Caitlin McBride: 'Meghan Markle is her own worst enemy'
In the space of just a few short years, Meghan Markle has learned that life is far more complicated than a straightforward fairytale ending.
She met her prince, they fell madly in love and became engaged after a whirlwind one-year relationship. On paper, it's the stuff of great love stories; in reality, there's much more than meets the eye.
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Meghan-mania has officially become part of global news coverage, but now there are sides being set: you're either #TeamMeghan or nothing.
As time goes on, a dichotomous narrative has emerged between coverage of her in her native United States, which is almost exclusively glowing, in comparison to the seething critique in her adopted of the UK. Americans believes she's being portrayed unfairly and that a lot of the criticism around her has racial undertones, while some Britons think she's manipulating a seemingly infallible Prince Harry.
When she was first linked with Harry in 2016, she was a successful actress on a popular American television show and unashamedly ambitious when it came to her professional and social life. Clips of her campaigning for gender equality dating back to childhood endeared her to the public. Pictures of her visiting developing countries with World Vision likened her as Princess Diana 2.0.
Shortly before her 2018 wedding, stories began emerging that gave some royal watchers pause for thought: the fact that she broke up with her first Trevor Engelson when she ‘made it’, when she threw a ‘sayonara Zara’ during which she gave away all her high street clothes for designer labels when she started making 'real' money and then, there was her complicated relationship with her father Thomas Markle.
All of these have plausible alternatives to what was being presented to the public: a). in the first instance, anyone who has ever been in a relationship understands it’s impossible to speculate (accurately) about the goings on between two people; b). stories with some truth can be exaggerated for dramatic effect and c). her father has proven himself time and time again to be untrustworthy and have no qualms in betraying his youngest daughter.
Before her wedding, she was hailed for her down-to-earth style: She wore flares! And jeans! And a low messy bun! Meghan Markle was truly one of us at heart. But the second she became the Duchess of Sussex, her life changed in an instant: those protocol-breaking moves that earned her so many positive headlines in her engagement were now interpreted as disrespectful to long-established rules and she was being portrayed as some sort of manipulative puppet-master pulling Harry’s strings and controlling his life.
This portrayal of Harry, seemingly incapable of making his own decisions or taking the reins of his own life, should be more insulting to him and less a summary of her character. But instead, it's neither, just simply more evidence as to why his two long-term relationships with Cressida Bonas and Chelsy Davy ended because neither could cope with life in the royal fishbowl.
Meghan, an actress, seemed an appropriate fit who could cope with the intensity of the spotlight, understanding more than anyone the trade-off for fame and fortune is a little bit of your privacy. As a royal, that exchange is much deeper.
Harry, who is worth an estimated €40m, makes his money through an income with the Duchy of Cornwall - a private estate that funds the activities of whoever holds the title of Prince of Wales and his family - allocated by his father Prince Charles.
It means that the British taxpayer doesn’t fund every aspect of the royals’ lifestyles, but it does foot the bill for a significant portions like renovations to their homes and their security, through the Sovereign Grant. (Meghan and Harry's working wardrobes and staff are covered by the Duchy of Cornwall).
For the benefit of optics alone, it certainly doesn't bolster one's reputation as a woman of the people when your personal security team request that people not take your picture at one of the most photographed events in Britain.
While at Wimbledon this month, an event in which 12,000 other people were in attendance and which was being streamed live around the world for millions of people, Meghan came under fresh fire when a member of her personal protection team reportedly told a number of people in their surrounds not to take her picture as she as there in a “private capacity”.
This should raise red flags for two reasons: the first being the aforementioned tricky relationship with the taxpayer and the second that anyone in a position of power and influence trying to rewrite the rules to suit only them is cause for concern.
Meghan and Harry’s desire to seek extraordinary levels of privacy in their family comes at a time when public interest in the royals has reached its highest in decades. After she gave birth to baby son Archie in May, the couple opted against a photocall-on-the-steps-of-the-Lindo-Wing à la Kate Middleton and Prince William.
They agreed to a brief interview and some pictures in Windsor as a compromise to satiate people's appetites, while also maintaining respect for their newborn son and a woman who had given birth just hours earlier.
Some in the press corps felt hard done by after dutifully reporting on Harry’s personal passions and professional achievements for so many years. However, the idea of forcing a woman to wear a (white!) dress, high heels and full hair and makeup hours after giving birth doesn’t sit right with me, no matter how famous she is.
It was a fair choice to handle it the way in which they did. By the time Archie’s christening rolled around last week, however, the tide had turned once again.
The timing was poor. Annual accounts from Buckingham Palace showed that the Sussexes used £2.4m of public funds to renovate their home at Frogmore Cottage - and it's not unrealistic to assume not all of these were essential foundational and structural works.
The news that the couple would not be allowing access to press, an arguably harmless royal tradition, set the tone for how much of Archie’s life would be represented in public.
There would be no goodwill photocalls, but instead, their own well-choreographed message sending through social media. After his baptism, they released a black and white picture of the three of them, alongside a one featuring more of the direct family, through their Sussex Royal Instagram account and to newspapers hours after the fact.
The pictures were beautiful and prompted the same gushing coverage as it would have had there been press access allowed; but it left a sour taste in many people’s mouths.
Still, you could argue that Harry is trying to right the wrongs of his own childhood, offering his son the chance at a relatively normal life, the one he yearned for so much before accepting his fate well into his 30s.
Meghan, for the most part, likely goes along with what he says; not because she’s doubling down on her feminist values, but he’s the one familiar with the rules and regulations. To think that she is single-handedly rewriting the rules to suit her own agenda inaccurately - and unfairly - demonises the woman in the situation, when the man, who grew up a literal prince in a palace, likely had his own plans for years.
There is no rulebook in place for high ranking royals’ maternity leave and Kate Middleton carved out her own path after welcoming oldest son Prince George in 2013. She returned to her duties six weeks later and after Charlotte and Louis, she took significantly longer.
She didn’t, however, attract the same public attention as Meghan has during that time. In fact, a Kate-sighting during her maternity leave without an attendance-required event like Trooping the Colour, was a rarity. In comparison, Meghan has been having her cake and eating it too as she embraces the positives of her public life without any of the pesky annoyances of royal responsibility.
Last Sunday night, she walked the red carpet - her first as a duchess - with her husband for the European premiere of The Lion King,meeting Beyoncé and Jay-Z and the rest of the cast and crew.
The day before, she returned to Wimbledon with her sister-in-law and in a stroke of genius, was also joined by Pippa Matthews. Pippa and Kate, life-long tennis fans, arrived early and stayed late, but Meghan took her seat at the royal box in centre court for long enough to appreciate the ambiance of SW19 and achieve the desired positive publicity before likely rushing home to be with her two-month-old baby.
For someone seeking privacy, she sure is attending a lot of public events.
Throughout much of Meghan’s time in the royal bubble, there has been an endless stream of the inevitable comparisons to Kate, who is now being held as the benchmark for all normal people-turned-royals; but who went through her own hell with the press for years.
She was cruelly dubbed ‘Waity Katie’ because Prince William didn’t propose for more than seven years and her family’s own colourful history was exploited for headlines, whether it be her uncle Gary Goldsmith's criminal conviction or the classist coverage around the fact that her mother used to work as a flight attendant.
They followed her relentlessly and because she wasn’t an official royal, without a bodyguard to match, she had to deal with much of the attention herself. In comparison, when Meghan attended the Invictus Games in Toronto to cheer on Harry, in their first public confirmation of their relationship, she was given a security officer in the arena.
Neither example is a lesson in ‘how it should be done’, but rather proof that what’s being done is constantly evolving.
There are any number of simple ways that Meghan could make her life - or at least her public perception - easier. Like these:
1. She can ditch the expensive clothes for daywear. There is no reason to wear Givenchy at every opportunity when there are plenty of alternative high street options that won’t make her seem like a ‘copy Kate'. RIXO London, Self Portrait and Sophie Hulme offer myriad options that aren’t cheap without being mouth-wateringly expensive.
2. She should take some real time away from the spotlight. The temptation to re-frame your narrative must be too much to resist, but with time away, like during her maternity leave, she could effectively strategise an actionable game plan of the best way to make her comeback work for her.
3. She should start publicising her relationship with her mother. It’s a controversial suggestion as Doria is a private citizen, but much of the criticism around Meghan involves her strained relationship with her father and the rest of her family. Doria is well-received in every inch of coverage and pushing forward the three generations with the royals would be an easy win.
4. Stop listening to Harry. This is based off the idea that she is, in fact, following his guidance; but Meghan didn’t claw her way to the top of Toronto society and turn a C-list television career into a path to duchess-dom without listening to her gut.
5. Acceptance. You can’t have it both ways, not without ruining your own efforts in the process. Take the good with the and carve out your own happy ending. There's no such thing as having it all, but you can come pretty close.