The Duke and Duchess of Sussex shared candid details of life in the British royal family and why they stepped away from their working roles in it during their sit-down with Oprah Winfrey Sunday night. There was talk of a lack of support from within the family, references to attacks from the tabloid press and revealing details about depression, and there were tears.
And while some viewers may have found the tell-all shocking, longtime royal watchers likely found it familiar.
That’s because it wasn’t the first interview to pull back the veil and to discuss what goes on in the House of Windsor. More than 25 years ago, Prince Harry’s mother, the late Princess Diana, opened up to reporter Martin Bashir for the BBC program “Panorama” and did the same.
And while Diana, unlike the former Meghan Markle, never had to contend with racism in the royal ranks, she opened up about some strikingly similar topics.
On their own
In her chat with Winfrey, the duchess explained that she didn’t know much about the royal family when she was growing up — not even about Diana’s memorable interview.
“It wasn't something that was part of conversation at home,” she said of her California upbringing. “It wasn't something that we followed. My mom even said to me a couple months ago, she said, ‘Did Diana ever do an interview?’ Now I can say, ‘Yes, a very famous one.’ But my mom doesn't even know that, right?”
That’s just how out of the royal loop her life was before marrying Prince Harry. And after marrying him, things didn’t become much clearer — at first.
“There was no guidance as well,” she said. “There were certain things that you couldn't do, but you know, unlike what you see in the movies, there's no class on how to speak, how to cross your legs, how to be royal.”
Nor was it offered to Diana.
“No one sat me down with a piece of paper and said, 'This is what is expected of you,’” she told Bashir in 1995.
A spotlight like no other
Like Meghan, Diana learned as she went along, and she did it under the watchful eye of the media.
“Here was a situation which hadn't ever happened before in history, in the sense that the media were everywhere, and here was a fairy story that everybody wanted to work,” Diana explained of the press’ initial interest in her.
But for her, the media attention went from covering a fairy-tale wedding to creating a real-life nightmare.
“It was isolating,” Diana recalled in that interview, later adding, “I was the one who was always pitched out front, whether it was my clothes, what I said, what my hair was doing, everything ..."
In the chat with Winfrey, Harry said the same relentless attention from the British press — including racist tabloid coverage — were “a large part” of his and Meghan's decision to leave royal life behind.
Before that departure, the couple tried to make things work. Meghan and Harry literally followed in his parents’ footsteps by kicking off their first overseas tour together in Australia. And like Diana before her, Meghan shined.
And like Diana before her, she seemed to suffer for it.
“I just wish that we would all learn from the past,” Harry told Winfrey. “To see how effortless it was for Meghan to come into the family. So quickly, in Australia, and across New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga, and just be able to connect with people in such a ...”
Winfrey broke in to ask why that wouldn’t be something everyone would love, but Harry didn’t have a clear answer for that. He simply called Meghan “one of the greatest assets to the Commonwealth that the family could have ever wished for.” Winfrey had asked if there were hints of jealousy.
Diana assured Bashir that’s exactly what she faced after her successful Australian tour.
“With the media attention came a lot of jealousy,” she said. “A great deal of complicated situations arose because of that.”
She said, “I don't think many people will want me to be queen. Actually, when I say many people, I mean the establishment that I married into, because they have decided that I'm a non-starter.”
Depression and desperation
Diana also opened up about suffering from intense depression after giving birth to her first son, Prince William, seeking help and even turning to self-harm.
“When no one listens to you, or you feel no one's listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen,” the then-34-year-old explained. “For instance, you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it's the wrong help you're asking for. People see it as crying wolf or attention seeking.”
There’s no doubt that the Duchess of Sussex can understand how her mother-in-law must have felt. As she told Winfrey, the strain of royal life brought her to thoughts of suicide, and she, too, struggled to get assistance.
“I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help,” Meghan recalled. “So that I've never felt this way before, and I need to go somewhere. And I was told that I couldn't, that it wouldn't be good for the institution.”
In the end, she said that she turned to “one of Diana's best friends, because it's like who else could understand what it's actually like on the inside?”
History repeating itself
At points the interviews sound so much alike that it almost seems like royal do-over — and for Harry, who lost his mother in a fatal crash as she fled from paparazzi just two years after her tell-all with Bashir, that’s been his biggest fear.
“I've said that before, on numerous occasions very publicly,” he said. “What I was seeing was history repeating itself.”