"I know that the family and staff were well aware of the extent of it, and though their recollections may vary, ours don't, because we lived through it with them," Gavankar said

By Phil Boucher
March 10, 2021 01:54 PM
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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are "feeling free" following their interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday

"We watched the special together actually," close friend Janina Gavankar – who has known Meghan for 17 years – told the British show This Morning on Wednesday.

"We're all happy that we are in a new era. You know, we get to tell the truth. Things are different now," she added, "It is nice to see them feel free."

During her conversation with This Morning, Janina also opened up about the mental anguish that left Meghan feeling as though she "just didn't want to be alive anymore."

"That was clear and real and frightening and constant thought," Meghan told Oprah, 67, on CBS Sunday (her first interview since her engagement to Prince Harry in 2017), adding that she "thought it would have solved everything for everyone."

According to Janina, Meghan "turned to all of us. She turned to her husband," when she couldn't secure the help she needed from within the royal family. The actress added that Meghan's struggles were also well-known within royal circles.

Prince harry and Megan and Oprah
Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and Oprah Winfrey
| Credit: Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions

"I don't know who knew. (But) I know that the family and the staff knew," she said Wednesday.

"We watched as a wall was built around her," Janina continued about seeing her close friend go through such turmoil. "[Meghan] was very isolated – and even though that wasn't her choice she was being completely slaughtered for it."

"I can personally say that made me very angry," she said. "I wanted to defend her, but she was told to tell us never to make a comment because the institution would protect them. And years later we see now that was not the truth."

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Janina Gavankar at the 2018 royal wedding
| Credit: Pool/Max Mumby/Getty

Janina added, "Meghan has always been a very open person. She's always shared parts of herself in a way that we always do, but that all changed when she joined the family."

On Tuesday, Buckingham Palace released a short statement addressing Meghan and Harry's revealing interview, which stated that "the whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan."

For more on how the Royals responded to Harry and Meghan's interview, listen below to the episode of PEOPLE Every Day.

"The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning," added the statement, which was released on behalf of Queen Elizabeth. "While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. 

"Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members."

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth

Speaking Wednesday, Janina hinted that despite this attempt to build bridges, it's likely that further details about the behind-the-palace-walls events will emerge at some point. Also, that Meghan and Harry have plenty of ways to prove their side of the story.

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"You know, after reading this short statement that came out from Buckingham Palace today, I felt two things," said Janina. "One side, I thought: I am so thankful that they are finally acknowledging the experience. But on the other side, I know that the family and staff were well aware of the extent of it, and though their recollections may vary, ours don't, because we lived through it with them. And there are many emails and texts to support that."

This evidence also extends to the claims made in a recent article in The Times, which accused Meghan of bullying staff at Kensington Palace — an accusation that has been denied by a spokesperson for Meghan and Harry and described as an "attack on her character."

"I have known [Meghan] for 17 years and I have seen the way she regards the people around her and the people she works with, and I can say she is not a bully," Janina said Wednesday. "But I can also say that I am personally glad people are doing their due diligence because I also know why someone had to leave, and it was for gross misconduct.

meghan markle, oprah
Meghan Markle (L); Oprah Winfrey

'The truth will come out," she continued. "There are plenty of emails and texts about that. I'm not going to get into the details of it. I don't feel like that's my place. I'm just happy that it's actually being looked into because the truth really does set you free."

In a nod to what the future might hold for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Janina, 40, said that the couple can now concentrate on the bonds that brought them so close together in the first place, adding that Meghan found her "soulmate" in Harry.

"Now they can get back to what they really were focused on and really how they really met and fell in love, and that was through humanitarian and environmental work," said Janina.

"They have been doing that kind of work way before they met each other and now they can do it together. It's actually a really good time," she added.

If you or someone you know need mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.