California-grown Cambodian princess discusses independence, journey away from royal family

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Monday on our 3 p.m. show Getting Answers, we talked to Princess Soma Norodom of Cambodia. Like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, she walked away from royal life.

Reverberations continue from the U.S. to the U.K. after Markle's bombshell interview with Oprah about her suffering in the royal family. Markle shared the extent to which palace officials controlled her, even when it had to do with her mental health. Someone who understands Markle's journey and rebellion against convention is a Cambodian princess who grew up in California.

Princess Soma Norodom came to the U.S. at age 5, in the first wave of refugees to flee after the Khmer Rouge took power. Princess Soma's father was the third cousin to the king, hence in the line of succession. She grew up thoroughly American -- playing sports, doing cheerleading, attending Fresno State University, becoming a radio show host, journalist and marketing professional.

In 2010, as her father was dying, Soma wanted to fulfill his wish, and returned to Cambodia to care for him and claim her birthright as princess.

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The American-raised princess soon found herself at odds with palace officials. She wrote a column for a local newspaper, revealing the drama inside the royal family and the extent to which the government controlled the monarchy.

Soon dubbed a heretic, Princess Soma was charged with insurrection and had to flee Cambodia.

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"My platform has always been education, so I wrote a lot about it when I was working for the newspaper," she says. "Every chance I got, I tried to put in a plug for education for the poor, particularly the girls."

In addition to writing, Soma volunteered her time for events like International Day of the Girl and served as ambassador for the Happy Tree Orphanage, an NGO that looks after children who are HIV positive. "We can learn a lot from these kids," she says.

While being a royal in the Kingdom does have its downside, it also positioned Soma to meet the right people. So when she started her foundation, she was able to get key players for the board of directors.

"They are all respected, well-connected people with backgrounds in education and business," Soma says.

"Every family goes through issues and drama. You're in the spotlight, a public figure, you have to deal with that, have to have a thick skin," said Princess Soma. "If you can't handle it, you need to leave, leave the control factor, so now they're able to do what they want to do. But they have to make their own money, won't be financially compensated by the royal family."

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She currently lives in Atlanta and is completely independent because she's not taking a stipend from the royal family.

Watch the full interview in the video player above.
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