How Meghan Markle reclaimed her voice - and started using it

Watch: Meghan explains how trolling can be unsurvivable

Many people don’t hesitate to offer their thoughts on politics, parenting or presidential elections when given the opportunity.

But those are topics which have to be tackled carefully if you’re a member of the Royal Family, and it seems that was a compromise Meghan Markle wasn’t keen to make.

The Duchess of Sussex has spoken on several occasions about not being able to use her voice while she was carrying out duties on behalf of the Queen as a senior member of the Royal Family.

In an interview on Tuesday 20 October with Fortune, she said: “I think there's an incredible opportunity for everyone to recognise that your voice matters. And I think you realise it more when you're not able to exercise it.”

She added: “So regardless of my experience over the last few years compared to anyone's experience, you can't take for granted the ability you have as a woman to be able to be heard.”

Comments by Meghan, and her husband Harry, since they stepped back from royal duties, have drawn criticism in the UK, and there’s even one US Republican campaigning to have them stripped of their royal titles.

The couple joined from the home they're staying in in LA. (QCT)
Harry and Meghan, here on a video call from LA during lockdown, have been more vocal on tricky issues since stepping back as senior royals. (QCT)

Defending herself, the duchess has argued “what I actually say, it’s not controversial”, and she is certainly not the first royal to speak about voting. Even the Queen has encouraged people to vote.

While many experts have weighed in on Meghan’s comments, one royal correspondent has acknowledged the lack of freedom she and Harry would have had in the UK.

Speaking during the launch of a book about European monarchies, Jonny Dymond, who is a royal correspondent for the BBC, said: “Royals lack freedom of speech, freedom of religion, free choice of career, free choice of family life.

“The royals lack what relatively comfortably off people take for granted, they lack agency.”

He said viewing them through the “prism of wealth and palaces” made it harder to have a “reasoned discussion” about what they do and what they are not allowed to do.

He added: “Because they do not really complain about what they can’t do, we do not really report it. We collude with them, that it is palaces and servants, not another municipal luncheon wondering what might have been if it were not for an accident of birth.”

In the same interview with Fortune, Meghan, 39, said she kept her comments non-controversial for the safety of her family.

Robert Lacey, author of Battle of Brothers and a historical consultant on The Crown, said the remark might show she will scale back some of her comments. He also noted the couple’s work would not draw so much criticism if they were still inside the palace walls.

He told Yahoo UK: “Those remarks... [about protecting Archie] suggest to me just a little stepping back a bit. That she and Harry might think it’s neutral, but the world will not treat it as neutral.

“Meghan said that she was avoiding saying anything controversial for fear of putting her family at risk. What did she mean by that? In America, maybe she is thinking of a physical threat, but in the UK, is she thinking of risking her husband’s relationship with his family?

“Maybe they plunged in too eagerly.

“I think when they intervened in the US election and said people should vote for decency, they really were trying hard to sound neutral, but 24 hours later Donald Trump had shown it was not neutral. Any sort of public pronouncement is a minefield.

“When they made black history month comments, they would not have been controversial inside the palace, but now they are outside the palace.

“I’m just wondering if she has been hurt a bit by the experience, that may be some sort of gesture on the Royal Family.”

Watch: Harry tells Americans to reject hate speech

Prince Harry and Meghan selected their Black History Month trailblazers (people recognised for challenging prejudice and their positive contribution to British society) in a special interview with the Evening Standard. Harry also spoke about his “racial awakening” as they called out “structural racism”.

They have also talked about voting, encouraging people to “reject hate speech” ahead of the November Presidential election in the US.

While a working royal, Meghan did use her platform to draw attention to issues that mattered to her. For example, she spoke about women’s suffrage while on tour in New Zealand.

She did give up her acting career and cut her ties with her previous roles with the UN and World Vision, but a source told CNN it was so she could start with a clean slate, with the same issues.

Just before she and Harry married, Meghan told a Royal Foundation forum: “You'll often hear people say, 'Well you're helping women find their voices,' and I fundamentally disagree with that because women don't need to find their voice. They have a voice. They need to feel empowered to use it and people need to be encouraged to listen.”

But one study of Meghan, released in 2018, said her activism had been “silenced or appropriated by the monarchy”.

Academics Laura Clancy and Hannah Yelin wrote: “While the monarchy appears to be celebrating her diversity and modernising influence, then, this is only permitted within prescribed boundaries.”

Since stepping back, few of Meghan’s interviews have failed to reference her previous life, though she was only a working royal for less than two years, and some of that time was spent on maternity leave.

In August she said she could use “my voice in a way that I haven’t been able to of late”.

Prior to that she wrote in Marie Claire that she knew “what it’s like to feel voiceless”.

Harry’s public acknowledgement that he has not ever voted offers some confirmation of the restrictions placed on royals.

Finding Freedom, the biography released over the summer about Harry and Meghan, also noted her relief when they were able to release a statement quickly regarding their security when they moved to California.

Donald Trump had tweeted to say the US would not be paying for their security detail, but they quickly responded to say they would not be asking for help from the States.

According to the book she “rolled her eyes” and “they quickly fired back through a statement of their own”.

The couple is planning to launch their own non-profit organisation, called Archewell, but until then it appears Meghan’s voice will have to be heard through other outlets, as she champions causes close to her heart.

Watch: Harry and Meghan receive apology for drone photos