Where did it all go so wrong for Meghan Markle?
On this day last week, news broke that Meghan Markle is taking legal action against the Mail on Sunday’s parent company, Associated Newspapers.
The suit follows the paper’s publication of a handwritten letter Meghan sent to her estranged father after her wedding to Prince Harry last year, and Meghan is claiming misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of General Data Protection Regulation.
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Much of the reaction has surrounded Harry’s impassioned statement about the media’s “ruthless campaign” against his wife, along with his phone-hacking case against the owners of the Sun and the Mirror, yet Meghan’s lawsuit is remarkable on its own: it draws a very definite line in the sand between the press and the royals, after nearly three years of increasingly bitter relations.
From the moment Meghan Markle appeared on the scene as Harry’s girlfriend in 2016, she was subject to intense criticism, often with questionable undertones — one headline read “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton”, another expressed a “niggling worry” about Meghan joining the family, while a particularly memorable comment piece reflected on how “the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA”.
So why did the press fall out of love with Meghan?
We take a look at some of the most contentious moments in her royal career:
LETTING IT RIP
Meghan’s first public outing with Harry in 2017 set the tone for much of what was to come in the press’s portrayal of her.
The couple stepped out for the Invictus Games, holding hands — a rare public display of affection for the royals, but one that has become commonplace for Meghan and Harry. TheY were quickly compared to the chaste Prince William and Kate Middleton, and deemed smug and uncouth, almost as objectionable as Meghan’s ripped jeans on the occasion.
Commentators were shocked by her outfit, which also included a shirt called ‘The Husband’, and was seen as “controversial”, “calculated” and too casual.
Meghan made it clear from the jump that she’d be taking a very different approach to royal life, while devoted royalists made it clear they weren’t happy about it.
Catfights have long been media catnip, and the idea of a feud between Meghan and Kate proved irresistible. One Telegraph story particularly captured the imagination: that “Kate was left in tears following a bridesmaid’s dress fitting for Princess Charlotte”.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Meghan also allegedly “upset” her soon-to-be granny-in-law by asking to wear an emerald tiara rather than the one selected for her by the Queen.
Such incidents reportedly earned her the nicknames “Hurricane Meghan”, “Duchess Difficult” and “Me-Gain”.
It later came out that much of the tension was between their husbands — Meghan and Kate have put on a united front at Christmas services, at Wimbledon, at the polo and at Trooping the Colour, while Will and Harry have barely been seen or pictured together in more than a year — yet duchesses-at-war inevitably makes for a sexier narrative.
According to reports, the run-up to the royal wedding unfolded like a Dynasty omnibus, with Harry shrieking, most cinematically, “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets!” and an almost daily barrage of stories about Meghan’s diva demands, from the tiara wars to her request to “scent” the ceremony at Windsor Castle, a move unnamed royal household staff deemed “not appropriate”.
By contrast, when Kate chose to burn her favourite Jo Malone candles in Westminster Abbey before her own wedding in 2011, it was something she was glowingly praised for, with tabloids even recommending similar buys for readers.
The royal family is itself an embarrassing soap opera, with a history of illicit affairs, acrimonious divorces and not one but two very ill-advised friendships with convicted paedophiles, yet Meghan’s extended family drama draws the most criticism.
When commentators aren’t zeroing in on her mother Doria Ragland, a “dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks”, there are the unfiltered antics of her father Thomas and her half-sister Samantha to contend with.
Thomas Markle’s repeated outbursts and staged paparazzi photos have been the subject of much gleeful coverage, yet after the wedding, opinion began to shift, from a father’s shameful public betrayal of his daughter, to evidence of Meghan’s cold, unforgiving nature.
Meghan’s even been blamed for her family’s actions, as she was last weekend when reports claimed Thomas “felt he was forced to release” his daughter’s private letter to “defend” himself.
A SHOWER OF CRITICISM
Meghan’s critics have often sneered at her former career as an actress and her celebrity friends, including Amal Clooney and Serena Williams, who arranged a lavish baby shower for her in New York.
Despite her pals footing the $200,000 (€182,000) bill, the American custom didn’t translate well across the pond, and Meghan’s weekend away struck the British public as extravagant.
Every moment was breathlessly reported, from the details of the luxury penthouse suite to the starry guests to the flower-arranging session and delicately iced biscuits.
The event was labelled “Kardashian-style” and “tacky”, revealing a staunch belief among critics that an American biracial divorcee and celebrity in her own right doesn’t “belong” in the royal family.
Meghan has borne the brunt of the criticism for the Sussexes’ decision to keep much of the details around Archie’s birth private. The couple eschewed the hospital steps photocall, choosing instead to welcome a small press pool for photos and videos a couple of days after they had “had an opportunity to celebrate privately as a new family”.
When Archie did arrive, the couple announced the birth on Instagram — with an exclamation mark, to add insult to injury. Royal reporters were furious at being excluded, and the ire grew as Harry and Meghan opted not to disclose the names of Archie’s godparents or the doctors who delivered the baby.
Certain segments of the public feel they are owed access to the baby, by virtue of paying £2.65 (€2.97) in taxpayer funds per year, and each carefully composed Instagram photo of Archie’s hand or foot provokes another wave of objections.
Now that Archie has made his first official appearance in South Africa, critics still aren’t satisfied, angry that the Sussexes chose to unveil their son away from British soil.
NO PHOTOS PLEASE
During her maternity leave, criticism of Meghan really ramped up. Her unscheduled appearance at Wimbledon prompted a huge backlash as one guest claimed Meghan’s bodyguard told her not to take photos of the duchess.
A palace source explained this is standard practice for personal protection officers, but Meghan was held responsible, with TV presenter Eamonn Holmes branding her “uppity”.
There were still plenty of photos of Meghan’s visit, which only gave rise to further criticism of her outfit: jeans, again, which were slammed as disrespectful and inappropriate, regardless of the lack of dress code outside of the Royal Box.
PICKING UP THE BILL
There was uproar in June when the royal household’s annual financial statement revealed Harry and Meghan had spent £2.4m (€2.7m) in taxpayer funds on renovations for their Windsor home, a reportedly “dilapidated” old property called Frogmore Cottage.
The bill was dubbed “outrageous”, and raised again the debate over whether the royals are worth the money. For context, in 2014, William and Kate spent £4.5m (€5m) refurbishing their apartment in Kensington Palace, and a further £1.5m on their country home, Anmer Hall in Norfolk.
Between the flood of rabid headlines about Meghan wearing the “wrong” nail polish or daring to text another man months before she met Harry, the Sussexes’ critics went into overdrive about their use of private jets.
After Jane Goodall told Harry to have “not too many” children, his two-word response (“two, maximum”) was treated as a sermon, repeated all summer long each time he or Meghan shunned commercial flights with baby Archie.
While it was Harry who made the comments, and later a spectacularly ill-timed launch of an eco-friendly travel initiative, it was Meghan who was accused of influencing him by behaving “more like a celebrity than a royal”.
Meghan responded the best way she knows how — with an Instagram collage for Harry’s birthday featuring a photo of Diana carrying a newborn Harry off a private jet — and since then, the couple have flown strictly economy class.
THE DEVIL WEARS GIVENCHY
The backlash against Meghan reached a new peak over a fashion magazine, of all things. Kate guest-edited the Huffington Post and Prince Charles oversaw two editions of Country Life, but Meghan’s critics really let loose over her guest editorship of British Vogue.
Rather than focusing on her overwritten, lifestyle blog-style prose, they took issue with her choice of cover stars: a group of 15 women dubbed ‘Forces for Change’, including the Irish disability rights advocate Sinead Burke, model and former refugee Adut Akech and environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
She was attacked for endorsing “controversial” transgenderism, for only featuring five white women and for being unduly “political” by supporting causes such as mental health and immigration. The editor-in-chief Edward Enninful has since come to her defence, saying: “Was the criticism racist? Some of it, yeah.”
One headline read “Memo to Meghan: Brits prefer true royalty to fashion royalty”, a sentiment echoed in columns this week that pleaded “Meghan, please don’t force Harry to choose between you and us”. The implication is obvious, but now, Meghan the “outsider” is fighting back.
Whether the relationship can be repaired, or is beyond salvaging, has yet to be seen.