It’s the book that everyone’s talking about; Finding Freedom: an explosive, unauthorised biography of the royal family’s most endlessly debated couple: Harry and Meghan.
Initially imagined as a chronicle of their fairytale romance, the book- after the shocking royal split in early 2020- has quickly become something else entirely.
So GLAMOUR sat down (virtually, of course) with one of its authors, royal reporter Omid Scobie, to discover whether the most hotly anticipated book of 2020 really does contain the inside scoop on why Harry and Meghan left.
“There were so many things being said about them, and to have to be silent throughout that? You suffer emotionally for it.”
One of the first impressions you get from Omid Scobie, is how passionately he wants to set the record straight about Meghan and Harry. No – not the question of whether they had a hand in his book (he maintains they did not, and thinks they won’t read it at all) but in presenting the truth behind the headlines.
“I remember some of the first conversations we had with sources close to Harry and Megan, and just how keen they all were to reframe the narrative,” he says, “They felt that what they knew about their friends was very different to the coverage that they were seeing in the British tabloids.”
It’s the dominant frustration you imagine Harry and Meghan must feel; their unfair treatment in the press, coupled with the palace’s insistence on “no comment.”
“I think if the palace was able to speak out, on points and say; actually, she gets on fine with her staff, it would have gone a long way to help,” says Omid, “Because, as we know, that’s how the palace works- it’s these little off-the-record briefings they give the press, those palace aides that we often see quoted in articles. For some reason that wasn’t done for them.”
Omid believes the palace’s silence has done lasting damage. “Meghan now lives in the shadow of that tabloid-created persona for her,” he says.
“That ‘Duchess Difficult’ narrative fed off some awful sexist and racist tropes.”
Whilst there has been speculation that Harry and Meghan were “thrown under the bus”- used as a smokescreen to distract from other, more scandalous facets of the royal family (Prince Andrew and Epstein anyone?), there was another insidious factor at play: Meghan’s race.
“She is described as this woman that is too loud, too aggressive, too different- this is the language that the media uses to talk about women of colour, when they are trying to push a persona on them for whatever agenda that they have,” says Omid, who points out that these racial microaggressions may finally be realised in the wake of the BLM movement this summer; “Conversations about sexism and racism in the media, are so important, to be having right now, particularly in Britain.”
“They still wanted to represent the Queen.”
The overwhelming blame for the royal split is laid at Meghan’s feet. Yet this is another assessment of the situation that rankles Omid, who says people don’t realise how committed she was to the family.
“They still wanted to represent the queen- you see that even in their January statement,” he says, “They still wanted to continue the traditions of the royal family. I think for Megan especially, she was wedded to that when she married Harry. I think she would have known what she was marrying into, but there’s a difference between knowing and experiencing it.”
Whilst one of the quotes from Meghan in the book- that she “gave up everything” for the family – has proven a lightning rod for criticism, Omid thinks it perfectly sums up her predicament.
“If you strip away the material aspects, she did give up a lot because she was an outspoken woman. She had very strong opinions on American politics and she gave up her right to her US vote,” he says, “In the book we look at Meghan making a speech at her wedding. When she does it, her American friends all stand up and holler, because they just felt it had been so long since they heard their friend’s voice.”
“There’s a difference between the ‘family’ and the ‘institution.’”
“There were times in which Harry especially felt that there was a hate campaign against them, but not from within the family,” Omid says, “He’s very good at knowing that distinct line between his family and the institution.”
Whilst we struggle to separate the two, this is not just a family after all, but a working “Firm.” From a personal perspective, there was still a lot of good will for the pair. Harry maintained an excellent relationship with the Queen, Prince Charles was viewed as Meghan’s “second father” and Princess Eugenie was especially close to them, even holidaying with them (though she was none-too-pleased when they announced their pregnancy at her wedding, naturally).
“The Queen had a great amount of respect and she found her very exciting to have in the fold. And the same again with Charles, who was really sort of enamoured by her dynamism,” describes Omid, “But I think that support wasn’t universal across all of the royal households.”
The notable exception, of course, was the Cambridges. Omid believes that the true sticking point- from both family and “Firm”- was the erosion of the relationship between Harry and William.
“There’s this stereotype…that successful women in the same room together must cat fight, must be competitive, so we must pit them against each other and compare them in every way possible.”
Whilst it was the two brothers who fell out, it was their wives who paid the public penalty for it. The two were pitted against each other from the start- in everything from their make up to their fashion- and speculation was rife that the pair hated each other.
Omid’s book disproves the story that Meghan reduced Kate to tears at a bridesmaid’s dress fitting, and discredits the idea that the women hate each other, but his sources say the two women are not close.
“I think that connection with each other is very surface level. They may simply be two women that don’t necessarily have a lot in common, but they have a respect for each other,” he says, “Ultimately, part of why the relationship never got to grow was because the brothers had their own issues with each other.”
“We’ve seen women marry into this family and time and time again, they leave scarred. It’s almost an impossible process”
One of the biggest takeaways Omid has from his book is that a strong, outspoken woman will always struggle within the traditional confines of the royal family. “When a woman marries into the royal family,” he says, “Her wings are almost clipped.”
This was certainly the case for Meghan, a vocal feminist, who immediately struggled with the model of how a royal wife should behave – one that was naturally inhabited by her sister in law.
“In Meghan’s refusal to do certain things- like show Archie the day he was born- and in sharing her feminist views- that made Kate look incredibly old fashioned,” he says, “And I think there have been many times in which Megan’s progressiveness highlighted Kate’s almost sort of past-era persona that she has as the perfect Duchess of Cambridge.”
The direct comparison between them in this way, was another battering ram used against Meghan by the press, Omid believes.
“I think if Meghan had come in and was the subservient wife and did everything that she was supposed to, at all times and didn’t question anything, it may have been different. But Meghan just wasn’t ever going to fit that sort of cookie-cutter Duchess role.”
Omid goes so far as to say that the royal family has a problem with newcomers, particularly women. He cites Diana, Wallis Simpson, even Sarah Ferguson, as royal wives who have been destroyed in the process.
“We’ve seen women marry into this family and time and time again, they leave scars. It’s almost an impossible process,” he says, “If this was a business, I would really be talking to HR to make sure that my employees have the support they need so the same mistakes don’t keep happening.”
“Now we will see the Meghan that she was always capable of being.”
The title of the book- Finding Freedom- implies a huge sense of escape for the couple, that, in their royal lives- they were trapped and have now been liberated. So,now in LA, does Omid believe their wings have finally been unclipped?
“They were a couple that understood the popularity that they had on the global stage, which went beyond some of the usual areas that members of the royal family can usually reach. And that was very exciting,” Omid says, “They really tried to change some of the ways in which they work from within, but many of their requests fell on deaf ears. Now we see Meghan so actively talking about social issues in a way that perhaps you didn’t see her doing when she was part of the royal family. Now we will finally see the Meghan that she was always capable of being.”
Perhaps it was also the Meghan the royal family missed out on.
Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand is published by HQ, HarperCollins, out now in hardback, eBook and audiobook.