Tuesday 19 March 2019

Sarah Caden: 'Meghan needs Harry, and not George Clooney, to defend her'

Clooney and her pals mean well with their media defences, but Meghan needs more, writes Sarah Caden

HUSBANDS AND WIVES: Above, Meghan and Harry Windsor. Picture: PA
HUSBANDS AND WIVES: Above, Meghan and Harry Windsor. Picture: PA

Sarah Caden

The question that sent George Clooney into last week's rant against the public treatment of Meghan Markle was inane enough. One of the assembled press at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in LA asked Clooney if he was in the running to be godfather to the imminent baby of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

George and his wife Amal were, after all, among the glitzy guests at the royal wedding last May and are reported to have been guests at the couple's cottage since. It's a plausibly inconsequential question to ask. Clooney at first laughed off the jokey inquiry, and then got serious.

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"They're just chasing Meghan Markle everywhere, she's been pursued and vilified," he said. "She's a woman who is seven months pregnant and she is being pursued and vilified and chased in the same way that Diana was, and it's history repeating itself. And we've seen how that ends."

By "they", Clooney seems to have been referring to the UK press, whom the US press regard as being particularly tough on American Meghan.

His comments, made last Monday, came less than a week after US magazine People published interviews with five of Meghan's friends, extolling the virtues of the duchess. These anonymous interviews were perceived as being approved by Meghan, as otherwise the shared domestic detail of her royal life would have been a betrayal of her rather than what it was, a group defence of her.

More significantly, however Clooney's comments were made on the same day that UK papers published a handwritten letter from Meghan to her father, imploring him to stop talking about her to the media and attempting to explain the pain he was causing to her. The letter had been handed over by Thomas Markle himself, apparently to expose his daughter's selfish and cruel character.

In the letter, Meghan accuses her father of lying about her lack of financial support for him. She accuses him of siding inexplicably against her with her half-sister, Samantha, "who I hardly know". She says he has repeatedly attacked and vilified Prince Harry, while never taking the time to get to know him. She says that Thomas Markle, since last May's wedding, has made no attempt to contact her - and yet continues to have plenty of stories to tell about her. By anyone's standards, Thomas Markle's decision to publish this letter was a huge betrayal. It was personal, it seems heartfelt, it was handwritten.

Obviously, without Thomas Markle's collusion, this increasingly negative campaign against Meghan couldn't exist. If her family didn't continue to feed the fire, it could possibly burn out. She's been unlucky with her family and possibly could have done more to mollify them before this ran out of control, but maybe not.

Outings such as that undertaken by Meghan's friends in People magazine are not really helping her, however. Sure, their vignettes about how she cooks every night for Harry and makes tea and towels off the muddy dogs, all witnessed by her friends when they've visited the royals' 'cosy' cottage, are cute and endearing - but her supposed collusion in them is a problem.

The palace, it has been reported, were not aware that these stories were going to come out and were not at all happy about them. It was too much of a solo run. They don't like solo runs. In fact, solo runs of a press variety remind the palace of one very difficult person - Diana. And they are unlikely to characterise Diana in quite the fully sympathetic way that George Clooney did by way of his defence of Meghan.

When Clooney compares press treatment of Meghan to the manner in which Diana was treated, one can't help but remember that Diana herself was up to her armpits in colluding with the media. She was a huge source of their stories about her and she used and manipulated them on a regular basis to settle scores with her in-laws. She was indeed ultimately a victim of this intensely unhealthy relationship, but she was not entirely a victim of it.

When George Clooney says "we've seen how that ends", he very much seems to be alluding to Diana's death. On a less drastic level, however, the toxic carry-on in Diana's relationship with the media certainly contributed to the failure of her marriage and it's conceivable that this could occur with Harry and Meghan.

They are, of course, very happy together, but these things take a toll and such a level of scrutiny has to raise unpleasant memories for Harry and can't be easy on Meghan either.

What exactly Meghan has done to warrant the backlash of recent months is a bit of a puzzle. It could merely be that having gone mad for her last year, there is now a clawing back. It could be that her family's desire to badmouth is just too scandalous to pass up.

Or it could simply be that Meghan seems far too delighted with herself and her new status and needs some taking back down to earth. All that clasping of her pregnant tummy seems to drive people potty - more showing off - and she's just that bit too smug at her public outings, as if she's showing everyone how being a royal is really done.

Too big for her boots. Which isn't allowed, obviously. And no amount of celeb endorsement or scolding from Clooney is going to turn that around. In fact, it might make things worse. If rumours of a rift between Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton are true, then there's one very good reason for it and it goes beyond a personality clash. Meghan Markle wouldn't be human if she did not compare the treatment of her sister-in-law to that meted out to her. And Meghan would not be human if she didn't wonder what she has done to deserve what is undeniably a rough ride.

If Meghan feels resentful of the easy time enjoyed by Kate, she is fully justified. She will not help to effect a change in this, however, if she continues kicking back. An outmoded dinosaur of an institution the UK monarchy may well be, but it's an institution Meghan Markle chose to join, and it comes with constrictions.

No press, no public comments that have not been edited to inanity first, no making a fuss, no drawing unwanted attention to oneself. It was once called "assuming a stiff upper lip" and Kate Middleton - no longer referred to so much as a commoner - has it ingrained in her.

Meghan, on the other hand, comes from a world, privately and professionally, where you stand up for yourself and speak up for yourself.

The more Meghan pushes back the worse this seems to get. But who is the person to make her see sense and go silent? So far, it's not been Harry.

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