Why Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Strayed from Royal Family's 'Never Complain, Never Explain' Way
"There has been a long tradition in the British royal family of riding criticism out," royal biographer Penny Junor tells PEOPLE
Even though they are members of the royal family, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have their own way of doing things.
The couple made the surprising move of fighting back against negative treatment in the media — and taking legal action against the British tabloids. Such aggressive moves, paired with Meghan and Harry’s candor about their emotions, flies against royal precedent and Queen Elizabeth‘s stoic “never complain, never explain” approach to the press.
“There has been a long tradition in the British royal family of riding criticism out and keeping your head down and taking the long view,” royal biographer Penny Junor tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. “Crises come and go, and people get criticized — often for five minutes by the media, who then move on.”
A source close to the royal household also fears the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s approach may backfire in the longterm.
“He sees the pain of his wife and the attacks she faces, and he wants to try to sort it out,” the source says. “It is kind of heroic in a way, but also misguided. It would be better to build relationships with the media.”
Towards the end of their recent royal tour, which saw the Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit South Africa with 5-month-old son Archie (Harry also traveled solo to Angola, Botswana and Malawi), it was revealed that Meghan had launched legal action against the Mail on Sunday for publishing a private letter she sent to her father. It emerged days later that Prince Harry was also taking legal action against The Sun and The Daily Mirror over alleged interceptions of his cell phone voice mails.
“Look, part of this job and part of any job, like everybody, means putting on a brave face and turning a cheek to a lot of the stuff. But again, for me and for my wife, of course, there’s a lot of stuff that hurts — especially when the majority of it is untrue,” Harry said of the media scrutiny in the new documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, which debuted in the U.K. on Sunday.
When asked how long she can manage the constant onslaught of attention, lack of privacy and ongoing tabloid rumors, Meghan revealed in the documentary that she just takes “each day as it comes,” adding, “I think the grass is always greener. You have no idea. It’s really hard to understand what it’s like. I know what it seems like it should be, but it’s a very different thing.”
Recalling her conversations about the topic with Prince Harry, the mom of one said, “I have said for a long time to H, that’s what I call him, ‘It’s not enough to just survive something. That’s not the point of life. You have got to thrive. You have got to feel happy.’ “
Meghan added, “I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a ‘stiff upper lip.’ I really tried, but I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging.”
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Although Prince William did not make a public statement on Harry and Meghan’s recent struggles, he reached out to his brother and sister-in-law following the documentary’s airing.
“Watching that, it would be hard not to have compassion and want to check in and see if they’re okay,” says a source. “That’s a very human reaction.”