The big reveal in Meghan Markle’s new Spotify podcast Archetypes—that the first day of her trip to South Africa with Prince Harry and Archie Mountbatten-Windsor was marred by a nursery fire—comes near the end of her conversation with friend and tennis star Serena Williams. But in her introduction to the series, Meghan says a few lines that might give some insight into her motivations for making the show in the first place.
While discussing the feminist roots of her high school, Meghan mentions that she grew up believing that ambition is important for women to have. “So, I don’t remember ever personally feeling the negative connotation behind the word ambitious until I started dating my now husband,” she adds. “And um, apparently ambition is, uh… a terrible, terrible thing, for a woman that is—according to some. So, since I’ve felt the negativity behind it, it’s really hard to un-feel it.”
Meghan is obliquely—and classily—referencing some of the negative headlines that continue to follow her even though she has left her royal role. She doesn’t say whether or not she’s talking about the ones that question her motives for being with Harry or her habit of sending text messages to her staff early in the morning, but she doesn’t need to. Ultimately, she makes it clear that her time in the royal fishbowl has helped her understand the stereotypes about women that she will spend the podcast series addressing.
From the beginning of her time in the royal family, it was clear that Meghan was not one for Queen Elizabeth’s supposed mantra, “never complain, never explain.” For one, she had already been living in the public eye, telling stories on her blog, and posting vacation photos on her Instagram. But after Meghan and Harry’s relationship went public in the Fall of 2016, the media attention was much harsher than she had anticipated, as she explained to Oprah Winfrey in their March 2021 interview. She ultimately chafed under the palace prerogative to ignore many negative stories—selectively, she claimed, because other palace principles got protection.
One headline has come to stand in for the tabloid interest in Meghan—the Daily Mail assertion that “Harry’s new girl is (almost) straight outta Compton”—and it gets some discussion in the podcast interview with Williams. After Meghan mentions that she and Williams are the same age and both grew up in Compton, Williams tosses in a little aside. “I’m the one, for the record, that grew up in Compton,” she says.
Meghan laughs and responds. “When they said, Harry’s girl is straight outta Compton, I was like, are they talking about Serena?” she says. “I’m not from Compton. I’ve never lived in Compton. My mom doesn’t live in Compton. But by the way, what’s wrong with Compton?” Serena then emphasizes that she’s proud to be from Compton, along with Dr. Dre. (She also mentions that actor Kevin Costner is also from Compton, one of the episode’s many laugh lines.)
It’s important to note that there is plenty of evidence that the palace press office did stick up for Meghan at different times before her royal exit in 2020, specifically when they tried to stamp out rumors that Kate Middleton and Meghan were feuding in the fall of 2018. But this Compton conversation helps illuminate exactly what Meghan wasn’t getting in the palace—an opportunity to defang news cycles using her charisma and humor. In discussing the headline, she manages to point out that it is very offensive to Black Americans and factually incorrect, all without getting too serious. As Vanity Fair explored in the podcast series Dynasty, the modern-day palace is using a playbook that has been developed over more than a century, and they have their reasons for dealing with the press in the manner they do.
But it’s not hard to imagine that some of the behind-the-scenes tension could have been defused if Meghan felt like she was getting the opportunity to direct the response, rather than it being dictated to her. This takes us back to the Rorschach test nature of the British royal family. To those who believe in hierarchy, Meghan’s desire to have a voice seems like selfishness. To those who are interested in modernity, Meghan’s intuition could be useful to the family. Either way, it’s moot now. So far, one of the most obvious successes of Archetypes is how easily its host has adapted to being behind the microphone. Meghan is so comfortable speaking in her own voice that the third person of palace communiqués was never going to work for her.
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