GYLES BRANDRETH considers The Queen's REAL views on Meghan

‘Is Harry perhaps a little over-in-love?’ Royal confidant GYLES BRANDRETH considers The Queen’s REAL views on Meghan, as he reveals Her Majesty just wanted her grandson to ‘find his feet’ and branded the notorious Oprah interview ‘television nonsense’

  • The Queen was more concerned about Harry’s well-being than ‘television’ 
  • Prince Phillip thought Meghan and Harry’s Oprah interview was ‘madness’  
  • The Queen told Meghan she could continue with her acting career if she liked
  •  Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait by Gyles Brandreth to be published in December 

Whenever the names of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex come up in court circles, courtiers flinch and change the subject or refer to them as ‘persons who live overseas’.

If Harry and Meghan are mentioned to members of the Royal Family, they simply smile briefly and say ‘We wish them all the best’ and nothing else.

As I write this, members of the new King’s communications team are bracing themselves for what may come when Prince Harry publishes his much-talked-about memoir – the ‘accurate and wholly truthful’ account of his life – in January.

‘I’m writing this not as the Prince I was born, but as the man I have become,’ said Harry when the book was initially announced. In fact, of course, he was not writing it at all: he was telling his story to a ghost-writer.

Harry’s tell-all memoir, for which he received an advance of $20 million (£16.53 million), was originally promised for the autumn of 2022. It seems he’d been informed his grandmother was quite poorly and decided to pause publication in consequence. Was he worried about adding stress, worry and disappointment to her final months? Possibly.

GYLES BRANDRETH: If Harry and Meghan are mentioned to members of the Royal Family, they simply smile briefly and say ‘We wish them all the best’ and nothing else. Pictured: The Queen and Meghan at a ceremony to open the new Mersey Gateway Bridge in June 2018

There is no evidence, however, that the Queen was distressed by her grandson’s decision to go ahead with the book in the first place. She ‘understood’ Harry’s desire to write his book, not only for the money but because he wanted to tell his story – to speak his truth, as Meghan might put it.

He wouldn’t have been the first member of the Royal Family to do so: the Queen remembered ‘the fuss there was’ in 1951 when her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, published his own ghost-written volume of memoirs, A King’s Story. He too had wanted to tell his truth, and he needed the money. The memoir itself has long since been forgotten.

Although the Queen had never read any of the books about the Royal Family, her attitude to them had changed over the years.

In 1950, when Marion Crawford published an innocuous memoir about her years in the Royal household as governess to the then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, the Royal Family was utterly appalled.

But by the time ‘Crawfie’ died, aged 78 in 1988, Elizabeth II had forgiven her, though I am not sure Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, ever could.

GYLES BRANDERTH: I can tell you, because I know this, that the Queen was always more concerned for Harry’s well-being than about ‘this television nonsense’. Pictured: Harry and Meghan during their interview with Oprah Winfrey

More recently, the Queen’s dresser Angela Kelly published two books – Dressing The Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe and The Other Side Of The Coin: The Queen, The Dresser And The Wardrobe. And she did so with her Royal boss’s full blessing and approval.

As time went by, the Queen was increasingly able to take the long view. She had lived so long that she did sometimes feel that she had ‘seen it all before’.

For example, when the Duke of York (who did himself no favours with his self-justifying interview for Newsnight in 2019) was harrumphing about Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey on American television in 2020, the Queen chipped in gently: ‘Didn’t Sarah do something similar?’

She did. In 2011, the Oprah Winfrey Network in the US aired Finding Sarah, a six-part TV series in which the former Duchess of York shared her tears and her heartache with a TV psychiatrist and the viewing millions.

It was by no means Sarah’s first transgression – those infamous photos of her having her toes sucked by her financial adviser come to mind. Yet the Queen continued to go out of her way to stay in touch with Sarah, even though Prince Philip found his former daughter-in-law ‘beyond the pale’.

The Queen’s greatest quality, her husband told me once, was tolerance. ‘She is infinitely tolerant,’ the Duke of Edinburgh said, ‘and forgiving.’

Famously, in 2012, in a historic encounter at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, the Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness, formerly an Irish Republican Army commander, despite having lost a close relative, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, to an IRA bomb in 1979.

There is no evidence, however, that the Queen was distressed by her grandson’s decision to go ahead with the book in the first place. She ‘understood’ Harry’s desire to write his book, not only for the money but because he wanted to tell his story – to speak his truth, as Meghan might put it. Pictured: The Queen and Harry at Chelsea Flower Show in 2015

Although she remained instinctively conservative, she was always tolerant of the traditions and beliefs of others and became increasingly accepting of the changing mores she saw around her. In the 1980s, she’d encouraged her then footman Paul Burrell to marry, and offered him and his wife a honeymoon at Balmoral.

The marriage later collapsed, and in 2017 Burrell married his new partner, Graham Cooper.

Discreetly, a few months after the marriage, a wedding present arrived from Her Majesty. ‘The Queen has always been incredibly broad-minded and accepting and generous,’ said Paul.

The Queen believed, too, in the reality of redemption. She looked for the good in people, not the bad.

So what does all this have to do with Harry and his wife, Meghan?

I can tell you, because I know this, that the Queen was always more concerned for Harry’s well-being than about ‘this television nonsense’, meaning both the Oprah Winfrey interview – which caused so much controversy – and the lucrative deal the Sussexes made with Netflix.

She agreed with the Pope … gossip is for the devil 

In 2022, when she heard that Harry and Meghan would not be attending the memorial service for the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen reportedly said: ‘Thank goodness.’

What did she mean? Thank goodness they’re not coming? Or thank goodness, because they’re not coming the press coverage won’t be all about them? I suspect the latter, but I don’t know. I do know that in 2020, when she read that Pope Francis had used his Sunday morning homily to urge the faithful to steer clear of gossip, calling it ‘the devil’s work and more deadly than the coronavirus’, she heartily agreed.

Tentatively, I once raised all this with the Duke of Edinburgh. I suggested to him that he and the Queen were both ’emotionally self-sufficient’. He agreed, but added: ‘Being emotionally self-sufficient does not make one unfeeling.’

Again, her view differed from that of Prince Philip. I know from someone close to him that he thought Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah was ‘madness’ and ‘no good would come of it’.

I also know that the Queen liked Meghan’s mother, and was sorry the Markle family was ‘fractured’. And I know she was anxious that Harry should ‘find his feet’ in California and ‘find really useful things to do’.

The Queen was devoted to Harry. She loved him, she thought him ‘huge fun’, and she truly wished him well in his new life abroad.

Whenever Harry called his grandmother from Montecito, he was always put through to Her Majesty immediately.

The truth is that when her grandson told her he was marrying Meghan Markle, she was truly delighted by the prospect. She liked Meghan and told lots of people so. And she did everything she could to make her future granddaughter-in-law feel welcome.

She was concerned for her future happiness. At their first meeting, the Queen said to Meghan: ‘You can carry on being an actress if you like – that’s your profession, after all.’

She would have been totally understanding if Meghan had decided to continue her career. But the former Suits actress was ready for Royal duty and, of course, the Queen was delighted by that. She was particularly delighted by the enthusiasm Meghan showed for the Commonwealth and by the commitment she made to do ‘whatever you think we should be doing for the Commonwealth’.

Indeed, Meghan promised that when it came to the Commonwealth, she wouldn’t let Her Majesty down. The Queen (who, of course, had seen it all before) understood that Harry’s girl might find adjusting to Royal life ‘challenging to begin with’ (as she put it). ‘It is very jolty, but you soon get used to it’ – that was Her Majesty’s experience going back many years.

To help Meghan, the Queen suggested that her daughter-in-law, Sophie Wessex, would be an ideal mentor. ‘Sophie can help show you the ropes,’ said the Queen.

Meghan made it clear that she did not feel she needed Sophie’s help. She had Harry. The Queen was a little concerned at that, and concerned, too, when word reached her that Meghan was reportedly occasionally a bit ‘high-handed’ with staff. The Queen put it down to pre-wedding nerves.

Harry and Meghan’s wedding in 2018 was warmly welcomed by all and sundry. No great play was made of it, but it was generally reckoned ‘a good thing’ having a mixed-race person joining the Royal Family.

GYLES BRANDRETH: Meghan made it clear that she did not feel she needed Sophie’s help. She had Harry. The Queen was a little concerned at that, and concerned, too, when word reached her that Meghan was reportedly occasionally a bit ‘high-handed’ with staff. The Queen put it down to pre-wedding nerves. Pictured: The Queen, Meghan and Harry in 2018

Harry’s father expressed his genuine delight; Harry expressed his dewy-eyed devotion; Meghan announced she would retire from acting and become a British citizen (this may not happen, since you need to be resident in the United Kingdom for three consecutive years before you can apply for citizenship as a spouse).

Less than a month after the wedding, the Queen took Meghan on her first solo outing – to my old constituency, the City of Chester. The date marked the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Queen wore a green outfit in memory of the victims of the fire.

Meghan (in cream-coloured Givenchy) looked beautiful – and did her bit, effortlessly and well, to the manner born. She kept a step behind the Queen without fail, she smiled, she chatted, she coped with her hair in the blustery weather, she admitted she had never been to the North of England before but was ‘loving it already’.

‘Top marks,’ said the Queen, who had chosen this particular day for her new granddaughter-in-law’s induction to Royal duty, in part because it was ‘a fairly typical day’, but mainly because the programme included a visit to a theatre – ‘and she is an actress after all’.

The courtiers accompanying the Royal party that day included Samantha Cohen, former assistant private secretary to the Queen, who had been persuaded to stay on in Royal service to help Meghan as she began her new life as a member of the Family Firm.

Unhappily, as we know, it did not work out. During their short time as working members of the Royal Family, quite a number of staff left the Sussexes’ service, including Cohen and another private secretary, two personal assistants and two nannies. Cohen, after she had left, reportedly said it had been like ‘working for a couple of teenagers’. Others called Meghan ‘an outrageous bully’ and ‘a narcissistic sociopath’. Meghan’s solicitor denied the allegations, saying they were part of a ‘calculated smear campaign’.

The only concern the Queen let slip in the early days of the Sussexes’ marriage was to wonder to a friend if Harry wasn’t ‘perhaps a little over-in-love’. This was as far as she came – to my knowledge at least – to ever uttering a word against the new Duchess of Sussex.

On June 4, 2021, at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in California, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, gave birth to her second child and first daughter and she and her husband, Harry, Duke of Sussex, decided to call their newborn Lilibet Diana – in honour of the Queen, Harry’s grandmother, and his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

GYLES BRANDRETH: According to the Queen, Harry told her the Sussexes wanted to call the baby ‘Lilibet’ in her honour and she accepted their choice with good grace, taking it as the compliment it was intended to be

Lilibet had been King George V’s pet name for his favourite grandchild, based on the way Princess Elizabeth pronounced her name when she first began to talk. It was a very personal nickname: only a tiny handful of people outside the Queen’s immediate family called her Lilibet throughout her life.

According to the Sussexes, Harry sought his grandmother’s permission to use her family nickname as the Christian name for her 11th great-grandchild. The Queen’s recollection was a little different.

According to the Queen, Harry told her the Sussexes wanted to call the baby ‘Lilibet’ in her honour and she accepted their choice with good grace, taking it as the compliment it was intended to be. Others in the family found the choice ‘bewildering’ and ‘rather presumptuous’, given that ‘Lilibet’ as a name had always been intimately and exclusively the Queen’s.

Later, the Queen said: ‘I hear they’re calling her ‘Lili’, which is very pretty and seems just right.’

Now that the Queen is dead, Lili Mountbatten-Windsor is seventh in the line of succession to the British throne – one behind her brother, Archie, and one ahead of her great-uncle, Prince Andrew.

As a male-line great-grandchild of a monarch, she was not a princess during Elizabeth II’s lifetime, but, technically, under letters patent issued by George V in 1917, she could be entitled to become a princess now that her grandfather Charles is King.

This is not a likely prospect, however, given that Lili is being brought up in America and the Sussexes have withdrawn from official Royal life in the United Kingdom.

The Queen took firm action in January 2020 when Harry and Meghan announced their desire to ‘step back’ from their lives as ‘senior Royals’.

They planned to divide their time between the United Kingdom and North America; they wanted financial independence; they hoped to be able to continue to serve Queen and Commonwealth, but on their own terms. It was a naive hope and not to be. The Queen convened a family meeting at Sandringham – attended by Charles, William and Harry – and a way forward was agreed.

Harry and Meghan could do as they pleased, but they could not represent the Queen while doing so. Their HRH titles would be put in abeyance and Harry, to his dismay, was required to give up his Royal patronages and military appointments. Harry was distressed, as he put it, ‘that it should come to this’. So was his grandmother.

In a personal statement, she made it clear that Harry and Meghan would always be close members of her family, and she went out of her way to praise her American granddaughter-in-law. But she was equally clear that she wasn’t going to have a couple of freelance Royals roaming the world doing their own thing in any sense in her name.

The Duke of Edinburgh was not pleased: he did not believe Harry and Meghan were doing the right thing, either for the country or for themselves. ‘It’s a big mistake to think about yourself,’ he told me, more than once. ‘No one is interested in you in the long run. Don’t court popularity. It doesn’t last. Remember that the attention comes because of the position you are privileged to hold, not because of who you are. If you think it’s all about you, you’ll never be happy.’

Although Prince Philip regretted Harry’s decision, he did not get involved in its aftermath. On the day the Queen held her Sandringham ‘summit’, he made himself scarce, deliberately leaving the main house at Sandringham and retreating to Wood Farm.

‘I’ll soon be out of it,’ he said, ‘and not before time.’

George Harewood, the grandson of Queen Mary and King George V, remembered a family where emotional inhibition was the order of the day. ‘We did not talk of love and affection and what we meant to each other,’ he said, ‘but rather of duty and behaviour and what we ought to do.’

That was the Windsor way – and the world Elizabeth II was born into, a million miles from the world of Meghan Markle who, famously, said of her relationship with Prince Harry ‘We’ve just focused on who we are as a couple’, and ‘This is for us. It’s part of what makes it so special, that it’s just ours.’

There was a streak of hysteria in Diana, Princess of Wales: you sensed it even with a brief acquaintance. Some see a streak of narcissism in Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. The Queen was not like that.

The Queen was as sane and sensible as they come. She kept her feet on the ground. (Actually, spending time with her, I noticed she stood for long periods, feet slightly apart, moving her weight regularly from one foot to the other.)

She was rarely flustered: however hectic the schedule, however many stops on the tour, her own steady pace did not vary. ‘Steady as she goes’ was her way – but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Now and again, she did hit choppy waters.

How E.T. puzzled HM 

The Queen was delighted when Zara and Mike Tindall named their middle child Lena Elizabeth. She was, however, confused when told the name was pronounced ‘Lay-na’.

‘It is short for Elena,’ explained Zara.

‘What’s wrong with Elena?’ asked the Queen. ‘Elena’s a lovely name.’

‘Her initials would then have been E.T.,’ said Zara.

‘I’m afraid you’ve lost me there,’ said the Queen.

But if you asked her ‘How are you?’, she would invariably reply: ‘Very well, thank you.’ She would never say, as Meghan famously did: ‘Thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I’m OK.’

Unlike Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, she did not avoid unpleasantness by putting her head in the sand, but nor was she an interfering busybody.

Time heals so much and ‘least said soonest mended’ is a policy that often pays dividends. The Queen believed in prayer and patience and hoping for the best.

Sometimes she admitted to being tired at the end of a long day, but Elizabeth II never complained – ever – of doing her Royal duty.

‘I can’t believe I’m not getting paid for this,’ Meghan is reported to have said, in an aside, while meeting Australians on her first Royal tour. That was not something the Queen would ever have said – or thought.

Nor, according to the Duke of Edinburgh, did she ever cry. Some thought they detected tears when the Royal Yacht, launched by the Queen in 1953, was taken out of service in 1997. ‘It was the middle of December,’ snorted Prince Philip. ‘It was bloody cold. We all had tears in our eyes.’

Crying in public is not the Windsor way. The only person seen to conspicuously shed a tear on the day of the Queen’s funeral was Meghan.

To the Queen, the parallels between Harry’s marriage to Meghan and that of her uncle David, the name she used for Edward VIII, to Wallis Simpson, would have been obvious.

The Prince of Wales (who became Edward VIII) and the Duke of York (who became George VI) were brothers, born only a year or so apart in the mid-1890s, and very close when they were young. The present Prince of Wales (William) and the Duke of Sussex (Harry), are brothers, too, born only a year or two apart in the early 1980s, and they, also, were very close when they were young.

With each set of brothers, the arrival of a 35-year-old American divorcee changed the dynamic of their relationship and ruined everything. And, like the Duke of Windsor, Harry opted for a life in exile. In 1956, the Duchess of Windsor published her own book – The Heart Has Its Reasons – just as surely as Meghan will one day publish hers, possibly with a not dissimilar title.

That same year, the Windsors even gave a no-holds-barred television interview to the Oprah Winfrey of the day, Edward R. Murrow, appearing on the legendary broadcaster’s Person To Person chat show.

Four years earlier, the Duke had returned to England for the funeral of the late King, his younger brother, and reported to his wife that, superficially, he was handled impeccably by courtiers and relations alike – ‘But gee,’ he added, ‘the crust is hard & only granite below.’

Is that how Meghan feels? We may know one day when she ‘speaks her truth’ in full.

The Duke of Windsor returned to England again in 1953 to attend his mother, Queen Mary’s funeral, but was not invited to the family dinner at Windsor Castle that followed. He wrote to his wife: ‘What a smug, stinking lot my relations are and you’ve never seen such a seedy worn-out bunch of old hags most of them have become.’

Whether Harry when talking privately to Meghan has ever been as vitriolic about his family as the Queen’s Uncle David was when writing privately to Wallis, we shall never know. Or perhaps we shall.

Seventy years on, Harry chose not to attend the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service at Westminster Abbey. And when he and Meghan came over from California for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022, they were welcomed at some, but by no means all, the family gatherings.

‘Family rifts are always sad,’ the Queen once said to her cousin Margaret Rhodes.

In later life, the Queen came to regret not having been closer to her uncle David. Had she lived on for a few more years, she would almost certainly have continued to provide loving support to Harry and his wife.

Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait by Gyles Brandreth will be published on December 8

Would that have made a difference? Shortly before Elizabeth II’s death, Meghan let slip in an interview that she was not obliged to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) when she and Harry stepped down from their Royal duties in 2020.

She also revealed that when she returned to their home at Frogmore Cottage in Windsor for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, she’d found a journal that she had kept during her days as an active member of the Family Firm.

This sorry Sussex saga will run and run, just as the earlier sorry saga of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor did from the time of the Abdication in 1936 until their dying days.

When we get to the Coronation of Charles III, the issue of ‘Harry and Meghan’ – where they are seated, what uniform (if any) he will be allowed to wear, what her body language is telling us, etc, etc – will be unavoidable.

And, from the new King’s point of view, deeply regrettable. 

  • Extracted from Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait, by Gyles Brandreth, to be published by Michael Joseph on December 8 at £25. To order a copy for £20, go to or call 020 3176 2937 before December 10. UK p&p is free on orders over £20. © Gyles Brandreth 2022

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