Thursday 18 April 2019

Royal biographer Lady Colin Campbell’s insights on the parallels between Meghan Markle and Princess Diana

 

Meghan Markle, left, and Princess Diana, right
Meghan Markle, left, and Princess Diana, right
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
(L-R) Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (L), talks with Britain's Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (R) as Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, stand by attending the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 11, 2019
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrive for the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, London
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex attend the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey on March 11, 2019 in London
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex attend a reception at Buckingham Palace in London to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the investiture of the Prince of Wales
Prince Charles with Diana, William and Harry in 1989
The Duchess of Sussex wearing the Reiss dress on International Women’s Day (Yui Mok/PA)
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Babies cheer up everyone, but for Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, the birth of her child, in April, will also enhance and empower her status within the British royal family.

"Being a mother - her position with the family will be much strengthened," says Lady Colin Campbell, biographer of the British royals. "Although there's some concern among palace officials that she is already taking too much of a leadership role."

Lady Colin, known as 'Georgie', wrote the first book about Diana, Princess of Wales which gave a real insight into Diana's life - Diana in Private was on the New York Times' bestseller list back in the 1990s when it appeared. Georgie's analysis, based on copious insider interviews and her own shrewd observations, disclosed much about Diana's character - in both its strengths and its flaws.

How do the personalities of Diana and Meghan compare? "There are discomforting parallels between the two women - both bright, ambitious, canny women who have known how to play the game," says Georgie, "though I think Meghan's situation is completely different. Diana was to be queen. Diana was an earl's daughter. Meghan is a lighting engineer's daughter. Meghan is mixed race."

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex attend a reception at Buckingham Palace in London to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the investiture of the Prince of Wales
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex attend a reception at Buckingham Palace in London to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the investiture of the Prince of Wales

Diana's background gave her more insight into how "the system" works, but Meghan's ethnicity gives her a special prominence. "Hundreds of millions of people of colour, all over the Commonwealth, and all over the world, identify with Meghan because of that. Their dreams are riding on her fate." Georgie, who was herself born in Jamaica and speaks with a light West Indian lilt, says that Meghan's position carries more "gravitas" because of this global dimension for people of colour. "We must hope that Meghan has no psychological instability - as Diana had - and won't hit the buffers at any point, as Diana did."

This may be unlikely. Diana suffered from many insecurities, while "Meghan is much better educated and more academic. Meghan is almost disturbingly self-confident. We must hope she realises that her vision is not the only vision. Royals must represent all of the people, and all of the people cannot agree with your point of view.

"She should remember she's not a political activist. There are many conservative people, all over the world, many religious people, who do not have these 'woke' and 'right-on' views." When it comes to affirmations about being such a feminist - and ensuring her child is a feminist - perhaps Meghan should sometimes "keep her mouth shut". (Anyway, a princess is hardly in a position to uphold equality, since her social situation is entirely based on rank.)

Meghan follows in Diana's footsteps in many areas - if the royal system has become less rigid, it is surely partly down to Diana's influence - and Prince Harry's deep attachment to his late mother will always be sacrosanct.

But Harry is a very different kind of husband from Prince Charles, says Lady Colin, and it's a very different kind of marriage. "For one thing, Meghan is in many ways Harry's superior - she's more intelligent, more together, and more strong-willed." Indeed, Harry is regarded as somewhat under the thumb of his wife, who has allegedly imposed vegetarianism and an end to huntin'-shootin'-fishin' traditional aristocratic pastimes. Yes, Harry is the subservient partner, says this royal biographer, although he still shoots a little - when his wife is not around.

Meghan is an outsider who has had to step into a highly codified network of precedence and correct form, even if it is a little more elastic than previously, and she has coped well. She is now preparing for the next act in the drama of her personal life, and she can do a lot of good, "if she can make some adjustments to her personality and beliefs, and if she has the modesty to understand that she's in a unique role for hundreds of millions of people."

Georgie Campbell is herself in a special position to understand the role of the insider-outsider. She was born into an affluent family in Jamaica of Lebanese origin - though she also has Irish links, and would be related, through a Bourke family antecedent, to the Earls of Mayo. Her family life was warm and extended, but her parents didn't cope well with her unique gender problem.

Because of a genital malformation at birth, Georgie was identified, and raised, as a boy. She was unable to obtain the operation which gave her a full female identity until she was an adult, and she endured anguishing adolescent ordeals, as she describes in her autobiography, A Life Worth Living. She was bright, studied in America - and modelled in New York - and had a brief, troubled marriage to Colin Campbell, son of the Duke of Argyll.

But Georgie's optimistic personality has helped her overcome the many challenges of her life, and she has turned her 1790s home, Castle Goring near Worthing in Sussex, built for the poet Shelley, into a glamorous wedding venue.

Georgie adopted two infant boys from a Russian orphanage back in the 1990s and raised them as a single mother: they have now grown up happily and successfully, and are a tribute to her sense and sensibility, her nuanced knowledge of the social world, with a sceptical eye for its shallow vanities.

Prince Charles with Diana, William and Harry in 1989
Prince Charles with Diana, William and Harry in 1989

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