What is it about Meghan and Harry that makes them so very likeable?
This year has been unquestionably successful for the British royal family.
The responsibilities of the world’s most watched royals are somewhat convoluted: their work is largely based on community outreach and philanthropy but they must appear relatable, down-to-earth and at-all-times charming.
Meghan Markle, the newest duchess, has embraced her new role with aplomb and her whirlwind love story with husband Prince Harry has reached an exciting new chapter as the couple announced they’re expecting their first child on Monday as they are in the midst of a 16-day tour of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
And while their ‘jobs’ per se largely require being immaculately dressed and making small talk with strangers with a smile on their face isn’t exactly the most taxing work in the world, it’s a duty that’s taken very seriously in the palace and by the public.
Case in point: Meghan and Harry are attending dozens of engagements in little over two weeks, and while there’s little sympathy on hand for the couple whose only full-time job is to have their picture taken, I will forever empathise with any woman forced into high heels at any stage of her pregnancy.
When they announced their baby news on Monday, there were well-wishes pouring in from around the world, perhaps even moreso than when they exchanged vows in a fairytale ceremony in May.
They represent the perfect marriage of a modern monarchy - they are both beautiful, wealthy, clearly in love and without the pressures of expectation imposed on William and Kate Middleton, are allowed to carve their own path. In the two years they’ve been together, they have met, fallen in love, become engaged, married, moved Meghan’s entire life to London from Toronto and are now expecting their first child. And during that time, their popularity has only increased with every considered appearance they have made.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece stating that I believe Meghan Markle’s ostentatiously expensive wardrobe is in bad taste (my particular example was her wearing a €5,000 Givenchy suit while meeting children with life-altering and fatal diseases and their parents, some of whom work as full-time carers) and I was decimated on social media with allegations I was racist, sexist and just plain jealous. More often than not, if I write anything critical about Meghan, I am told by her supporters that my criticism is rooted in equal parts racism and envy.
On the flip side, anything that I, or any other journalist might write that is full of praise for the Duchess of Sussex is dismissed as nonsensical, because it’s largely based on their appearances or because of this alternative narrative that she is nothing but a clever social climber.
Members of the public, particularly the British public, feel a bizarre sense of ownership over Harry.
When I covered their wedding in Windsor in May, I spoke to a number of the estimated 150,000 people who had travelled from around the world and camped for days to understand what it was about this royal couple that is so captivating.
One woman, a retiree in her 60s, said she believed Harry was “just like her”, while another gentleman, who had slept on the streets of Windsor for two days in advance, said he wanted to see Harry happy, believing they held a special bond despite having never met each other.
I remain fascinated by this dynamic.
Any of the Americans I spoke to, who had flown thousands of miles to the picturesque town, said they initially became fascinated with the royals (particularly Harry and Prince William) during Princess Diana’s lifetime.
While covering their two-day trip to Dublin in July, there was a different reception. Firstly, there was a significantly smaller crowd and certainly not the numbers befitting the extensive security required or the snipers and undercover Gardai that followed their every move.
The trip itself was well received by the public, but for those covering it, it was a poorly organised disaster; but it’s hard to describe that in detail without sounding like a moany media type and will likely result in more people telling people how jealous I am again.
Still, it gave me two opportunities to see the couple in person to measure the public’s affection for them and how they engage in return.
While the numbers were somewhat paltry here, it wasn’t reflective of their popularity (it was in the middle of a work day and raining) as this modern royal couple are universally beloved as the world continue to watch their real-life love story unfold.
They are also beneficiaries of the social media age.
A blog called Meghan’s Mirror is often credited with being the first to identify pieces of Meghan’s wardrobe and it is a go-to source for royal watchers and Meghan fans the world over.
It's run by two women Amanda and Christine, who said that her soaring popularity in fashion is down to being "polished but imperfect".
"Part of the reason Meghan became popular so quickly is that she was very relatable; she was wearing jeans, blouses, a nice pair of flats – some of it might have been expensive but a lot of it wasn’t," they told You magazine.
There has been something of a division among royal watchers: those who believe Meghan is exploiting Harry’s affability and is a calculated social climber who is putting on the best performance of her life as an actress or a great sense of sympathy for what she has gone through so publicly with her family.
You could write a sociological and anthropological thesis on the real-life associations we make with strangers based on the public narrative we’re told; but frankly, that’s far beyond my expertise.
It does, however, raise some interesting questions about the public’s fascination with these two, which is growing by the day, especially during their jam-packed tour Down Under.
They have done a number of things that would suggest they are not as picture perfect as we might think, especially as they navigate their way through this very public relationship. They reportedly announced their baby news at his cousin Princess Eugenie’s wedding and the way they handled Meghan’s disastrous family drama was frankly a mess.
Harry’s appeal lay with his late mother; something that Meghan would be all too familiar with in a personal capacity as his wife and through the knowledge she gained in 35 years before entering the royal fishbowl. Her decision to wear jewels that previously belonged to Diana is no coincidence and is further evidence of her desire to endear herself to the British public.
A number of comparisons have been drawn between the two, from Meghan’s dress sense to her personal causes as she is clearly emulating one of the most beloved royals in history - a sensible tactic by an incredibly intelligent woman who didn’t have the 10-year headstart that her sister-in-law had before officially marrying into the family.
Kensington Palace has been on an aggressive PR campaign post-Brexit, sending the ‘Fab Four’ to select events in the UK and abroad to foster European relations, not to mention their commitment to a positive news cycle. This year alone they have celebrated two royal weddings, one royal baby arrival, one royal baby news announcement and Prince George and Princess Charlotte making a number of adorable appearances over the last 10 months.
It is largely being considered the ‘golden age’ of the royals: the affection for Prince Charles just isn’t there, especially in comparison to Queen Elizabeth, but William and Harry are securing the longevity of the throne one carefully choreographed appearance after another.
And Meghan’s sprinkle of Hollywood stardust might be just what they needed to thrive.