She’s a “merciless opportunist” — an “angry adventuress” who ensnared Prince Harry “within her web”. This “very scheming, very clever” woman manipulated her husband, his relatives, her family, Oprah Winfrey and the Archbishop of Canterbury. She is “determined” to deny the queen a “final happiness”, and sabotaged Prince William and Kate Middleton’s Caribbean tour with her “sermons” on the royal family’s racism, convincing an entire region apparently unable to think for itself to turn against Britain. Despite being a self-proclaimed “foodie”, her cooking skills are limited. And she may have even worn a padded bra on Deal or No Deal.
Such is biographer Tom Bower’s characterisation of Meghan Markle in his royal hatchet job, Revenge. Bower is known for his biographies skewering politicians and businessmen including Jeremy Corbyn, Robert Maxwell and Richard Branson. He has also written about Prince Charles, in 2018’s Rebel Prince, yet that study of a vain, petulant man who didn’t know what clingfilm was reads like a love sonnet in comparison with Revenge.
Bower’s title hints at the contents: a cartoonish portrait of a ruthlessly calculating woman, who is constantly “snapping”, “demanding”, “exploding” or going “ballistic”. There is “steel” in her voice and “hard fury” in her eyes.
The author has set out to compile a comprehensive inventory of what he describes as Meghan’s “incorrect assertions” on everything from her childhood to her career to her mental health. Much of his book is assembled from information already in the public domain — mostly reports from the Daily Mail — supplemented with interviews with 80 people. Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, is quoted frequently, such as when he and a white teacher dispute Meghan’s claims of suffering racism growing up. Readers may wonder how relevant these white onlookers’ accounts are in response to the experiences of a biracial woman.
Bower is fixated on discrepancies in Meghan’s statements — he doubts whether she truly felt suicidal because the Sussexes’ comments in their Oprah interview differed on “whether Meghan felt suicidal at night, in the morning or both. And they did not agree on the number of days she felt suicidal”.
This fastidiousness is rather undermined by his basic errors: Bower misattributes quotes, mistakes a podcast host for Meghan’s friend, and mixes up the £56,000 couture evening gown from Meghan’s first formal portraits with the white coat she wore to announce her engagement.
Revenge is just the latest in a stream of royal biographies. Previously relegated to special interest shelves and enjoying modest sales, Meghan’s arrival sparked a boom in royal writing that grows stronger each year.
“This year has been one of the most fecund times for the royal biography, for celebratory and celebrity reasons,” says Tom Tivnan, managing editor of The Bookseller. “On the celebratory side, the [platinum] jubilee obviously meant a lot of books coming out that venerated the queen, and to a lesser extent Prince Philip.
“But then there is the celeb and salacious side that has been ongoing since Diana’s death but has really ramped up since Meghan Markle. I think there has been a shift in treating the lesser royals similar to, say, the Kardashians and not heirs to the throne: as rich, privileged, out-of-touch celebs who are fair game. ”
In the UK, sales of royal biographies in the past 12 months have topped £5m — most years, Tivnan notes, they account for about £2m. Along with Bower’s book, this year saw the publication of Robert Hardman’s Queen of Our Times, and Tina Brown’s follow-up to the Diana Chronicles, The Palace Papers. This month’s 25th anniversary of Diana’s death brings biographies from her police protection officer Ken Wharfe and even superstar crime writer James Patterson.
In an age of round-the-clock royal coverage, what is driving such fevered interest in these biographies? “Even though we live in this world of supposed total content, many get our news from narrow channels: our personal Twitter echo chambers and just one or two news sites. A book, therefore, can bring a more total picture than just a handful of news outlets,” Tivnan says.
On top of that, royal reporting is filled with unnamed “palace insiders” — a biography promising access to the royal circle can deliver insights that are ostensibly more credible. Yet, Tivnan points out, many of these books merely recycle existing reports.
“It is circular: the books provide journalists with stories to regurgitate for clickbait, and almost none of the books really have exclusives and are themselves regurgitating stories that have been widely reported in the media in the first place,” he says.
Indeed, Bower’s book offers scant new details. What it does offer is affirmation for readers already suspicious of Meghan and her motivations. As the royal family has grown more factional, so too have royal watchers. Those who dislike Meghan will find their misgivings confirmed in Revenge. On the opposite extreme, Meghan and Harry superfans embraced the sympathetic portrayal in Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand’s Finding Freedom, for which Meghan provided “briefing notes”.
The insatiable appetite of royal watchers — and the unrelenting speed of today’s media culture — pushes biographers to write up to the moment, resulting in books that feel dated upon publication. What these books fail to grasp is that it’s too early to reflect on many of these events. More distance is required to provide any genuinely valuable perspective.
Part of the problem is that the royals have become too interesting for their own good. According to Brown, the royal family is determined to go back to being “boring” again, as they did following the death of Diana. That seems unlikely, given this year will also bring Prince Harry’s memoir, promising “a first-hand account of my life that’s accurate and wholly truthful”.
Demand for royal books shows no signs of waning, and another turning point lies ahead. “The real shift will be when the queen dies — there will be a huge swathe of books similar to the jubilee stuff, all that ‘God bless dear Queen Bess’ nonsense,” Tivnan says. “But after that, I think we’ll see a lot more on the salacious and celebrity end. The gloves will really come off.”