Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: Happily every after...or disaster in waiting?
Downton Abbey fans may remember the moment when Dowager Countess Violet Grantham turned to rival matriarch Martha Levinson, and sneered: "You Americans never understand the importance of tradition."
The caustic quip came to mind when Meghan Markle (36) and Prince Harry (32) made their first official public appearance at the Invictus Games in Toronto, Canada, last weekend.
Markle dressed down for day three of the event, pairing ripped skinny jeans with a white shirt, while Harry wore his navy chinos — for the third day in a row.
The couple’s relaxed interpretation of smart-casual wasn’t the only thing that got royal-watchers in a whip. The smelling salts had to be passed to those who deemed their public hand-holding a breach of royal etiquette.
Granted, their PDA was hardly Fergie-toe-sucking territory, but there is a cohort of traditionalists who would be inclined to agree with the Dowager Countess Violet Grantham’s assessment.
Many more are comparing Markle’s outfit choices, as she makes her public debut, to the ensembles that Kate Middleton put together during the early days of her romance with Prince William.
The future Queen looked like a geography teacher on a field trip when she joined Prince William at the Cheltenham Festival in 2007, where she kept a judicious distance from her now-husband lest anyone got the impression that they had something as unbecoming as a frisson.
Markle and Prince Harry, on the other hand, couldn’t keep their hands off each other at the Invictus Games.
It should be noted that Harry, who will be relegated to sixth-in-line to the throne when William and Kate welcome their third child next year, isn’t under the same pressure to mind his P’s and Q’s during public appearances.
Nonetheless, he seems determined to go against convention at every turn. Last year, he ordered Kensington Palace to release an unprecedented statement that detailed the “wave of abuse and harassment” that his girlfriend had been subjected to by the national media and social media trolls.
The release read more like the work of a Hollywood publicist than a palace official, while the line “This is not a game — it is her life and his” sounded like something Liam Neeson might growl in Taken 4.
Markle has also proved herself to be more media-friendly than most royal girlfriends. She talked openly about her fledgling romance on the pages of Vanity Fair magazine, gushing about their love with the kind of emotional effusiveness that the stiff-upper-lipped British ruling class can’t abide.
“I can tell you that at the end of the day I think it’s really simple,” she said. “We’re two people who are really happy and in love. We were very quietly dating for about six months before it became news, and I was working during that whole time, and the only thing that changed was people’s perception. Nothing about me changed. I’m still the same person that I am, and I’ve never defined myself by my relationship.”
It’s telling that Markle, who plays the no-nonsense Rachel Zane in legal drama Suits, went to such lengths to assert her independence. The subtext is that she won’t allow royal protocol to subdue her personality, and you’ll never catch her wearing tweed.
Perhaps the ripped jeans at her first official public outing were more than just a style statement. She is smart enough to know better, after all.
Markle double-majored in theatre and international relations, before working at the US Embassy in Argentina during her senior year. She later used her profile as an actress to raise awareness of women’s issues alongside various charities, years before Angelina Jolie and Emma Watson carved out similar careers.
On paper, she is the perfect candidate for a regal lifestyle of walkabouts. But will she be asked to give up her acting career for the royal duties of hand-shaking, balcony-waving, baby-kissing, ribbon-cutting, and
The actress recently stepped away from her “passion project”, lifestyle blog The Tig, leading many to speculate that it was done in deference to the royal family.
Unfortunately she can’t shut up her family as swiftly as she shut down her website.
Her half-brother, Thomas Markle Jr, recently urged Harry to get down on one knee with all the tact of a reality TV contestant. “I hope Prince Harry proposes,” he said. “She’s a hot commodity right now — he better get on it.”
Meanwhile, her half-sister Samantha Grant is already inking the deal on a tell-all memoir.
“If only I could predict the media frenzy and racial slurs that would occur as a direct result of my beautiful baby sister possibly becoming the first bi-racial princess or duchess in royal history,” she says in the publisher’s synopsis.
Even her ex-husband, producer Trevor Engelson, has jumped aboard the gravy train. He’s developing a TV comedy pilot about a man whose wife leaves him for a British prince.
It’s an embarrassing turn of affairs for Markle but it is incumbent upon us to remember that Kate Middleton’s cocaine-snorting uncle Gary Goldsmith sold a story to Hello! magazine about the royal couple’s holiday in his unfortunately-named villa, ‘La Maison de Bang Bang’ in Ibiza.
It’s also important to note that Prince Harry once wore a Nazi uniform, complete with swastika armband, to a fancy dress party where his older brother — always the more sensible one — opted for a homemade lion and leopard outfit.
In other words, this is a new generation of the monarchy, coming of age in a world that is breaking free of social convention. Sweden’s Prince Carl Philip married a one-time glamour model and waitress; France’s President married a woman 25 years his senior, and a former reality TV star is the president of the United States. When we ask if the Queen could really give an American TV actress the royal seal of approval, we have to look at the culture we’re living in, as well as the royal candidate’s credentials.
Besides, it’s arguable that Prince William didn’t feel any pressure from ‘The Firm’ to find a polo-playing, blue-blooded wife because of how Charles and Diana’s marriage turned out. So then, why should his brother?
If Prince Harry and Meghan Markle walk down the aisle, she will become the first American to marry into the royal family since socialite Wallis Simpson. King Edward VIII abdicated to marry the divorcée, while Prince Charles only had to ask mumsy for permission to marry fellow divorcée Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.
The same rules could probably be relaxed for divorcée Markle. Indeed, the couple could probably marry in Westminster Abbey if they so wished.
But that’s not the point. The issue isn’t that Markle is a divorcée. The issue is that she is a non-traditionalist who has made it clear, with ripped-jean rebellion, that she will not be locked in the gilded cage of monarchy.
“We’re a couple,” she said to Vanity Fair. “We’re in love. I’m sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time. This is for us. It’s part of what makes it so special, that it’s just ours. But we’re happy. Personally, I love a great love story.”
We all do, but will Kensington Palace give two iconoclasts their happy ending?