Meghan Markle is destined to become an unsurpassable, entrancing presence that will keep us gassing and goggling for years.
When a royal wedding draws near, the first casualty is rational news reporting. Most of us are in love with crumbling myths and stately legends, and no one does these better than the British royals. Over the next week, we will all receive our invitations. And on May 19, we will all be bewitched by the magical realism of Prince Harry and his bride-to-be Meghan Markle.
Resistance is, as they say, futile. Meghan will have you. She already had most of us at “harassment currently being experienced by Meghan” – that was the phrase used in a highly unusual statement issue by Kensington Palace on Twitter (of all media) in November 2016, which confirmed that rumors of a romantic relationship between Harry and Megan were true.
There are still a few doubters and the usual anti-royalists. There is even a tiny sliver of racist objectors. But, from what we’ve seen and what we know, Meghan is destined to become an unsurpassable, entrancing presence that will keep us gassing and goggling for years. This means she will, by necessity, have a sensitive relationship, not just with the British media, but the world’s. Journalists seem to have no regard for their own safety or reputations when they go in search of people who fascinate us. The media haven’t made Meghan, but they will develop her into someone, perhaps something.
Meghan Markle is already a celebrity sans pareil. Grace Kelly is her closest contender. Kelly was the Hollywood star of movies such as High Noon and Rear Window in the 1950s, before she unexpectedly retired to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco and become Princess Grace. She still ensorcelled the public, though there were no paparazzi in the 1950s, nor a genuinely global media; the first communications capable of receiving and retransmitted signal wasn’t launched until 1962, after which international TV and phone communication became commonplace. And, of course, there was no internet. The developments in media since Princess Grace’s day would seem to increase the possibilities for louche lunacy, particularly from the more ingenious or invasive paps.
Diana sits between the two princesses. In many ways a liminal figure, the late princess of Wales became target practice for a media that, at first, seemed to terrify her, yet eventually transformed her. Diana Spencer unfroze from the quiet, slightly timid kindergarten nanny the world first saw holding two children and innocently showing the silhouette of her legs through a diaphanous skirt in 1980 to become a global icon of fashion, motherhood and, perhaps paradoxically, the British royal family. The media were effectively her tutors and, by the time of her death, she had become one of the most accomplished players – by which I mean manipulator and orchestrator – of the media in history. She had to learn in order to survive.
Like Grace Kelly, Meghan has a background in drama and experience with the media. Both worked with scripts and reacted to directors. The rules of the game are simple, though the goals are less so. Meghan will make herself available to the media, persuading them that they are seeing and hearing the real person and not the character Rachel Zane she has been playing in Suits since 2011. There will be a continual cat-and-mouse pursuit and she will, at least initially, be easy prey. Meghan has experience with a red-hot media and she’s managed not to get her fingers burned. But from May 19, facing the media will seem like standing in front of a gasoline tanker that’s crashed and exploded in a fireball. No amount of media training can prepare her for what lies ahead.
She will become understandably weary of the persistence. Then the goals will become clearer: Will the media want her, body and soul, as they did Diana, or will they be chastened by the memory of 1997 and observe a scarcely visible line not even the most intrepid paparazzi will cross?
It’s impossible to know at present though what evidence there is allows us to speculate. Diana redefined the meaning of the royals. Once aloof, icy, untouchable, inaccessible and utterly remote, members of the Royal House of Windsor were approached only with an alert caution. Editors probably warned their reporters about the baleful consequences of upsetting any member of the family. Diana transformed this within a few years.
By the early 1990s, reporters were taking aerial shots from helicopters, effecting commando-like maneuvers and undertaking treks that would intimidate the Foreign Legion in order to get an image of her. The old rules were cast to the winds.
Nailed to the Floor
Prince Harry, Meghan’s betrothed, was born in 1984. He was Diana’s second child. After his birth, Diana seemed to relax into her role. Already the most admired member of the royal family, she somehow contrived to remain imperious while developing a common touch. Her relatability, her gift for enabling the public to feel they knew or could relate to her, became more pronounced. Hence the label, the “people’s princess.”
Time and again, people would testify that “she touched me” even though they might never have met her, or seen her in the flesh or even stood on the same land mass. There was a tangible quality not so much in her physical presence but in her sheer image. This was made possible by the most exhaustive media coverage of a royal family member in history.
Until now. Meghan’s advisers have probably prepped her how to answer queries about her ethnicity. Her mother is African American and her father was part Irish, part Dutch. They divorced when she was six. In the USA, she’s described as biracial, though in Britain the term isn’t recognized; it has a biological connotation that’s inconsistent with public policy. Dual heritage is the preferred term; this means having parents from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds.
Will she get questions about this? No. After a few snarky online comments when the engagement was announced, all discussion of her ethnicity has subsided and will not, I sense, reappear. It isn’t so much out-of-bounds for journalists; it just isn’t interesting. Brits are more preoccupied with her makeup routine than her genetic makeup. And, as their proxy, the media will ignore it.
There’s certainly curiosity about her Americanness: How will a glamorous celeb from Southern California, sun-kissed land of Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and Katy Perry, fare in the regal environs of Kensington Palace in central London’s fashionable residential district? Her new home in the two-bedroom Nottingham Cottage on the palace’s estate is a far cry from Hollywood, where Meghan was educated. The media will be curious to discover how she adapts.
When Germaine Greer sneered about Meghan’s staff, “I think they’ve got her feet nailed to the floor,” she probably didn’t echo the view of many, but she might have prompted journalists to monitor her movements with more-than-usual vigilance. There will be 24-hour stakeouts around the cottage. Greer’s remarks were in the context of her mean-spirited characterization of Meghan as a “bolter,” a reference to the fact that she has been married before in 2011. The marriage lasted only two years before the couple separated. Some accounts suggest the marriage failed because of her pursuit of an acting career and her commitments outside the USA (Suits was filmed in Canada). The media will be wondering whether Meghan can successfully navigate a completely new life, having left the TV show and, it seems, devoted herself to being a full-time royal family member. She’s still only 36; Grace Kelly was 10 years younger when she gave up acting.
What Is She Wearing?
Perhaps the biggest and most frequent question will be asked in silence: What is she wearing? Crass, OK. But not insignificant. Consider this: In September 2017, she appeared with Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in Toronto, wearing jeans by the California brand Mother; the jeans sold out in three days. Markle also carried an Everlane tote, which also quickly sold out. When she recently wore an 18ct gold vermeil with stone inset ring known as the Missoma Interstellar, guess what happened. A white coat from the Canadian brand Line The Label; a sweater by Victoria Beckham; a Strathberry tote bag — they all sold out.
It is difficult to find identifiable piece of apparel that Markle wears that won’t sell out within a day or so of her wearing it. Even in age of celebrity mimicry, when consumers buy products favored by people they admire or strive to emulate, Markle’s effect on audience’s spending is prodigious.
She is undeniably the most influential person, male or female, in the world. For how long, we don’t know. But, given Paris Hilton’s longevity (she’s been moving products off shelves by wearing or carrying them since 2003 – the year of her sex tape), it seems reasonable to suggest that every time she steps out, her jewelry, apparel and accessories will be forensically examined by a curious media then imitated by dozens of thousands, if not millions of others.
The big question that will remain unasked and, for a while, unanswered, is whether she will use that colossal influence for higher purposes. Public fascination with her will, I suspect, remain for many years to come and, if I’m right, Markle won’t be bothered about how much her style is copied. She will more probably set her sights on influencing how people think and act about issues that have global resonance. Harry’s commitments are known and include Unicef, the National AIDS TRUST and Help for Heroes. Meghan’s will presumably become clear in the months ahead. The early signs indicate Meghan is outspoken about women’s rights and empowerment. She’s Global Ambassador for World Vision Canada, and among her other interests are poverty and disaster relief.
With this status, could anyone invite more admiration or derision? They come as a package, and Meghan will soon realize that her audience is four parts doter, one part doubter. The royals have their critics, many of them working in the popular media. The brilliance of her conduct so far is that she seems to have genuflected gracefully when taking the plaudits, while elegantly ignoring the disapproval.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.