Julie Montagu, Viscountess Hinchingbrooke — an American woman from Illinois who married into British nobility — is sympathizing with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry‘s royal exit.
As an American married to Luke Timothy Charles Montagu, Viscount Hinchingbrooke — son of the 11th Earl of Sandwich — the former Ladies of London star says she understands the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to “step back as a senior member of the royal family” and start a new life in Canada.
Recalling her own transition into British aristocratic society, Montagu, 47, says the “hardest thing was adapting to a more formal lifestyle.”
“It’s not near as laid back as what I was used to,” she says. “There’s no going in your PJs to have breakfast.”
Montagu, who manages the Mapperton Estate with her husband, says it would be hard for her to imagine adjusting to aristocratic customs on a royal scale.
“With the aristocracy, it’s still formal, but I imagine the royal family is just that much more. I don’t have to curtsy all the time or have as many formal dinners. Plus, I get to voice my opinions and be openly political if I wish – Meghan can’t,” the reality star-turned-TV host of the new Smithsonian Channel series, An American Aristocrat’s Guide to Great Estates, explains.
And for those who say Meghan, 38, knew what she was getting herself into with the royal family, Montagu counters that no one can truly know without experiencing it first hand.
“You don’t know what you’re getting into until you’re in it, especially with the monarchy. People can tell you and they can try to prepare you, but you don’t know. There is a real difference between Britain and America. We may speak the same language, but it’s completely two different cultures, and more so with the royal family. There are traditions. There are protocols,” Montagu, who was an onsite BBC correspondent for Meghan and Harry’s 2019 nuptials, says.
“We’re very open and that’s what makes Americans, in my view, so wonderful. We’re vulnerable. We open up. It’s different over here. People have been brought up a different way and it’s sort of like I need to get to know you first before I’m going to really open up to you,” says the former Bravo star.
She continues, “I think in the royal family, it’s probably been a little bit more difficult for them to navigate with Meghan, who is very open, and she’s outspoken, and she’s political. You can’t stop somebody from being themselves.”
Having lived in England for nearly 15 years, Montagu says she understands why some of the British people were shocked by the news, but supports Meghan and Harry’s quest to become “financially independent” and start their own journey.
“Harry has grown up with a life of service. That’s all he’s known. Meghan, on the other hand, has grown up in a life of go-getting, a life of doing,” Montagu says. “You combine them together, and what I think is wonderful is — rather than Meghan having to give up everything, which everybody thought she was going to have to do — Harry has said, hang on. Do you know what? We’ve tried it.”
She continues, “And the British press is absolutely 100 percent ruthless. Ask anybody to go try and find a positive article about Meghan over in this country. It’s very hard to do. I’m the American living over here and it’s really hard to find a good article about her.”
Can’t get enough of PEOPLE‘s Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!
On Monday, Harry, 35, landed in Canada — where Meghan has been with their 8-month-old son, Archie — after spending most of the day at the U.K.-Africa Investment Summit in London where he spoke to African leaders and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
RELATED VIDEO: Netflix Exec Says He Would Be Interested in Deal with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
On Sunday, the prince made his first public appearance since he and his wife announced their decision to step down as senior members of the royal family on Jan. 8. Harry delivered a speech at an event organized for supporters of his Sentebale charity, where he opened up about his family’s life-changing decision and the results of the royal family’s summit in Sandringham.
In a statement on Saturday, Queen Elizabeth announced that she and her family had “found a constructive and supportive way forward.”
And while the Queen noted that she would have “preferred” the pair stay as full-time royals in her initial statement on the matter on Jan. 13, Montagu found the monarch’s rare “personal statement” at the time to be “heartfelt.”
“I thought it was the Queen being more affectionate,” she says, though, adding that the Queen is likely “heartbroken” about the events.
“She’s got her grandson and one of her great-grandchildren moving away across a whole ocean. I think she’s overall heartbroken, and I think it’s just going to take, as she says, it’s going to take time. But again, I’m excited for [Harry and Meghan]. I think this is the right move and I can’t wait to see what they are going to do.”
Smithsonian Channel’s An American Aristocrat’s Guide to Great Estates premieres Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. in the U.K. and will air in U.S. in the spring.