For Meghan Markle, 2018 would prove to be the most defining year of her life.
It was two years after she met her now-husband Prince Harry, who would transform her life as she knows it; 15 years after she graduated with a degree in theatre and international studies from Northwestern University and seven years since she landed the role of Rachel Zane on Suits. But the last 12 months have proven to be the most challenging in a life filled that has been filled with impositions.
The public’s relationship with Markle, now Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, is complicated to say the least. The whirlwind nature of her relationship allowed royal watchers to become just as swept up in her real-life fairytale as she was, but within just a few months, things began to change – and fast.
In January, the then-engaged Meghan and Prince Harry began their pre-wedding promotional tour, with visits across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as is tradition. It is both an opportunity for people to get to know the lesser known bride-to-be and also an appeasement to the British public whose taxes pay for the €35m security costs that comes with such a lavish wedding.
During these appearances, Meghan hit her stride: her fashion choices were groundbreaking. She wore jeans! And her hair in a messy bun! She wore crossbody bags! It was a veritable display of her impeccable taste, while remaining true to herself. It would be the first to go after she said ‘I do’.
Not to mention that these lovebirds were clearly head over heels. They always walked hand in hand or with clasped arms, their affection always on display. Was it too much sometimes? Absolutely. But everybody’s a sucker for a love story and theirs was nearly too unreal to be tree.
Her years of training both as an actress and a public speaker informing her behaviour now that she was to be part of the one of the famous families in the world. It’s the unwavering confidence that comes with having independent success that has also been part of her downfall. She has certainly fallen victim to a narrative created exclusively around women, one that suggests that accomplished women are difficult and at its worst, cocky. But, she is also reportedly refusing to take advice from anyone but her husband, a man who has spoken openly about his distaste for protocol and previously expressed a desire to renounce his title and that suggests the latter mightn’t be such an unfair character assessment.
As part of a carefully thought-out strategy, they began a full court press encouraging public fascination with their love story and whet our appetites with these PDAs. And dust six months after he popped the question, Harry and Meghan wed in an elegant ceremony at Windsor Castle, where 150,000 people, myself included, lined the streets; some fans and a significant amount of reporters from around the world.
On the day of the wedding, you quite literally could not get a cup of coffee, such was the demand for the most basic of services which was not built to cope with such an influx of people. People had travelled far and wide for a quick glimpse on the newlyweds. Not only was it a successful day for the couple personally, it was PR the British royals couldn’t have bought if they tried.
The sentiment towards Meghan was one of admiration and respect. She was billed as the breath of fresh air they so desperately needed; the feminist force that would shake such a traditional organisation, changing the status quo for the better and bringing the royal family into the 21st century.
How could anyone, no matter how intelligent or shiny their hair, ever live up to such expectation?
But Meghan seemed to relish in new role as royal rule-breaker and instead of taking time to learn the ropes of how things are done in order to effectively change them, ideally for the better, she dove in headfirst and approached her usual work style to an organisation that is rooted in order and established practice, based largely on the fact that “that’s how it’s always been done”.
Instead of getting to know as much as possible about her new role and what’s expected, she steamrolled her ideas and alienated a number of staff in the process. It’s equal parts ambitious, and lacking in humility.
Royal watchers are evenly divided into fans and critics, both of whom are blind to any evidence of the contrary. She has become the marmite of the royals.
Two such people who are Kate and Prince William, who reportedly voiced some concerns about Meghan after Harry proposed, mostly that they never lived in the same country together and barely knew one another or how would Meghan would cope with the unwavering interest into every aspect of her life. Yes, she was well-known thanks to her time on tv, but she was far from famous and this would be the role of a lifetime.
“The problem is that the Cambridges felt things had moved very quickly between Harry and Meghan. Wills particularly was worried and felt close enough to Harry to voice his thoughts,’” a source told the Daily Mail. They added that he also “voiced concerns” to their grandmother, the queen.
Her determination to do things her own way is a personality trait established long before her wedding. And, unlike Kate, who met William when she was 19, Meghan was 35 and divorced when she met Harry. She had lucrative side gigs speaking at events about women’s rights and was a women’s advocate with the United Nations and an ambassador for Canada’s World Vision Clean Water campaign.
This woman knows her stuff and her interest in leaving behind a legacy of advocacy has been in play for several years before she ever met Harry. Her life experience is at least part of the reason behind her unwillingness to conform. By all accounts, it seems that Harry is encouraging of his wife’s ambitions and his now-famous meltdown in which he said, “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets” doesn’t just apply to tiaras, but also to patronages, charity work and speeches.
While Kate has often preferred the seen-but-not-heard approach down to what largely seems to be nerves, Meghan has embraced her new platform with gusto; something which doesn’t sit right some royal watchers, who say she hasn’t earned her stripes. Her accomplishments before her marriage are impressive, but she’s essentially starting from scratch in an entirely new role and one that is extraordinarily unique in its requirements.
Royals must strike the right balance between being perceived as likeable and relatable, while sprinkling just the right amount of stardust on people’s lives. If you spend too little, you’re boring, if you spend too much, you’re careless and if you’re a woman, it’s 100 times harder than it is for any man.
You must constantly tow the line between proving your value while also building a worthwhile private life. In order to master this balancing act, Meghan was assigned a special handler in the form of Samantha Cohen an Australian-born long-serving aide to Queen Elizabeth, who was assigned to give her ‘duchess lessons’ for six months. Cohen’s departure from palace life was confirmed before she took the gig working for Meghan, but Meghan’s PA’s decision to quit six months after the wedding coupled with Cohen made for even more interesting headlines.
Part of the anti-Meghan narrative has been drummed up by the British tabloids, capitalising on the ever-increasing popularity about the Cambridges and Sussexes. Readers’ appetites have become increasingly voracious for more and more content and more than anyone else this year, they’ve wanted Meghan: the good, the bad and the ugly. But mostly, they wanted the ugly.
For royal-focused tabloids, the goal is ensuring a circular narrative to maintain consumer interest. First, they build you up, then, they tear you down, then you get a redemption arc, then you’re back up to your old tricks, then you have a baby and enjoy a very brief reprieve and so the cycle continues as long as you’re in the public eye. It’s depressing, but it’s the cost of obscene wealth with no real work to speak of. Right now, Meghan’s popularity is at its lowest or highest, depending on which corners of the internet you spend your time.
Her biggest issue seems an unwillingness to take advice from experts, an attitude likely inherited from her husband, who is showing her the ropes. It’s of particular note when it comes to the ‘Thomas Markle problem’, most notably, his insistence at giving myriad interviews and sharing personal details of her life.
It was Meghan’s decision not to make a statement and ice out her father in the hope of handling the situation herself, with a goal of eventually rebuilding their fractured bond.
“Buckingham Palace wanted to be able to do something and be proactive and make the situation go away. It was a direction from the Queen, so her courtiers were under strict instructions to sort it out,” according to Vanity Fair.
It was Harry and Meghan’s team that stalled progress, due to, in large part, her belief that it would be best handled by her. And she was wrong.
“There was a lot of tension between courtiers within the two royal households, and I think it just got to a point where it was stalemate and, you know, neither could move,” the source added.
It’s this kind of behaviour that likely prompted a number of staff to leave Kensington Palace in recent months and others to leak stories to the Daily Mail to fuel the narrative that she is “difficult” and bombards staff with 5am texts, while Kate has been lionised as a woman of the people, someone who intervened when Meghan was speaking down to palace employees.
Both are by far the more interesting additions to the family, so the decision to pit them against one another makes sense, but also from a logical point of view, it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t be best friends given they have had such extremely different lives and likely share very little in common.
Did it happen exactly as they say? Kensington Palace says no, but there’s no smoke without fire. As the bombshell Vanity Fair piece addressed, “When papers began reporting that Kate and Meghan had feuded before the wedding, and then Kensington Palace issued a statement denying a feud, I thought about Tina Brown’s comment in The Diana Chronicles, her outstanding biography of the princess: ‘The palace only bothers to deny something that’s true.’”
What is clear is that Meghan hasn’t enjoyed the years of affection that Harry has and because of his bloodline, will remain forever advantageous in the eyes of the public. As Hadley Freeman wrote in The Guardian, “Let’s all just enjoy the suggestion that the bossy one in this relationship is likely to be, not Harry, the man who was raised in palaces by servants, but Meghan, the mixed-race American raised by a single mother.”
With their planned move to Frogmore Cottage next year, aways from the prying eyes of royal staff and apparently, most importantly, Kate and William, the couple will hopefully heed the advice of seasoned experts and approach 2019 with a more collaborative approach to their work: incorporating the expertise of staff while holding their stride in doing things their own way.
Hopefully, these few months will allow them to consider how they want to be perceived next year on their rumoured tour of Canada, where the duchess lived for seven years working on Suits, and her native California, alongside their newborn child (or children!).
“Every six months, Harry and Meghan go through their diaries. Meghan is expected to be on maternity leave for a four amount of time. But it’s believed they will do another big autumn tour 2019, which will probably be to America or Canada,” a source told Grazia.
The interest in Markle sure isn’t waning, and with baby Sussex on the way, intrigue will reach fever pitch. This time around, the real story is how she handles it.