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Tuesday 11 December 2018

A thoroughly modern princess - how will Meghan Markle use her new royal role?

As Buckingham Palace gives its blessing for Meghan Markle to champion women's rights, Bryony Gordon considers how the new Duchess of Sussex will use her royal role

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ride in an Ascot Landau carriage after their wedding ceremony at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ride in an Ascot Landau carriage after their wedding ceremony at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex kisses his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, as they leave from the West Door of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Photo: Ben Stansall, WPA Pool/Getty Images
Prince Harry’s girlfriend Meghan Markle (left) with U2 frontman Bono’s wife Ali Hewson in Dublinin 2014 Picture: Mark Condren
Actress Meghan Markle at the One Young World Summit in 2014
Heads you win: The glorious but little-known Queen Mary bandeau, chosen with the Queen, felt like a regal version of Wonder Woman’s headpiece. Photo: REUTERS

Bryony Gordon

To the outside world, it might look as if the new Duchess of Sussex has spent her last few months as Meghan Markle locked away in the grounds of Kensington Palace and latterly Windsor Castle, quietly planning her wedding. There were, after all, canapes to be decided on, dresses to be designed, and bridesmaids to be chosen - all a bit of a headache for the average wedding, let alone one that was beamed into more than two billion homes worldwide.

Then, of course, there was the small matter of trying to help her father Thomas Markle, who, according to reports, was offered significant assistance by Kensington Palace but decided to turn them down, sadly. It would be enough to occupy the minds of most modern brides.

But to believe that Meghan only had thoughts of her wedding would be a mistake. For in tandem with planning one of the biggest events of the millennium, Meghan has also - and perhaps more excitingly for her - been planning her return to working life. The acting career may have been abandoned out of necessity, but while some people might have seen this as an opportunity to rest on their laurels and enjoy a light ladies-who-lunch schedule, Meghan is not some people. She is the new Duchess of Sussex, Countess of Dumbarton and Baroness Kilkeel. And boy does she mean business.

Ever since Kensington Palace announced her engagement to Prince Harry in November of last year, the 36-year-old Californian has been eagerly researching how she can best be of service to her adopted country (like everyone else, if she wants to become a British citizen she will have to do the test).

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex kisses his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, as they leave from the West Door of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Photo: Ben Stansall, WPA Pool/Getty Images
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex kisses his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, as they leave from the West Door of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Photo: Ben Stansall, WPA Pool/Getty Images

Meghan has been in close contact with representatives of The Royal Foundation, and has had endless private meetings with people who work for the charities that it supports - including, a couple of months ago, myself. The woman I met in February was a captivating combination of sassy, smart and sweet - we discussed yoga, mental health, the work of the Heads Together campaign, and her passion for encouraging women and young girls (the website of the royal family was updated on Sunday with an entry that noted Meghan is "proud to be a woman and a feminist", and it would not surprise me if much of her work going forward was female-focused). Like most people who have met Meghan, I left her feeling ever-so-slightly spellbound - not to mention impressed with the genuine strength of her convictions and commitment to good causes.

"One of the first things she did in the New Year was to come and get under the skin of The Royal Foundation," said David Wiseman, who is Head of the UK's Armed Forces Programmes. "She wanted to find out what we do there because in the not-too-distant future we're going to be working for her as well. One of the first things she did was to come in to the office and get a good briefing. She very kindly offered to help with judging for the Endeavour Fund Awards (which celebrates the achievements of servicemen and women who have been wounded, injured or sick).

"When she came in she really wanted to understand what we do and how she can get involved. Straight after that briefing she got stuck right in. She is a huge part of Harry's life obviously, and has an impact on his work, but now she can do her own things too."

As a former global ambassador for World Vision and a UN advocate who has campaigned for gender equality and against modern day slavery, Meghan was never going to be too interested in long meetings about wedding favours and table arrangements. Even her dress and make-up were beautifully understated - they showcased the woman, instead of the woman showcasing them. The glorious but little-known Queen Mary bandeau, chosen with the Queen, felt like a regal version of Wonder Woman's headpiece - unintentional, I am sure, but strangely apt.

But Meghan's contribution to the day was mostly evident in the service, in the gospel choir and the presence of Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the 19-year-old cellist who in 2016 became the first black musician to win the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award.

One of the most moving moments of the ceremony was, according to many there, a part that the global audience missed as the cameras focused on the newlyweds as they kissed on the steps of St George's Chapel. Behind them, in the church, the Kingdom Choir sang 'This Little Light of Mine' - an anthem for the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s that was sung by Fannie Lou Hamer as she was detained by police while trying to register to vote. As the crowds outside erupted in cheers when the freshly married couple emerged from the chapel, inside the entire congregation clapped, danced and sang along. "It felt like a truly transformative moment," said one guest - a moment that must have meant much to Meghan and her mother.

There was a sense of true change on Saturday but crucially, it still felt royal. Some commentators have worried that Meghan will be outspoken and unable to toe the party line, but privately many are confident and relaxed about her ability to make positive change within a royal context.

It is unlikely that Meghan will immediately announce the charities she will become patron of as the fourth principal at the Royal Foundation, as she is keen to make sure that the causes she aligns herself with are ones she has fully immersed herself in first - and that will take time.

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and some of the wedding party.
Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and some of the wedding party.

In the meantime she plans to tour around the country meeting small organisations and working closely with the charities that she could potentially become a patron of. As a woman who spent her teenage years volunteering at a soup kitchen on Skid Row, Meghan has been champing at the bit to get started, but she is also keen to get things right. She does not want to make the mistake of rushing in and giving critics an opportunity to trip her up. She is, as one charity chief said to me, "absolutely whip-smart".

Not to mention sassy, strong-minded and steadfastly self-aware - the latter quality being one that will serve her well as she navigates life as part of the monarchy. It was a tribute to Meghan that she invited both Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas to her wedding. While many women might have flinched at the idea of not one but two of her new husband's exes showing up on her big day, Meghan is clearly zen enough to not feel threatened. She is, after all, the daughter of a yoga teacher, a woman who has grown up in a culture where self-care - a rather new concept to most Brits - is viewed as a given rather than a luxury.

And as lovely as Chelsy and Cressida may be, they are not Meghan. And it had to be Meghan, didn't it? Like her new sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, Meghan will not shy away from duty. She will not sit quietly and let the world pass her by. She will try not to fail or falter, but if she does - because we all do - she will be open and honest about it, and see the light in the dark.

It was the American Bishop Michael Curry who noted, on Saturday, that "love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world."

Like her late mother-in-law, Meghan now has the opportunity to change the world. And while the narrative of this wedding has been one of a fairytale ending - for both bride and groom - we must know that actually, this is only the beginning.

Prince Harry’s girlfriend Meghan Markle (left) with U2 frontman Bono’s wife Ali Hewson in Dublinin 2014 Picture: Mark Condren
Prince Harry’s girlfriend Meghan Markle (left) with U2 frontman Bono’s wife Ali Hewson in Dublinin 2014 Picture: Mark Condren
The newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, leaving Windsor Castle after their wedding to attend an evening reception at Frogmore House, hosted by the Prince of Wales.
The newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, leaving Windsor Castle after their wedding to attend an evening reception at Frogmore House, hosted by the Prince of Wales.

Irish Independent

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