Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, opened up about a scary moment involving her son, Archie, while she was on a royal tour of South Africa and how she was expected to prioritize “optics” over her feelings about his safety.
The former senior royal turned podcast host discussed the topic Tuesday on the debut episode of her Spotify podcast “Archetypes” in a sitdown with longtime pal and tennis star Serena Williams (before Williams announced her decision to retire from professional tennis earlier this month).
While discussing the double standard women face when they are labeled “ambitious,” Meghan and Williams urged listeners to consider and “recogniz[e] what people don’t see” and shared their personal experiences as friends, celebrities, and moms.
Williams, 40, told the duchess, 41, a story about the guilt and emotional drain she felt as a mom ahead of a French Open match — around the time of her infamous catsuit kerfuffle — that took place hours after her daughter Olympia fell out of her high chair and broke her wrist. The story prompted Markle to share her experience with fulfilling professional obligations amid emotional turmoil on her 2019 tour — months before she and Britain’s Prince Harry announced that they would be stepping back as senior royals following personal attacks on the couple.
“When we went on our tour to South Africa, we landed with Archie — Archie was what, 4½ months old? — and the moment we landed, we had to drop him off at this housing unit that they had us staying in. He was going to get ready to go down for his nap,” Meghan began.
“We immediately went to an official engagement in this township called Nyanga, and there was this moment where I’m standing on a tree stump and I’m giving this speech to women and girls, and we finish the engagement, we get in the car and they say, ‘There’s been a fire at the residence.’ What? ‘There’s been a fire in the baby’s room.’ What?”
Meghan described how she raced back to Archie, who had not been in the room when the fire broke out because their nanny had “instinctively” taken him with her to get a snack before his nap.
“In the amount of time that she was downstairs, the heater in the nursery caught on fire,” she said. “There was no smoke detector. Someone happened to just smell smoke down the hallway, went in, fire extinguisher. He [Archie] was supposed to be in there.”
She said they were all “shaken” and hoped to opt-out of their next royal engagement by telling people what happened to their son. But the duchess, who has made headlines repeatedly for butting heads with royal officials, intimated that they weren’t allowed to.
“And of course as a mother, everyone’s in tears, everyone’s shaken. And what’d we have to do? Go out and do another official engagement. And I said, ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’” she told Williams.
“So much, I think optically, the focus ends up being on how it looks instead of how it feels,” Meghan added, hewing to the episode’s title, “Misconception of Ambition.” “And part of the humanizing — and the breaking through of these labels, these archetypes, these boxes that we’re put into — is having some understanding of the human moments behind the scenes that people might not have any awareness of and to give each other a break. Because we did. We had to leave our baby.”
It was on that same 2019 tour that the former TV star spoke out about the behind-the-scenes challenges confronting her as a royal, a newlywed, and a new mom — and it happened after a reporter simply asked her how she was doing. (She told him she was not OK.)
The duchess’ inaugural podcast series is the first in the Sussexes’ multi-year partnership with Spotify after first announcing their production deal with the audio streamer in December 2020.