Jane Goodall Sets the Record Straight on Her Friendship with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

The beloved conservationist opens up about her relationship with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in this week's issue of PEOPLE

Prince Harry
Prince Harry and Dr. Jane Goodall. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/Shutterstock

Don’t believe everything you read about Dr. Jane Goodall's relationship with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the famed conservationist tells PEOPLE.

"There's all this stuff in the press about being best friends, which is absolutely stupid," Goodall, 86, tells PEOPLE.

"We're not best friends," she says. "I've only met them three times. It's so silly."

The straight-talking Goodall is also frank about her thoughts on being installed in 2004 as a Dame of the British Empire.

"To me, a Dame is a man dressed up as a woman in a pantomime," says the world’s foremost expert on the emotions and social interactions of wild chimpanzees. "It's a stupid thing. Men get the honor of being knighted. That's lovely. But being made a Dame…"

If she ever were to become knighted? "That would be good," she says with a smile. "A knight-ess..."

Despite feeling that her relationship with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has been overhyped, the British-born ethologist thinks highly of the couple. "Prince Harry is great. Really great," she says. "And Meghan too."

: <a href="https://people.com/tag/prince-harry/" data-inlink="true">Prince Harry</a>, Duke of Sussex and Dr Jane Goodall
Dr. Jane Goodall and Prince Harry. Kirsty Wigglesworth/Getty Images

Still working around-the-clock to help save chimps and preserve the planet, Goodall recently took time out of her busy schedule to speak to PEOPLE in this week's issue about the 60th anniversary of her groundbreaking research on wild chimpanzees in Tanzania (she discovered that like us, they have good days and bad days, kiss, hug and even pat each other on the back!), celeb friends (like Leonardo DiCaprio) and her concern about climate change.

Like Goodall, Harry is concerned with the environment and has a special connection to Africa. (A longtime conservationist, he is president of the NGO African Parks and has called the continent his "second home.")

Harry first met Goodall, a United Nations Messenger of Peace, in December 2018 when he invited her to Kensington Palace to discuss their shared concern for the environment.

<a href="https://people.com/tag/prince-harry/" data-inlink="true">Prince Harry</a>, Duke of Sussex, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and their baby son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor
Samir Hussein/WireImage

Six months later in June 2019, Goodall stopped by the couple's then-home of Frogmore Cottage in Windsor to chat with Harry ahead of the July 23, 2019, Global Leadership Meeting for the Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots youth program at Windsor Castle.

During the Frogmore visit, "Meghan [Markle] came in to listen with Archie," Goodall previously told the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine.

A grandmother of three, Goodall couldn’t resist the chance to hold baby Archie.

"He was very tiny and very sleepy,” she told the outlet. “Not too pleased to be passed from his mummy."

The following month at the Roots & Shoots meeting, Harry famously invited Goodall for an impromptu dance —and reenacted the sweet “Chimpanzee Greeting” she taught him when they first met.

"She is a woman of kindness, warmth, immense knowledge, and a softness that’s needed by mankind just as much as it is chimpkind,” he told the group that day. “I’ve been admiring her work since I was a kid, and it was so wonderful to find that she was even more amazing in person."

For more on Dr. Jane Goodall’s extraordinary life and words of wisdom, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Harry's wife feels the same way. When Meghan met Goodall at Frogmore, "She told me she’s followed me all her life," Goodall said afterward. "She told me, 'You’ve been my idol since I was a child. I've hero-worshipped you all my life.' "

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Harry also interviewed Goodall for the September 2019 issue of British Vogue (which Meghan guest-edited), in which they spoke about preserving the planet for future generations.

Answering Harry's question about how she remains hopeful, Goodall said, “First of all, youth. Second, this amazing intellect. We’ve done a lot of damage with our intellect…

“So, our intellect really can help us live in greater harmony and it can help each one of us to leave lighter ecological footprints.

“The last reason for hope is the indomitable human spirit.”

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