grow up to be and what you want.”
During the episode, Meghan mentions that she didn’t have a close relationship with her dad’s extended family but her father was involved in her life. “My dad lived alone—he had two adult children who had moved out of his house,” she said. Susan Williger, Meghan’s friend from her years at Immaculate Heart, said that Thomas was involved with her high school theater productions.
The Royal Courtship Goes Public
These aspects of Meghan’s childhood laid the groundwork for what happened in the run up to Meghan and Harry’s wedding in the spring of 2018. Ragland mentioned that her life changed profoundly after Meghan and Harry went public with their relationship because of press intrusion. “I felt unsafe a lot. I can’t just go walk my dogs, I can’t just go to work. There was always someone there waiting for me, following me to work. I was being stalked by the paparazzi,” she said. She added that one journalist said she could be paid to cooperate with them. “Once I pulled over, and he pulled next to me and said, ‘I’m just trying to get a story, you know you can get a lot of money for this.’ And I just looked at him and said, this is my child, I have nothing to say.”
In the years that have followed, Meghan has not spoken to her father and has denied Samantha’s claims that they ever had a relationship. This is when Hale enters the story. Hale is Samantha’s biological daughter, but she lived with her paternal grandparents from the age of two, and they later adopted her. In the documentary, Hale said she hadn’t seen Samantha in years, but she and Meghan reconnected in the late 2000s and they built a close friendship that lasted through her years on Suits.
“I think she takes on a lot of roles for me,” Hale said of Meghan. “There’s a sister element, there’s something maternal. She’s a best friend. She’s all kinds of things.”
The Markle Family Drama Hits the Front Pages
Hale, an immigration lawyer, said that she became concerned about Samantha after Harry and Meghan’s relationship went public in November 2018. “After the news first broke, Samantha pretty quickly began expressing some angry words about Meg towards me. What was communicated to me was maybe some resentment.” Hale said that she and Samantha stopped talking. “Some people you just can’t reason with.”
Meghan said that her niece was also touched by the same media fervor that touched other people in her life. “Ash was put through quite a bit by the media, just by association,” she said. “I didn’t want her life to be plagued by all that drama.”