Tuesday 23 July 2019

Is the marriage a soap opera plot to save the Windsors?

Meghan might have been mortified, but the Markle family antics keep us watching the Windsors, writes Sarah Caden

Meghan’s dad Thomas reading a book about Britain in what turned out to be a photo staged for photographers
Meghan’s dad Thomas reading a book about Britain in what turned out to be a photo staged for photographers

Sarah Caden

Almost 37 years ago, at the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles, the faintest ripple of scandal circled around Frances Shand Kydd, the bride's mother, known unkindly as "the Bolter".

Shand Kydd had walked out on her husband, Earl Spencer, lost custody of her children, and shown apparently no regard for duty, that cornerstone of the Windsor raison-d'etre.

Shand Kydd's grandmother had been a bolter before her, of course, and was said to have been the inspiration for Nancy Mitford's character bearing the same nasty nickname.

There was bolter blood there, but the royals could bear it. This was, after all, the wedding of the century, a fairytale match between a young girl with stars in her eyes and a not-so-handsome prince.

And bolters? Well, the aristos had always had their share of bolters. Bolters they could comprehend.

Bolters were small potatoes compared to the roller-coaster of soap opera that marked the run-up to yesterday's marriage between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

As if it weren't enough that the bride is American, and mixed-race and an actress, she has brought with her family to put even the most outrageous aristocrats in the shade.

And the carry-on of them wasn't to be controlled by pronouncements on protocol or dire warnings about dereliction of duty.

Sure, it had proved relatively easy to get Meghan to shut down all of her social media and her lifestyle website once the engagement to Harry was announced, but the extended Markles were not to be controlled. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Last week, as Meghan and Harry should have been cruising in to the final straight of wedding preparations, every glowing snap of them going to and from Windsor was overshadowed by what was going on with her clan.

And even taking in to account all the toe-sucking, the bolting, the tampon phone calls and overcrowded marriages that have livened up the Windsors for us over the years, they're nothing on the Markles.

The one-way slanging match with Meghan Markle's half-sister Samantha has been bubbling on since even before the royal romance went public.

Samantha and Meghan have the same father, Tom, but different mothers. Allegedly, when Tom married Doria, Meghan's mother, Samantha called her "the maid", because she is black.

Seventeen years older, Samantha has always been jealous of and mean to Meghan, it has been reported, and if you need proof, maybe it's in how she hasn't a good word to say about her.

Apparently, they haven't spoken in more than a decade, but that hasn't stopped Samantha, who has written a book called My Sister Princess Pushy.

Samantha has seldom been off American telly since the wedding plans began, but things came to a head last week, as the drama with Meghan's Mexico-based father unfolded.

While Samantha's social-climber accusations have done Meghan no harm at all, the fairly foolish carry-on of her father has taken the polish off somewhat.

First there were the embarrassing pictures of him at an internet cafe, seeming to google his daughter as means of finding out how the wedding plans were going. It tugged at the modern-day heartstrings, sort of.

Then it was revealed that Tom Markle had posed for the photos, had arrived at the internet cafe with the photographer and was in cahoots not just for these photos, but others, too.

Then he was suddenly sick, too sick to travel to the UK to give Meghan away. That seemed like an excuse born out of mortification, until it was confirmed that Tom Markle was undergoing heart surgery and would not be able to come to Windsor and walk his daughter up the aisle.

Last Friday, it was confirmed that Prince Charles would give Meghan away to Harry.

And they all lived happily ever after. Doria, Meghan's mother, arrived in London and had tea with the Queen. She also met Charles and Camilla.

Meghan's Suits co-stars arrived in the UK for the big day. Meghan and Harry were photographed doing the last bits and bobs, waving from the back of a car as they headed off to spend the night in separate hotels.

Back in America, Samantha Markle was allegedly involved in a car crash that she blamed on the paparazzi.

There were reports that Meghan had successfully begged her ex not to give a TV interview.

The whole thing flip-flopped between quite the glam affair to being a catalogue of embarrassments. And we all kept watching. That's what you do with soap operas, right?

And nothing the Windsors have ever rolled out for us before comes close to this.

After all, with Meghan there's this notion that she's doing it for all of us. And not just the royal-lovers, but the begrudgers, as well.

For those with even a shred of affection for the Windsors, there is a rosy glow around the motherless Harry, who has been so open about his grief and anger after Diana, finally finding happiness.

Also, and yes, somewhat bizarrely, there's still some feeling in the 21st Century for the ordinary girl finds her (actual) prince narrative.

But even over here in Ireland, where we have a complicated relationship with the English, never mind their monarchy, we are all watching, whether we like ourselves for it or not.

We might be watching just in order to see how the toffs deal with a girl from a non-aristo broken home, with siblings who hate her, an ex-husband of her own and a colourful former love life, but we're still watching. Meghan has proved magnetic, but that darned family of hers seem on a mission to mess it up for her.

Then again, perhaps that adds to her appeal for us ordinary folk - if this were a TV drama she were starring in, the audience would find Meghan a worthy character to root for.

The path to St George's Chapel, Windsor, has been rocky, but the pitfalls and pratfalls may turn out to be to the advantage of the newly married Meghan and Harry. We are rooting for them, whether or not we have any regard for the royals. Because maybe what the Windsors have needed is not just a so-called commoner like Kate for us to root for, but someone like Meghan, whose relatively messy background makes modern sense.

Bolters seem quaint compared with staged pap shots and mean-spirited sisters, but welcome to the new Windsor fairytale, where they're no longer the stars of the show.

Sunday Independent

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