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"The Spirit of Diana" Helped Harry & Meghan Leave Royal Life, Say Insiders

"Diana gave him and Meghan the courage and the strength to stop it from happening again," a friend said.

When Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton in 2010, he gave his bride-to-be Princess Diana's iconic engagement ring, signaling that he wanted his mother, who would never meet his fiancée, to be an important part of their love story. When Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in 2018, he gave her the stunning emerald-cut aquamarine ring Diana commissioned from her favorite jeweler, Asprey, as a replacement for her engagement ring when her divorce from Prince Charles was finalized 1996. The duchess proudly wore the beloved piece from her late mother-in-law to the couple's evening wedding reception. The sparkler was a totem of Diana's new life that was just beginning, but sadly would be over before it even had a chance to start. Diana, who had so brilliantly communicated to the world through her evolving style, became an indelible part of the lives of two women who may have never married her sons if she hadn't opened the doors for them.

Later, when Harry and Meghan departed Windsor Castle on that gorgeous early evening of their wedding on May 19, 2018 and drove off in a silvery blue vintage Jaguar into a limitless future, it was also Diana who had paved the way for her youngest son and his new wife's journey. The shy young woman of 19, who was born into an aristocratic family, married into the Royal Family in 1981, gave birth to an heir and a spare, and ultimately, changed the royal family forever. When it all went wrong, the princess went public with her story in a 1995 interview with the BBC, revealing her loneliness, her deep depression, and her struggles against a centuries-old institution where conformity ruled and individuality was crushed. Unbowed by the Royal Family's callous disregard for her feelings, Diana was determined to make sure her sons would never be deprived of the love and acceptance she'd always wanted but never received.

Years after her death in 1997, William married Kate, who would seamlessly blend into his life of duty, while Harry, who never stopped craving the love of the mother he lost when he was just 12 years old, fell for Meghan, who gave him the strength to break free from his life as royal. Harry could have never predicted how much his wife's story would mirror his mother's tragic tale, but, as he told Oprah Winfrey in the interview with Meghan that would stun the world, it was the lessons he learned from his mother that would save him from allowing history to repeat itself. As one of Diana's friends revealed to Best Life, he may not have been able to save his mother, "but as a husband and father, he could make his mother proud and save his wife."

The world witnessed the tragic end of Diana's fairy tale that never was in 1997, but decades later, royals watchers chose to believe that the Royal Family had learned from the Princess of Wales' shocking death and would be more accepting and welcoming to future Windsor wives. We hoped the next generation of princesses, brought into the Royal Family by Diana's sons, would not endure the same isolated existence that regularly drove their late mother-in-law to despair. Sadly, it seems now, that hope was dashed with Meghan. But the path she trailblazed allowed her son and the duchess to do something she couldn't. As another friend of the late princess' said, "Harry was determined to rewrite history."

Read on to learn more about the enormous influence of Diana's legacy and how her experience in particular became a road map for Harry and Meghan's new life beyond Palace walls. And for more on the fallout from the interview, check out The One Thing William Must Do to Save the Monarchy, Say Insiders.

Dutiful Kate, conforming to the royal rules, became "Diana without the drama."

The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at the 12th Northolt Scout Group in Northolt, west London, to thank local cubs and beaver scouts for supporting young people and their families during lockdown.
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

First came Kate, who had been dating William for eight years by the time they married in 2011. She had plenty of time to learn before her wedding that, as a royal wife, she was to be a largely silent supporting player whose role was to do whatever necessary to support the Crown and, in her case, her husband, a future king. Even then, the press was ready to pounce at the first opportunity to tear into Kate. She was taunted by the tabloids as "Duchess of Dolittle" when she dared to put her growing family ahead of royal responsibilities after giving birth to Prince George, who now followed his father in the line of succession.

But the dutiful duchess was not a rule-breaker. Kate was able to strike a balance that pleased the family and satisfied the British press. William selected a wife who understood her role and had, in some way, with her beaming smile, flawless style, and easy way with children, become "Diana without the drama," as one of Diana's friends once told me. And for more on Kate and William's many years together, check out William and Kate's Most Adorable Couples Moments Through the Years.

An independent Meghan was seen as a problem and encountered the same faceless opposition that drove Diana to despair.

Megan Markle and Prince Harry visited Millennium Point in Birmingham on International Women's Day in 2018
Alamy Stock Photo

Meghan, after less than two years in a relationship with "the spare," told the BBC in her post-engagement interview that she didn't know much about the Royal Family, but was ready to "hit the ground running" in service to the Queen. Suspicious courtiers quickly decided the American, mixed-race divorcee did not fit the role of a suitable royal wife. Further, as Meghan told Oprah Winfrey in last week's tell-all, they didn't protect her from vicious attacks in the press, kept her from her friends, and denied her the help she needed when she began having suicidal thoughts. Meghan told Winfrey she had been "naive" about what marrying a prince really entailed. "I didn't understand what the job was," she said. It wasn't long before she came to see royal life as a soul-crushing experience, but saw no way out and revealed she "didn't want to live anymore." And for more on what Meghan revealed to Winfrey, check out Meghan Finally Broke Her Silence on Her Sad Relationship With Her Father.

Prince Harry knew what his mother would want him to do.

Harry and Meghan clench hands while talking about the Queen during Oprah interview on CBS on Mar. 7
Harpo Productions via CBS

Harry, as he told Winfrey, would not allow "history to repeat itself." In the interview, the pensive-looking prince said he knew how his mother would feel seeing the eerie parallels between her story and his wife's unfold. "I think she would feel very angry with how this has panned out and very sad, but ultimately, all she'd ever want is for us to be happy," he said.

Harry also said it was Diana who actually made it possible for him and Meghan to leave Britain. He revealed that Prince Charles had stopped taking his calls and cut him off financially in early 2020. It was the reported $10 million he inherited from Diana that allowed him and Meghan to break free. "I brought what my mom left me. And without that, we would not have been able to do this," he said. "So, touching back on what my mother would think of this, I think she saw it coming. I certainly felt her presence throughout this whole process." And for more revelations from Harry, check out Harry Remains Close to This One Royal Despite All the Drama.

Friends believe "the spirit of Diana" gave Meghan and Harry the strength to leave and start new lives in America.

Princess Diana and Meghan Markle

Those close to Diana firmly believe Harry is right about his mother's "presence." It was "the spirit of Diana who guided Harry throughout this difficult chapter in his life," one of the designers interviewed for my book, Diana: The Secrets of Her Style, told me recently. "Not to get too spooky about it, but I know that Diana's love for her boys is stronger than time itself," the insider said. "[William and Harry] both said they still feel her love to this very day. She would never let Harry relive the same tragedy that became her life. Somehow, Diana gave him and Meghan the courage and the strength to stop it from happening again." And for more royals news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

In saving his wife, Harry vindicated his mother.

Diana, Princess of Wales with Prince Harry in 1995
Martin Keene / PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Another friend of Diana's said, "Diana's story was a painful life lesson that Harry will never forget. Whether he knew it or not, in choosing to marry someone like his mother who was strong, but still vulnerable to the same destructive forces Diana was up against, Harry was determined to rewrite history."

In stepping back from their roles as senior royals and revealing their story in their own tell-all interview, Harry and Meghan were able to vindicate his mother whose candor in her 1995 interview resulted in her being cast aside by the Royal Family and subjected to mercilessly criticism by the British press who continued to brand her as unstable. In the year following her divorce, Diana was alone, but determined to find happiness and independence. Instead, without the protection of her Palace security detail, which she'd given up because she feared they were spying on her, Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while traveling with a man she'd only known for a few short weeks.

It's clear what was happening in Harry's head when he decided to take his wife and son, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, and leave the country for a more secure and private life in America. "When Harry was a boy, he couldn't save his mother," one of Diana's friends told me. "But as a husband and father, he could make his mother proud and save his wife." And for more fallout from Harry and Meghan's interview, check out This Royal Has the Most to Lose From Harry & Meghan's Interview, Insiders Say.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.