They talk of ‘reaching out’, but grow increasingly self-obsessed, and preach about climate change while flying round the world in private jets
Meghan and Harry at St Paul’s Cathedral for the service of thanksgiving for the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II. Credit: Getty Images
In June 2017 Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, was surprised when Jane Sarkin, his features editor, told him they should do a cover story on Meghan Markle, the star of Suits. Carter had never heard of Markle, but then nor had most people. In her own eyes she was a huge Hollywood celebrity, but actually she was mainly unknown outside Canada, where Suits was filmed. She wasn’t even the star of the series; she was about sixth in the billing. But Sarkin knew something else about her: that she was rumoured to be marrying Prince Harry.
Markle happily agreed to the interview, but said, of course, she could not talk about Harry. She wanted to be celebrated as a global ‘activist and philanthropist’. The trouble was that Vanity Fair’s meticulous fact-checkers could not find any evidence of her activism and philanthropy, so that claim had to be dropped. And then, when asked about Harry, Meghan answered, ‘We’re a couple. We’re in love’, which gave the magazine its cover line: ‘She’s just wild about Harry.’ Buckingham Palace was furious; and Meghan claimed to be furious too. Why hadn’t the magazine focused on her philanthropy and activism?
Harry and Meghan had met a year earlier, on a blind date at Soho House, and he was so smitten that a fortnight later he flew to Toronto to stay with her for a week, and then invited her to Botswana – the fourth girlfriend he had taken there. He stayed with her again in Toronto, and invited her to Nottingham Cottage, his home in the grounds of Kensington Palace. It was there that he proposed to her and presented her with a ring, but he said they must keep the engagement secret until he’d asked his grandmother. That was why the Vanity Fair cover was so ill-timed. But anyway the engagement got the royal approval, and was officially announced in November. The couple gave a BBC TV interview in which Meghan declared: ‘Both of us have passions for wanting to make change for the good. There’s a lot to do.’
The newspapers were generally ecstatic. The Daily Telegraph reported that Meghan was ‘the best thing to happen to the Firm for decades’, and Richard Kay of the Daily Mail speculated that Meghan could be ‘the next Diana’. There were a few cynics, however, among them Stephen Glover, who said: ‘The last thing the royal family needs is a vocal activist from across the pond noisily embracing global causes.’ And gradually stories began to emerge about Meghan’s peremptory treatment of her staff and Kate’s growing irritation. In a dispute about tiaras, Harry shouted at Angela Kelly, the longtime dresser and confidante of Elizabeth II: ‘What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.’ Palace staff nicknamed him ‘the hostage’.
Then there was the sour business with her father. Harry had rung Thomas Markle to tell him of their engagement. But he had never met him, and Thomas was being harassed by the press. Harry ordered him not to speak to them; but, stupidly, Thomas agreed to pose for some paparazzi shots and was caught out. The furore resulted in him being hospitalised with a suspected heart attack and finally unable to attend the wedding. Prince Charles (as he then was) stepped in to walk Meghan down the aisle.
The wedding made glorious television, but the guest list was a puzzle. Many of Harry’s old friends were not invited: they belonged to the past. Meghan, of course, was always dropping people when they were no longer of use. She’d dumped her first husband, Trevor Engelson, by FedExing him her wedding and engagement rings. But she did invite new friends, such as Oprah Winfrey, whom she’d encountered briefly, and George and Amal Clooney, whom she had never met.
The presence of Oprah suggests that Meghan was already plotting her move with her husband to the States. But the first public hint came in an interview the couple gave to Harry’s friend Tom Bradby while they were on an official tour of southern Africa. Harry pretty much admitted that he and William had fallen out, or were ‘on different paths at the moment’; and then Meghan poured out her grief about how ‘vulnerable’ and unsupported she felt. Asked about the future, she replied: ‘I don’t know. You do just take each day as it comes.’ Bradby felt that ‘what I was recording was to be their exit from public life’.
After Africa, Harry and Meghan flew to California to recuperate, but said they would return for Christmas at Sandringham. They didn’t. They flew instead to a billionaire’s mansion on Vancouver Island and started setting up deals with Spotify and Netflix, and announcing that they planned to ‘balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America’. At that stage it was assumed they meant Canada, because it was part of the Commonwealth, but evidently not.
When Harry went to Sandringham to announce these plans he was shocked to be given an ultimatum. He could not be half in, half out of the monarchy. He could keep his title but not his police protection; he would lose all his military roles, and he must repay the £2.4 million of public money spent on Frogmore. Meghan was furious, and was househunting in California within a month. Their new career would be as ‘influencers’ – which meant Harry could makes speeches at $500,000 a pop, conveying such deathless sentiments as ‘every single raindrop that falls from the sky relieves the parched ground. What if every single one of us was a raindrop, and if every single one of us cared?’
Should we care about the loss of Harry and Meghan? At the time of William and Kate’s wedding in 2011, Harry was voted the most popular royal after our late queen. But the fleeting charm he had as a young man (albeit one who wore a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party) had faded long before he met Meghan. His role as ‘the spare’ had vanished as soon as William had children, and he had already settled into the sullen, self-pitying, resentful scowl that now seems to be constant. It didn’t help that he always blamed the British press for his problems.
As for Meghan, clearly it would have been a good thing to have had a biracial member of the royal family. It might also have been a good thing to have had one who could ‘reach out’ to neglected parts of the community. But she never showed much sign of doing that. She visited the occasional school, but she was more often seen at Wimbledon (where she demanded that all photographers be removed) or flying to New York for her baby shower. Neither she nor Harry have ever grasped the notion of ‘only connect’. They are both happy to preach about climate change while flying round the world in private jets.
Queen Elizabeth did her best to keep Harry and Meghan attached to the royal family, but it is unlikely the King or the Prince of Wales will bother. On the other hand, the couple need to put in occasional royal appearances to maintain their American celeb status – or else what are they? A mildly successful television actress and her hostage husband. They hardly seem worthy of Tom Bower’s attention, and his nose-holding disdain for his subjects is apparent throughout the book.