Feature writing


If Meghan Markle and Prince Harry didn’t dish in ‘Finding Freedom,’ who did?

The Daily Beast

October 31, 2020

Meghan Markle’s tabloid court case is delayed until later next year. When it is heard, the mystery of who so fully briefed the authors of “Finding Freedom” may finally be solved.

Meghan Markle has won a small victory in her ongoing battle against Associated Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, and MailOnline. A U.K. High Court judge yesterday agreed to Meghan’s request that the trial be delayed from Jan. 2021 to sometime next autumn on “a confidential ground.” So, instead of the blockbuster London legal battle beginning on Jan. 11, the case will begin around a year from now.

As The Daily Beast has previously reported, Meghan and Harry are bringing the case against Associated over “misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018,” dating to early 2019 when the Mail on Sunday published extracts of a letter Meghan sent her father, Thomas Markle, claiming he was breaking her heart “into a million pieces” by speaking to the press.

The Mail on Sunday’s case is that Meghan abdicated her right to privacy by briefing friends on the letter, who then gave an interview to People magazine publicizing its content. Meghan claimed she had no idea her friends had done so.

Meghan is expected to take the stand to be questioned about not only this, but the sourcing of the incredibly intimate details contained in Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family, the recent revelatory and dish-filled book detailing the couple’s many grievances and private feelings surrounding their departure from royal life.

The judge in the Associated case has deemed the book admissible as evidence. Now Meghan and Harry have some time to figure out how to explain how the book’s authors, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, got so much of the detail in the book so right, without their cooperation.

Harry and Meghan are quick to say whenever they feel their privacy has been invaded by the media. Finding Freedom, a biography that is incredibly sympathetic to the couple—painting the other royals (including William and Kate) as brutal, cold, and uncaring—is so intimate and invasive it reports speech as spoken and feelings as felt in the immediate moment in multiple situations.

But it has attracted not a word of criticism from the couple. There have been no legal threats, yet Finding Freedom arguably invades their privacy much more than any newspaper article.

A spokesperson for Harry and Meghan has claimed, “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were not interviewed and did not contribute to Finding Freedom. This book is based on the authors’ own experiences as members of the royal press corps and their own independent reporting.”

This carefully worded statement does not answer the central question of how Scobie and Durand got the granular detail of words and situations so spot-on if they were not briefed by Harry and Meghan, well-informed friends, or highly eloquent pieces of lint on their clothing.

Associated’s lawyers are clearly pondering the same mystery; just how will Meghan and Harry explain away not just the exactness of the detail and words, but also their apparent ease with the invasion of their privacy the book represents. This ease seems highly selective in light of their fury at other perceived media intrusions.

For example, the book includes Meghan reportedly tearfully telling a friend about royal life: “I gave up my entire life for this family. I was willing to do whatever it takes. But here we are. It’s very sad… The powers [of the institution] are unfortunately greater than me.”

Harry, we learn, felt “unprotected” by his family, and “as though he and Meghan had long been sidelined by the institution and were not a fundamental part of its future.” Harry feels “that there were so many occasions when the institution and his family could have helped them, stood up for them, backed them up, and never did.” Harry likened the negotiations around his and Meghan’s royal exit to “standing in front of a firing squad.”

A source close to Harry and Meghan told the authors how Harry and Meghan had felt about William and Kate cold-shouldering them in Westminster Abbey at the Sussexes’ final royal engagement, “It should have been the one public moment where the royal family put their arms around the couple for a show of support. They purposefully chose not to put them in the procession and not to be welcoming. It was most unpleasant.”

In some of the dramatic moments of the book, the authors seem to be in the room with Harry and Meghan, such as when it details the chaos around Thomas Markle’s non-attendance at his daughter’s wedding, his heart attack, and collaboration with paparazzi,

“I really believe that he’s the victim, and now I feel sad because he’s been fully corrupted,” Meghan told a friend over his relationship with the media.

Scobie and Durand, in exacting detail, chart what happened after Thomas helped stage photographs in the Mexican town of Rosarito Beach where he lived—and the frenzied phone calls, messages, and texts that followed between father and daughter as Meghan and the Palace realized the pictures were staged.

Meghan sent her father one last text message the night before her wedding to Harry. It never received a response. She reportedly told a friend, “I can’t sit up all night just pressing send.”

The pap-style shots—of Thomas in a coffee shop reading a British history book, for example—had been the idea of photographer Jeff Rayner. Thomas took a 30 percent cut of their sale. But Meghan wanted to believe that her father was a victim of tabloid harassment.

“Dad, we need to know if this is true or not, because my team is going to try to stop this story running—if you are telling me it’s fake,” Meghan allegedly said to her father over the phone. “If they do that, they’re going out of their way to protect you. Dad, you’re telling me you’re being victimized, right?”

How did Scobie and Durand get the words said over the phone between daughter and father so precise?

“Every single time she was calling him, she was like, ‘Dad, I love you. I just want you to know I love you. Everything is fine. Just get here. We’ll have the wedding. We’ll celebrate. Don’t worry about any of this stuff. Let’s just put it behind us,’” a confidant told the authors. Meghan “wanted to believe the best.”

Scobie and Durand cite verbatim texts Meghan allegedly sent her father: “I’ve been reaching out to you all weekend but you’re not taking any of our calls or replying to any texts… Very concerned about your health and safety and have taken every measure to protect you but not sure what more we can do if you don’t respond… Do you need help? Can we send the security team down again? I’m very sorry to hear you’re in the hospital but need you to please get in touch… What hospital are you at?”

The word-for-word texts, as yet undisputed by Harry and Meghan continue: “Harry and I made a decision earlier today and are dispatching the same security guys you turned away this weekend to be a presence on the ground to make sure you’re safe… they will be there at your disposal as soon as you need them. Please call as soon as you can… all of this is incredibly concerning but your health is most important.”

The book does not interrogate Harry and Meghan’s apparent ease with some aspects of their privacy being invaded, and why that would be. Could it be that Harry and Meghan do not object if the invasive coverage is sympathetic, or do they know such coverage is coming and what it will contain? They do not stop themselves when discussing their own sense of woundedness in public. They are highly vocal about how they are feeling in settings they have chosen, but become furious if journalists report on them in ways they do not like.

“There is a sort of aggressive intrusiveness and a reckless, irresponsible almost hostility to the media’s actions that’s deeply harmful,” one source told Scobie and Durand, adding, “The sort of ruthless malevolence of some sections of the media, and it is malevolent, is genuinely bad.”

“What they’ve done to her father, drawn him out from his private life and forced him out into the open, and then waving checks at him, it’s just absolutely terrible. He wanted to live privately. He would have continued to live privately. He would have been at the wedding if the media had left him alone as they were asked to.”

The puzzle is why, given that they hate this kind of media over-reach, have Harry and Meghan not yet complained about Scobie and Durand’s book, and what it sketches in such candid depth, including about the feud between Harry and William, and strained relations between Kate and Meghan?

We learn in Finding Freedom, “Flowers for her birthday were nice, but Meghan would far rather have had Kate check in on her during the most difficult times with the press.” The two duchesses may not have been “the best of friends” but were “not at war with each other either,” the authors write. “Meghan was disappointed that she and Kate hadn’t bonded over the unique position they shared, but she wasn’t losing sleep over it.”

“Don’t feel you need to rush this,” William told Harry, according to unnamed sources. “Take as much time as you need to get to know this girl.” (Where did these words come from, if not Harry or William?) One friend said, “Harry could see through William’s words. He was being a snob.”

Harry was also “incandescent with rage” when he realized the amount of racism leveled at Meghan and cut off friends who disparaged her. “Is this about race? Is it snobbery?” Harry would ask himself of those who questioned their relationship.

The most intimate level of detail in the book comes when discussing Harry and Meghan’s first dates, mapped in exacting, quote-perfect detail. Again, there have been no complaints from Harry and Meghan about the revelation of these intimate details. Who supplied this information to the authors?

Harry, we learn, said of their first meeting, “I am really going to have to up my game here. Sit down and make sure I’ve got a good chat!” He had a beer, she had a martini, and they connected on “passions for wanting to make change for good,” as he put it.

Another date followed the next night, with “electric chemistry.” “Harry knew they would be together at that point,” a friend said. “She was ticking every box fast.”

A third date was spent at Kensington Palace, and then six weeks later the pair flew to Botswana, at one stage using a private jet, later to become a controversial topic because of their professed environmentalism.

A “friend” said, “She came back smiling and just completely spellbound.” Meghan said she had spoken to Harry “about things she rarely shared with anyone.” “I’ve never felt that safe, that close to someone in such a short amount of time,” she told, again, a “friend.”

This all makes for salacious, popcorn-chomping reading, but in a courtroom context, it raises a set of testing questions for Harry and Meghan. Associated Newspapers’ lawyers will aim to establish the information is too close to have come from anyone but Harry and Meghan themselves, and/or people appointed, and briefed, to speak on their behalf.

The key to Meghan’s court case may not be in her letter to her father, but in uncovering the truth about how certain journalists seem so well-briefed when it comes to her and Harry’s most private actions and innermost feelings. The case will now not only focus on alleged invasions of Harry and Meghan’s privacy, but if any invasions of that privacy—subsequently routed to the public realm, particularly in Finding Freedom—came from them, or those associated with them.

Harry said, “I love you” first to Meghan. “Meghan immediately replied, ‘I love you, too,’” Finding Freedom reveals—perhaps, as the court case might ultimately reveal, a little too knowledgeably.