One thing I’ve learned in my years covering this state is that there is always a Texas connection, which is why I first set up a Google alert for “Meghan Markle Texas” back in January 2020. Meg and her husband had just announced they’d be stepping down down as “senior” members of the British royal family, and “Megxit” was a massive news story in at least two countries—the UK and the U.S.—if not the entire Western world. Nearly three years later, that royal falling-out is still making headlines around the globe, this week especially, after the release of the first three episodes of Netflix’s docuseries Harry & Meghan on December 8. When I first set up my Google alert, I wanted to prove my theory that Texas is the Kevin Bacon of states. And I was right, because eventually I learned about Meghan and Harry’s former communications secretary, Jason Knauf, who continued to work with Prince William and Kate Middleton for years after their counterparts flew the coop for Montecito, California, and who was born, of all places, in Huntsville.
Knauf’s connection to Texas isn’t that strong. According to East Texas paper the Courier, he only lived here until he was about five—first in Huntsville, then in the Houston suburb of Conroe, where he still has extended family—after which he moved to Virginia. His path from Virginia to Kensington Palace was circuitous: he went to college in New Zealand, where he eventually got a job in the communications department for the Ministry of Social Development. He followed that up with a master’s degree in politics and communication from the London School of Economics, then worked as a press officer for Her Majesty’s Treasury (a.k.a. England’s treasury department), then for the Royal Bank of Scotland until 2015, when he came on board as a communications secretary for a company he lists on LinkedIn as simply “the Royal Household.” (Knauf didn’t return Texas Monthly’s requests for an interview.) These rarefied connections would eventually pay off for his Texas family. In spring 2018, Knauf’s grandmother, Wanda Maddux, who still lives in Conroe, got to take behind-the-scenes tours of Windsor Castle and Kensington and Buckingham palaces. Her adventures were even covered in the local paper. “She was queen for a day,” Knauf’s mother, Joanne, told the Courier of her own mother’s trip to the UK. “It was quite hysterical.”
Some readers might see news that a Texan worked for the British royal family and think, “Who cares?,” to which I would respond, “I care,” and then add that Knauf’s not just any old royal staffer. He’s the staffer who filed the now-infamous HR complaint against Meghan Markle for “bullying.” This was the complaint that leaked to the British tabloids in early March of 2021, two and a half years after it was filed, but suspiciously just days before the airing of Markle and Prince Harry’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey about their side of the Megxit story.
Revelations from that interview were unsettling. Meghan had felt suicidal and asked the royal family’s human resources department for help, which she was denied, she told Oprah. She claimed that an unnamed royal family member asked Harry how “dark” he thought his soon-to-be-born son Archie’s skin would be. Harry added that Charles, the then Prince of Wales and current King of England, was no longer taking his calls. While neither Meghan nor Harry named him specifically, it seems likely Knauf was a member of what they described as “the Firm,” a seemingly toxic blend of family and business that seems like a synonym for what LinkedIn calls the Royal Household. They talked repeatedly about how they felt silenced by the royal family’s communications team (sentiments they are revisiting in the Netflix series), and about how unnamed staffers knew that stories written about Markle were false but wouldn’t clarify them, even though they were “willing to lie” to protect other members of the family. According to Meghan and Harry, the Firm allowed the British press to continually assassinate Markle’s character, unchecked, which gravely affected her mental health and ultimately led to the couple’s decision to step away.
Even after an Oprah interview, a Netflix docuseries, and a podcast (Archetypes, hosted by Meghan), we don’t know what Knauf’s specific role was in any of this. All we royal-watchers know is that he worked as the communications secretary for both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, during which he at one point filed an HR complaint against Meghan Markle for reportedly “bullying” her staff. In March 2019, Knauf left the Sussex office and went to work as a senior advisor for just the Cambridges. He stepped down from working with the Cambridges in May 2021, two months after the Oprah interview, then was back in the news in November of that year for giving evidence against Markle in her breach-of-privacy case against British tabloid publisher Associated Newspapers (she eventually won).
All that drama is back in the news this week (if it ever left) with the release of the first three episodes of Harry & Meghan, which are about their love story and subsequent falling-out with “the Firm.” Knauf doesn’t appear on camera in the film, but his face is highlighted in an infographic explaining how the different press offices function within the royal family. Knauf, it seems, is the one who told her she couldn’t invite her niece to her wedding because she was the daughter of Meghan’s half sister, Samantha Markle, who was actively selling stories to the press (even though neither Meghan nor her niece were in contact with Samantha at the time).
There’s still more to be revealed. (Perhaps purposefully so, as Harry’s memoir, Spare, will be released by Penguin Random House on January 10.) The first three episodes only take us to the eve of Meghan and Harry’s 2018 wedding, and royal fanatics (like me, I’m sorry to say) know that things only got worse for the couple after that. It wasn’t until early 2019 that rumors began to surface that William had cheated on Kate. At the same time, in what royal-watchers believe to be a calculated distraction, British tabloids seemed to double down on anti-Markle reporting, with stories about how Meghan made Kate cry (Meghan later told Oprah the opposite occurred) and how the Duchess of Sussex’s love of avocado toast was “fuelling human rights abuses, drought and murder.” Feeling unsupported by the institution, by the end of 2019, Meghan and Harry had made the decision to step down as senior royals. Presumably, this is the juice waiting for us in episodes four through six, which drop on Netflix next Thursday, December 15.
With the queen dead and a significantly less popular monarch on the British throne (King Charles will always be a spaniel to me), it’s not a given that the monarchy will continue to exist. That’s why this story feels so huge. And right at the heart of it is a Huntsvillian. We don’t know much about the specifics of the whole sordid affair, but we do know that East Texas’s Jason Knauf knows at least some of the truth behind all this speculation. You might think, “Who cares?” But I think it is of paramount importance, if only because it proves that there is always a Texas connection. And the fact that there is always a Texas connection is but further evidence to support my belief that Texas is the most important and relevant place in the entire world.