Meghan Markle, apparently out of fear of seeming too “boastful,” does not appear on the cover of British Vogue‘sSeptember issue , which she guest edited. Instead, she chose to spotlight 15 women who are “changemakers” that are “breaking barriers” in their fields, from actors such as Salma Hayek, Yara Shahidi, Jane Fonda, and Laverne Cox—the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of an English-language Vogue—to politicians and activists such as New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Adern and environmentalist Greta Thunberg.
But despite Markle’s best efforts, she’s still, of course, the issue’s real star. The same goes for another woman who doesn’t actually appear on its cover: former first lady Michelle Obama. Markle had been looking for someone who was “kind, inspirational, motivating, funny, with gravitas and as much depth as levity” to interview for the magazine’s back page Q&A feature, and, as she puts it in the interview‘s introduction, realized that Obama fit the bill almost immediately. “In formulating the content of the ‘Forces for Change’ issue, I knew that I wanted to create a magazine that would speak not just to where we are, but to where we hope to be,” Markle writes. “In doing so, I knew we needed to both open and close strong. Like a beautiful meal: the first bite sets the tone and the final spoonful leaves you satiated, smiling, and sometimes (if you’re dining under the direction of a forward-thinking chef) even inspired.”
The culinary reference is all the more fitting, given how the interview came about. “Over a casual lunch of chicken tacos and my ever-burgeoning bump, I asked Michelle if she would help me with this secret project,” Markle—or, as her byline puts it, “HRH the Duchess of Sussex”—continues. (She began working on the issue with editor-in-chief Edward Enninful back in January, and is the magazine’s first guest editor in its 103-year history.) Alas, their actual interview seems to have taken place via email—a choice which, as Markle explains in a “disclaimer of sorts,” she now regrets. “Had I known Michelle would be so generous in making this a comprehensive interview my questions would have been lengthier, more probing, more engaging. I would have called her and included the banter on these pages—the laughs and sighs and ping-pong of dialogue as I chimed in. But to re-engineer that now would rob Michelle’s words of their authenticity, which, for me, is at the crux of what makes this piece special.”
So, what does Obama say that’s so authentic? Thanks to what Markle described as “the kindest message” that Obama sent her this past Mother’s Day, their interview begins with a question about what Obama has learned from being a mom. “Motherhood has taught me that, most of the time, my job is to give them the space to explore and develop into the people they want to be. Not who I want them to be or who I wish I was at that age, but who they are, deep inside,” Obama said. “What’s both humbled and heartened me is seeing the resiliency of my daughters. In some ways, Malia and Sasha couldn’t be more different. One speaks freely and often, one opens up on her own terms. One shares her innermost feelings, the other is content to let you figure it out. Neither approach is better or worse, because they’ve both grown into smart, compassionate and independent young women, fully capable of paving their own paths.”
Markle also asked Obama what advice she’s given to her daughters, causing the latter to reflect on how she eventually switched gears from pursuing a career as a lawyer. “As a younger woman, I spent too much time worrying that I wasn’t achieving enough, or I was straying too far from what I thought was the prescribed path,” Obama said. “What I hope my daughters will realize a little earlier is that there is no prescribed path, that it’s OK to swerve, and that the confidence they need to recognize that will come with time.” She also insisted that she would give “exactly the same” advice to her sons, if she had them, recalling on how when her father bought her brother boxing gloves when they were growing up, he bought her and a pair and taught her how to punch and “dodge a jab,” too.
Markle also asked Obama what she thinks her 15-year-old self would have thought of current-day self. “I had a lot of fun when I was 15, but when it came right down to it, teenage-me was pretty by the book—straight As, through-the-roof standards for herself,” Obama responded. “So I imagine that she’d be proud of how far I’ve come—but she wouldn’t let me off the hook, either. I feel like she’d give me one of those silent nods of recognition, you know? She’d remind me there are still too many girls on the South Side of Chicago who are being shushed, cast aside or told they’re dreaming too big. She’d tell me to keep fighting for them.” Plus: “If I’m being honest, she’d probably smile about how cute my husband is, too.”
Rather than end things there, Markle decided to cap it all off with “a wild-card question”: “What is the most beautiful sound that you’ve ever heard?” Once again, Obama’s answer has to do with her daughters. “When Malia and Sasha were newborns, Barack and I could lose hours just watching them sleep,” she said. “We loved to listen to the little sounds they’d make—especially the way they cooed when they were deep into dreaming. Don’t get me wrong, early parenthood is exhausting. I’m sure you know a thing or two about that these days. But there is something so magical about having a baby in the house. Time expands and contracts; each moment holds its own little eternity.”
Fittingly enough, Obama concluded with yet another piece of advice: “I’m so excited for you and Harry to experience that, Meghan,” she told the Duchess. “Savor it all.”