Wednesday 19 September 2018

Ireland braced for Meghan mania

Her upcoming trip may win new royal fans but will it really help future relations with Britain, asks Meadhbh McGrath

Meghan Markle. Photo: Getty Images
Meghan Markle. Photo: Getty Images

When Meghan Markle arrives in Dublin next month, she's likely to receive a rather different treatment than her last stay here.

The now-Duchess of Sussex previously visited the capital in 2013, where she received an award from Trinity College Dublin before gaining a true insight into student life at Dicey's bar, taking in the sights and sounds of the Camden Mile and availing of those unbeatable €2 drink offers.

Prince Harry and Meghan. Photo: Getty Images
Prince Harry and Meghan. Photo: Getty Images

It'll be a different story on July 10, when she and Prince Harry fly over for their 'mini-moon'. The newlyweds are visiting, we are told by Kensington Palace, "at the request of Her Majesty". Their mission is to bolster Anglo-Irish relations in the lead up to Brexit.

That was presumably the aim of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles' trip to Ireland last week, if anyone even noticed they were here. The tour marked the future king of England's sixth official visit to these shores, but, as Tom Sykes, the British-born, Dublin-based royal correspondent for US news site The Daily Beast, observes, the pair drew remarkably little attention.

"When you looked at Charles and Camilla in Cork the other day, most people, to be honest, were not terribly interested. There was a level of 'really, these guys are coming?'" he notes.

"People on Twitter, for example, criticised the fact that protocol sheets were handed around the English Market telling people how they should refer to Prince Charles, and I think that criticism is valid. There was something slightly discordant and it felt a little odd. The question is, can Harry and Meghan leave all of that historical baggage behind, come to Ireland and represent a completely fresh start for the British monarchy in its relation with another foreign power?"

Down with the kids: Meghan accepts a gift of flowers from a young girl. Photo: PA
Down with the kids: Meghan accepts a gift of flowers from a young girl. Photo: PA

When it comes to mending the relationship between Ireland and the royals, Sykes points to the Queen's historic 2011 visit to the country as "a good start", highlighting her speech at Dublin Castle, during which she addressed the "sad and regrettable reality" of the conflict between Britain and Ireland.

But where our eyes glaze over at seeing Charles and Camilla strolling around Derrynane beach, they light up at the sight of Meghan.

Unlike the stuffy Charles and Camilla - so committed to royal standards she wouldn't even take her nude tights off for that 'barefoot' beach jaunt - the former actress pushes the boundaries of official protocol, replacing the stiff upper lip with an all-American smile.

Meghan reportedly found herself in trouble early on in her relationship with Prince Harry, when, after her first few visits to Kensington Palace, she greeted the palace guards with hugs. She was swiftly informed that such behaviour went against royal etiquette, but the 36-year-old ignored the official advice. As her friend Bonnie Hammer told US news station NBC: "Someone said to her, 'People don't do that.' She literally said, 'I'm American. I hug.'"

While the Irish aren't as touchy-feely as the Americans, we are drawn to Meghan's informal, friendly nature.

Since her first public appearance in ripped jeans, she has come across as open and approachable - greeting the crowds by saying 'Hi, I'm Meghan', happily embracing a young girl in Birmingham, and opting for fuss-free cross-body hugs to enable handshakes, rather than clutching at a purse.

Meghan is the great leveller for the monarchy, enriching the royals with that spark of showbiz glitz and the warmth of Californian sunshine. It's a delicate balance for a new entrant to one of Britain's oldest institutions, not to mention one so famously set in its ways as to have rules about what colour nail polish she has to wear (nude pink) and when she's allowed to show her toes (never).

"What's been really fascinating about Harry and Meghan is that they do seem to have completely enthused a whole new generation of potential fans," says Sykes.

But for all the excitement around their visit, Sykes points out that their 'royal' status is likely to be irrelevant to many.

"To a lot of people in Ireland, the younger generation especially, the royals are just another gang of celebrities with silly dogs and fancy clothes and nice cars," he explains.

This is especially true of Meghan and Harry, whose starry wedding included guests like Oprah, George Clooney and Posh and Becks. Meghan's LA upbringing and career as an actress also adds a dazzling showbiz element that even Prince William and Kate Middleton can't match.

"I think people were incredibly enthusiastic about William and Kate to begin with, let's not forget that. Now there's a sense that they're incredibly boring, and nobody is very interested in them," says Sykes.

"Harry is definitely a lot cooler than William, he's younger, he's hipper, he appears to be less stuffy and more relatable. They're the kind of people you want to go and have a pint with, in a way that I don't think you really would with William and Kate. I think they probably will connect really well with a younger Irish crowd."

Global publicity around William and Kate's royal tours of India, Canada and Sweden showcased each country as a tourist destination, with itineraries careful to include major landmarks and lesser-known spots off the beaten track.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, points to the PR value of the visit, and says he anticipates a surge in interest following Meghan and Harry's mini-moon. "We're really pleased that this is the first place they've decided to come to. The British are our most important visitors and they account for in excess of 40pc of all visitors that come to Ireland," he explains.

"But I think there'll be interest around the globe, not just Britain and America."

Given Meghan's former sideline as a lifestyle blogger fluent in social media, she has become an icon for the Instagram generation, and her visit will likely inspire plenty of young travellers.

"I think this will be for the next generation, so we're really excited about that. It gives us an opportunity to showcase Ireland in a very contemporary manner," says Niall.

On top of that, whatever Meghan wears in Dublin is sure to define how women in Ireland, and across the world, dress for the rest of the year. Like Kate Middleton before her, Meghan has proved to be a formidable fashion force, with items she wears selling out within minutes, whether it's a simple black jumper from M&S or a designer handbag from a niche, eco-friendly brand. Her preference for 'power coats' and wide leg trousers resulted in two of winter's biggest trends, while her wedding dresses have put boat neck and halterneck styles firmly on the fashion agenda.

Shelly Corkery, Brown Thomas fashion director, says Meghan's influence on Irish women's wardrobes is already evident.

"The Meghan effect is phenomenal. Meghan is thoroughly modern and her choice of wedding dress was so relevant: inherently contemporary with its clean lines but slightly old-world too, her Givenchy gown was the perfect choice and a true reflection of her personal style, which is always simple but feminine and never overdone. Her Stella McCartney evening gown was equally magnificent. Both Givenchy and Stella McCartney have seen a big surge in interest from our customers since the wedding," she says.

"I am so looking forward to her upcoming visit to Ireland and I'm delighted to see the trip was so quick on her agenda. It's a huge honour for Ireland and a great opportunity. I can't wait to see what she wears!"

Irish Independent

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