Monday 19 August 2019

Is Meghan ready for her toughest role yet?

After announcing their engagement, Sinead Ryan analyses how Prince Harry's bride-to-be will adapt to a life of royalty

Wedding belle: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle show off her engagement ring. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Wedding belle: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle show off her engagement ring. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

An American divorcee marrying into the stuffy British royal family. What could possibly go wrong?

Unlike the last time the world was presented with such an event, in 1936 when Wallis Simpson's relationship with King Edward VIII led to his abdication and almost the abolition of the entire monarchy, the moral code has shifted on its axis and, more than likely, Meghan Markle's marriage to Prince Harry will be greeted by joy and happiness next spring.

But what kind of princess will she make?

Unlike Kate Middleton, she wasn't even brought up in middle class England, never mind the aristocracy - she's not one of the Queen's subjects. She's just an ordinary girl from a regular family who happened to make it in Hollywood.

Even though we know what she looks and sounds like, given the dozens of interviews and red carpet events she's undertaken in her professional life as an actress, becoming a senior royal is a different thing altogether. There are some who would say being on a prince's arm, cutting ribbons and attending openings is all a big act anyway and therefore she is immensely suited to it.

But the stifling protocols, weight of a thousand years of tradition and the arcane rules surrounding entering rooms, curtseying, standing or sitting in the right place, knowing who gets a bow and who doesn't, would tip anyone over the edge.

Wallis Simpson pictured with the Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII). Photo: Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Wallis Simpson pictured with the Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII). Photo: Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

So what do we know about the newest princess-to-be?

Firstly, she and Harry are clearly a love match. This may seem obvious, but that is a very recent development in royal circles. For centuries, arranged marriages, for dynastical reasons, were the norm. Most royals in the last millennium married for politics rather than romance. The empire and its colonies counted on it.

The Queen has always insisted her children marry for love first, as she did, but it is telling that three out of four of them ended up divorced anyway.

That Harry and Meghan love each other is a great start, but by no means a guarantee. Harry has had a few long-term loves that could have made the cut instead. The posh Cressida Bonas and Chelsea Davy - it is said - baulked at the prince's persistence. Neither wanted a goldfish-bowl life and both are wealthy and ambitious enough not to need it. Both are also leggy blondes, so Harry has clearly changed 'type' with Meghan.

The good news is that his bride-to-be is already heavily involved in humanitarian work. This is an excellent start for a royal, and is believed to be how they met. She is an ambassador for the World Vision charity, champions conservation works in Africa (Harry's favourite charity), and has given many talks on helping third-world children. So far, so princessy.

However, she is also an ardent and outspoken feminist. Since her new job will be entirely supportive (her husband's duties come first), she will need to adapt.

As Harry is the second son, she will never be the first princess - that's Kate. Will Meghan be happy as second fiddle? Her royal status, billing at state events and clothing allowance will never match the Duchess of Cambridge who will, of course, one day be Princess of Wales and then Queen.

Meghan, so far, has done everything right. Loyalty, discretion and non-reaction are hallmarks of a royal wife. "Never complain, never explain," is the Queen's byword.

Pomp: Meghan and Harry may not go for a lavish ceremony like Will and Kate did. Photo: PA
Pomp: Meghan and Harry may not go for a lavish ceremony like Will and Kate did. Photo: PA

The rumour machine really cranked up when she shut down her online lifestyle blog, finished shooting Suits and moved her dogs to London (liking dogs is a huge plus with the Windsors).

The couple will live, initially at least, in Nottingham Cottage, the small two-bed flat Harry has at Kensington Palace. It's away from prying eyes, but they'll probably take a country house somewhere too - the couple has been spotted in Norfolk house hunting. In time, there'll be a proper 'royal household' for them at Clarence House when Harry's father accedes to the throne. Will Meghan be happy in the country, shooting and fishing and riding horses?

Will she be allowed to work? Yes, but certainly not as an actress and not in Canada where Suits is filmed. It would be inconceivable that a royal, surrounded from this day forward by a constant team of protection officers, could hang out on set in Hollywood.

She will need to select carefully chosen charities and carve out a role there. She certainly isn't shy at getting up to talk, unlike Kate, so that's a big plus for any organisation who would be thrilled to have her on board. Expect endangered animals and sick children to be top priority.

An 'unconventional' wedding has been rumoured or even one in the US, but it's more than likely they'll end up in a big church with many of the crowned heads of Europe present.

It won't have to have the pomp and ceremony of William and Kate, but it is important, drawing out the Household Cavalry and processions down the Mall, not to mention the traditional 'balcony appearance' for a first kiss.

As Meghan is a divorcee, there are hurdles to overcome. Her marriage to film producer Trevor Engelson in 2011 took place in a Jamaican hotel, so doesn't preclude a religious wedding. As head of the Church of England, the Queen couldn't countenance attending a civil ceremony. When Charles and Camilla married, she didn't go to the registry office, but a 'blessing' in St George's Chapel instead.

If Harry and Meghan want low key, then this venue in the privacy of Windsor Castle is ideal. They'll want their own mark on it, but royal ceremonies are run by an entire office within Buckingham Palace and the couple will have to put up with mighty resistance if they want to be 'different'.

Finally, and hopefully, there will be children. They could be the first legitimate black children within the senior royal family. This should not remotely be a factor, but it is.

In 2016 Harry issued an unprecedented statement to the media about the racist backlash Meghan had been subjected to. Some Brits are patriotic to the point of xenophobic and the couple will need to face up to views they have on what constitutes 'blue blood'.

For her own part, the future Duchess of Sussex (as she will most likely be styled), is sanguine. She has met racists before. In a magazine interview she once said she considers herself stuck in the middle: "I wasn't black enough for the black roles and I wasn't white enough for the white ones."

This is the role of her life, so let's hope she's ready for the whirlwind.

Irish Independent

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