Meghan and Diana: the poignant parallels between the rebel royals

As we all binge-watch Princess Diana in the new season of The Crown, Kerry Parnell investigates the stark similarities between Meghan's emotional confession on being trolled and this week's 25th anniversary of Diana's bombshell Panorama interview

Meghan and Diana

As we all binge-watch Princess Diana in the new season of The Crown, Kerry Parnell investigates the stark similarities between Meghan's emotional confession on being trolled and this week's 25th anniversary of Diana's bombshell Panorama interview

As Meghan, Duchess of Sussex reveals she was the most trolled person in the world and the toll it took on her – it’s eerily resonant of her mother-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales, who spoke about her own struggle on Panorama this time 25 years ago.

Both women battled the Royal Family – Diana famously clashed with the "men in grey suits" and Meghan and Prince Harry, according to new biography Finding Freedom, were driven out by them.

Talking to Californian students for a podcast for World Mental Health Day, Meghan said that in 2019 she "was the most trolled person in the entire world," describing it as "almost unsurvivable".

"Eight months of that, I wasn’t even visible. I was on maternity leave or with a baby," she said. "That’s so big you can’t even think about what that feels like. Because I don’t care if you’re 15 or 25, if people are saying things about you that aren’t true, what that does to your mental and emotional health is so damaging."

Her candour is reminiscent of Diana’s game-changing confessional with Martin Bashir in November 1995. "When no one listens to you, or you feel no one’s listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen," she said.

Meghan and Diana

Princess Diana being interviewed by Martin Bashir for Panorama (Getty Images)

And while Meghan might feel isolated by her experience - her mother-in-law had done it all before. "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 said.

Secret collusion 

Diana secretly colluded with Andrew Morton for the 1992 biography Diana: Her True Story, which was seen as so outlandish the author was branded a liar. Despite Diana denying involvement, the author subsequently revealed she sent tapes via a friend.

When Finding Freedom came out in August 2020 and the writers Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand also stated they had had no contact with Harry and Meghan, palace insiders suggested we had been here before. "Their fingerprints are all over this book," said Dickie Arbiter, who was the Queen’s press secretary from 1988 to 2000. "We’ve been there before with Diana. She looked me square in the eye and said, ‘No, I didn’t,’ but I knew."

Netflix's smash-hit The Crown eerily traces the stark parallels between the two women in season 4. So, between Meghan and Diana, who did have it worse? 

1. Great expectations

At the beginning, it seemed like a dream for both women - the world’s media fell in love with Shy Di, the quiet nursery school teacher with her accidentally see-through skirt and Meghan, the glamorous actor, with her yoga mats and refreshing honesty. While Diana was only 19 and achingly unworldly when she got engaged, Meghan was the opposite, aged 36 and a divorcee. 

2. Hitting the headlines

Despite the palace telling her the press and public interest would die down, Diana first understood her impact on tour in Australia in 1983 when a million people turned out to see the pair. “I learned how to be royal in one week,” she told Bashir. “I realised the sense of duty, the level of intensity of interest, and the demanding role I now found myself in.”

Meghan and Diana

Princess Diana wows Australia on her first tour in 1983 (Getty Images)

Coincidentally, it was also Down Under that Meghan realised her popularity - when she and Harry toured in 2018. And it was after this, they felt the palace didn’t appreciate them. Finding Freedom describes how the couple arrived to “Beatlemania-size” crowds including “young people who had never had an interest in the British monarchy.

“As their popularity had grown, so did Harry and Meghan’s difficulty in understanding why so few inside the palace were looking out for their interests,” it states.

3. Family misfortunes

Fitting in with ‘The Firm’ as Diana called it, would eventually prove impossible for both women. In her Panorama interview, Diana opened up about her struggles with bulimia and depression, saying it was “pretty devastating …  a feeling of being no good at anything and … failed in every direction.” In the same way, at the end of Harry and Meghan’s South African tour last year, Meghan thanked journalist Tom Bradby for asking if she was OK. “Thank you for asking – not many people have asked if I am OK, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes,” she said. 

Meghan and Diana

Meghan and Harry on tour in South Africa in 2019 (Getty Images)

4. Calling it quits

Prince Charles and Diana separated in 1992, but it would prove a long and messy process until they divorced in 1996. A year later, Diana's life was cut short aged 36, when she died in Paris from injuries sustained in a car crash.

Meghan’s journey from commoner to royal and back again was much quicker - less than two years after saying “I do”, the pair declared they definitely did not want the royal life any longer, making their Megxit in March 2020.

Maria Coole

Maria Coole is a contributing editor on Marie Claire.

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