The Duchess of Sussex is in mourning. But we’ll get back to that. First, let’s go to the day we met, this past summer, at the venerated San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, Calif. The ranch is a low-key old luxury resort with simple bungalows tucked into a mountainside overlooking the Pacific coast. It’s the kind of unpretentious but protected place wealthy locals and L.A. transplants come to be treated like royalty. On one witheringly hot day in late August, however, they got to mingle with the real thing.
That morning, the Duchess of Sussex, known more commonly by her maiden name, Meghan Markle, sped past a group of 60-something women who’d made the trek to Montecito to celebrate a milestone birthday. Teetering on the dusty cobblestone walkway in their wedges and kitten heels, the group stopped dead as Meghan waved and smiled from a golf cart delivering her to her Variety cover shoot. “Can you imagine?” said one of the women wistfully after the duchess had passed, perhaps talking about the life she has led thus far — an American woman meeting and marrying a handsome young prince beloved by all the world — or maybe, as we were there to discuss, the life she’s leading now.
It actually is hard to imagine. For most of her public life as the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan has been described as many things: disingenuous, calculating, determined, relatable, even Diana-like. But spend a day with her, and you’ll witness a side that the public hasn’t seen: the nerdy American mom. Meghan talks about how she loves to watch “Jeopardy!” and do Wordle in bed with a glass of wine. She absentmindedly raps her son’s favorite song (a track about the Tyrannosaurus rex from “Ask the StoryBots”) and talks enthusiastically about Beyoncé (specifically, how “Cozy” is her favorite song from the new album).
And what about all the photos you’ve seen of her with that guarded smile? At the shoot, she couldn’t have been more at ease as she shook the hand of every crew member, stylist and photographer’s assistant. She shrugged off the pop singers of contemporary radio in favor of her own “1970s road trip playlist.” She addressed questions about the past few years head-on. She burst out laughing at the drop of a hat, almost like a princess in a Hollywood movie. When asked what she wanted most out of life, she said, “Joy. That’s really it. It’s everything that we can work toward for ourselves, our friends, our kids, those around us — that would feel so good. And we do feel joyful.”
Meghan was set to be honored in the 2022 class of Variety’s Power of Women, celebrating notable achievements in entertainment and media by women throughout the year. She was to be feted for both philanthropic and creative work — including a podcast called “Archetypes,” of which she is the host — routed through Archewell, the company she shares with her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex.
Nearly three weeks before press time, though — eight days after she stopped the birthday revelers in their tracks at the San Ysidro Ranch — the prince’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, died at her Scottish estate Balmoral. The world watched and mourned as the longest-reigning monarch in British history was laid to rest and celebrated for what Meghan says was the “shining example” of female leadership.
Following the official period of mourning, Meghan agrees to sit again for a lengthy discussion about her road to the present. She worries that any comments about the queen or her in-laws will be “a distraction” from continued mourning, but presses on to celebrate the icon. She grows animated talking about the warmth and support she received from the thousands of citizens she interacted with during her time in the U.K., not to mention the two significant content deals she and Prince Harry struck with streaming giants Netflix and Spotify; the two young children — Archie Harrison, 3, and Lilibet Diana, 1 — at the center of the Sussex household; the singular mission behind Archewell; and how tenaciously she has fought to build the life and company of her dreams.
The world has been mourning the loss of Queen Elizabeth. How has this time been?
There’s been such an outpouring of love and support. I’m really grateful that I was able to be with my husband to support him, especially during that time. What’s so beautiful is to look at the legacy that his grandmother was able to leave on so many fronts. Certainly, in terms of female leadership, she is the most shining example of what that looks like. I feel deep gratitude to have been able to spend time with her and get to know her. It’s been a complicated time, but my husband, ever the optimist, said, “Now she’s reunited with her husband.”
Has anything come up for you in your relationship with the queen since her passing?
I’ve reflected on that first official engagement that I had with her, how special that felt. I feel fortunate. And I continue to be proud to have had a nice warmth with the matriarch of the family.
How have you processed this loss as a family?
In big moments in life, you get a lot of perspective. It makes you wonder what you want to focus your energy on. Right now, we feel energized and excited about all of the things we’ve been building toward. We’re also focused on our foundation. So much of the work we do includes the philanthropic space.
You’ve done two major interviews since returning to America — one with Oprah Winfrey and the other with New York Magazine, which some found to be snarky. What has it been like to open up about your life now?
The [New York] story was intended to support “Archetypes” and focus on our projects. I’ve had some time to reflect on it. Part of me is just really trusting, really open — that’s how I move in the world. I have to remember that I don’t ever want to become so jaded that that piece of me goes away. So despite any of those things? Onward. I can survive it.
Part of what I’m doing with “Archetypes” is looking at the nuances around the women who come on the show. I’m not a journalist, but I want a candid, real conversation with them. I’m talking to some really textured, colorful, layered, dynamic women with strong histories. And that comes with a lot of pieces you can choose to include or not; I choose to include something that I feel is fair to them and also uplifting. And something we can all learn from.
Even before the interview, I hadn’t been out because I was so pregnant. The one thing I really remember was Gloria Steinem’s birthday, a few days after it aired. I really wanted to celebrate her at what I thought was just going to be a small and intimate birthday lunch. I envisioned it being us eating sandwiches in this cottage she was staying at. Instead, it was an extravaganza — by the way, as she deserves. But I hadn’t really seen people in a long time, and the interview had come out maybe a week before. Walking into a room alone is never easy for me, and I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable. But before I could let my uncertainty linger, Pamela Adlon came up to me and greeted me with such warmth and kindness. She toured me around the room, and at every turn, more generosity and love was felt. Maybe it’s just a testament to the kind of company Glo keeps, but I also think these women were extraordinary to ensure I felt so welcomed. It’s like they knew exactly what I needed to feel in that moment. It meant, and still means, so very much to me. The power of sisterhood and female support can never be underestimated.
What can we expect from Liz Garbus’ docuseries on you and your husband?
It’s nice to be able to trust someone with our story — a seasoned director whose work I’ve long admired — even if it means it may not be the way we would have told it. But that’s not why we’re telling it. We’re trusting our story to someone else, and that means it will go through their lens.
It’s interesting. My husband has never worked in this industry before. For me, having worked on “Suits,” it’s so amazing to be around so much creative energy and to see how people work together and share their own points of view. That’s been really fun.
You’re in the midst of a successful first season of “Archetypes.” The show breaks down harmful labels put on women. What are the biggest misconceptions about you?
I think that what happens, looking in from the outside, when there is this much noise, is that you become dehumanized. But if you remember that someone is a human being, then you don’t treat them, talk about them, look at them the same way. My hope for “Archetypes” is that people come out thinking, “Oh! She’s a real person! She laughs and asks questions and approaches things with curiosity.”
Who has been the most challenging interview so far?
I spoke to Paris Hilton last week. I told her at the beginning that I was the most nervous about her interview. I was embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve had a judgment about her that’s based on everything I’ve seen, and I don’t like to come from a place of judgment. But I also didn’t grow up pretty.