Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle was heralded by the British establishment, led by the UK media, as a sign of a modern Royal Family; an institution that symbolizes white power and privilege. By accepting her grandson’s marriage to an independent woman of mixed heritage, the Queen had demonstrated willingness to lead and present a Royal Family that was reflecting of today’s Britain. UK mainstream and social media was awash with stories of a progressive Royal Family and Meghan was proclaimed as one to modernize the Monarchy. They even went as far as claiming her engagement as a symbol of hope for Black women much to the skepticism of black women commentators. Fast-forward to today, Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry stepped down as senior royals and moved their family to California to start a new life. But how did we go from modernizing an archaic institution to Harry and Meghan leaving the Royal Plantation?
Within a week of the engagement announcement, Meghan and her fiancé undertook their first engagement where the world got a glimpse of this modern woman as a working royal. Huge crowds turned out to see them on that cold December day in Nottingham. As is customary with Royal women, her clothes were analyzed, the handbag she carried became a fast seller, and a lot of commentary was made about the couple’s Public Display of Affection(PDA). Later that month, Meghan attended Christmas festivities with the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family – a first for a future Princess. A lot was made of how the family welcomed her. It was during this period of festivities, when most of the Queen’s extended family would meet Meghan for the first time, that one of them arrived at Christmas lunch wearing a racist brooch(blackamoor).
Shortly after the annual Christmas spectacle at Sandringham, from whence the media peddled the idea of the ‘fab four”, Meghan would resume her pre-wedding tour of the UK alongside Harry. In January 2018 Meghan and Harry were scheduled to undertake engagements in Wales on the same day that William also had engagements elsewhere. The media commented on the calendar clash, but this was put down to poor planning by palace courtiers. However, they did note that this was bound to be a problem going forward. The Daily Mail quoted a “palace source” as saying “mark my words, William will be furious”.
As the final month of winter was rolling in, William and Kate undertook a tour of the Scandinavian countries. Back in London, Harry and Meghan were due to attend the Endeavour awards. This was the second clash of events in less than a month, and a scheduling problem for the Royal Rota– the press team dedicated to covering the Royal Family. In the final days of the Cambridges’ tour, Rebecca English, a Royal Correspondent for the Daily Mail informed her Twitter followers that, she would be leaving the Scandinavian tour early to cover Harry and Meghan at the Endeavour Awards, along with many other British reporters. The day after the awards, as William and Kate were concluding their tour, front pages of the papers were devoted to coverage of Meghan and Harry and as the Daily Beast noted, “It has been astonishing to witness in recent weeks just how completely the public appetite for information about William, Kate and their family has collapsed and the hunger for coverage of Meghan and Harry has grown commensurately”.
The Daily Beast article down played the potential of a problem, stating that the lack of media and public interest in William and Kate, was as a result of their own poor attitude towards the press over the years, and that, this was characteristic of the royal family, with Harry arguably the worst of them all. Besides, Harry and Meghan were still new, and the expectation was for the current interest to wane over time.
At the end of February 2018, we finally got to see the “Fab Four” sharing a stage at the inaugural Royal Foundation forum where each one of them discussed their current and future charitable endeavors. Once again, we would see Meghan dominate media coverage, with headlines such as “Meghan Markle Shines at First Annual Foundation Forum”, along with praise for her ability to address difficult issues, as she referenced Time’s Up and Me Too, both topical issues at that time. Although some commentators saw this as Meghan being political, which the royal family supposedly avoid, others saw her bravery to push forward with female empowerment issues, a cause close to her heart.
While Harry and Meghan continued with their pre-wedding tour of the UK and a host of other royal engagements, staff changes were taking place within Kensington Palace. A gentleman by the name of Simon Case, a key player in Brexit negotiations then working under David Davis’ Brexit department, was appointed as William’s private secretary in March 2018. The following month, the UK hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting. Harry and Meghan attended various CHOGM events. This was expected given that during their engagement interview, they mentioned that the Commonwealth would be an area of focus for them. It was also during this period that Harry’s appointment as the Commonwealth Youth Ambassador was announced. A position we would later on find out, William wanted for himself.
In the meantime, the wedding preparations were progressing – the palace providing the occasional planning updates and the royal reporters and commentators filling in the gaps with their characteristic speculation. Meghan Markle’s paternal family, (her half-sister and brother) who had been vocal around the engagement, had for the most part been out of the news. Then almost two weeks before the wedding, the Markle quarters started getting noisy. On May 3rd 2018, Thomas Markle Jr published a letter in Instyle Magazine that he had supposedly sent to Harry, telling him not to marry his sister. It naturally became a tabloid feast. While he had managed to avoid engaging or speaking with the press up till now, all of a sudden there were paparazzi pictures of Thomas Markle Sr appearing in the same tabloids.
On 13 May 2018, 6 days before the wedding, the Daily Mail revealed Thomas Markle Sr as a “Royal Scammer”, who had staged the photos with the paparazzi and sold them for £100,000. What followed was a series of revelations about Thomas Markle Sr. via TMZ and the UK press. Even Thomas’ ex-daughter in law and her two sons who had not seen Meghan since she was a child were now involved with the UK media; they were flown to the UK as wedding day commentators, courtesy of ITV.
The coverage at this point had reached fever pitch. There was wild speculation about whether or not the wedding would take place, given that Thomas Markle Sr. informed TMZ that, he had suffered a heart attack and would not be in attendance. In a sombre statement released via the palace two days before the wedding, Meghan informed the world that “sadly her father would not be attending the wedding” and went on to plead with the media to allow him the privacy he needed to recover. And as they say ‘the show must go on”. Harry and Meghan were wedded in a beautiful ceremony that celebrated them as a couple and was watched by billions across the globe.
With the drama surrounding the Royal Wedding now in the past, the beginning of the summer would bring a number of firsts for the newly wed couple. Meghan had her first joint engagement with the Queen, which saw the new Duchess travelling overnight with Her Majesty aboard the Royal train. The UK media was only too eager to point out how this was a unique privilege, since other senior and non-senior royals including HRH the Duchess of Cambridge had never ridden the royal train. Afterwards, Harry and Meghan had a joint engagement with the Queen first at the Queen’s Young Leader’s Awards and then at Royal Ascot. Each public appearance made by Meghan was accompanied by a story and commentary on Meghan supposedly violating one protocol or another.
During the summer, Thomas Markle gave his first paid interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain hosted by Piers Morgan, who from their engagement announcement, had been vocal in his praise for Meghan Markle. The interview was billed as an opportunity for Thomas Markle to provide an explanation for missing out on his daughter’s wedding. It was also an opportunity for Piers and his co-host to interrogate Thomas on unrelated issues such as his opinion on what Harry’s views of Trump and Brexit were, for the simple purpose of stirring up controversy.
In as much as the interview attracted a lot of media attention it did not divert the attention of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the following month, July 2018 saw them undertake their first Royal visit to Ireland. So far Meghan has aced all her appearances but this one was different because, such visits are undertaken on behalf of the UK government, and so she was going as a representative of her new country. It should therefore come as no surprise that they were accompanied by an unprecedented number of journalists, photographers and cameramen. The Irish came out in large numbers to see the royal couple at each stop of the visit, continuing what had become characteristic of the couple’s public engagements. Suffice it to say the visit was a success.
The month of August is a slow royal news one, as the royal family enjoy their summer break. However, ‘twas not to be, as Thomas Markle decided(or did he?) that it was the opportune time to clear his name and dispel some mistruths that had been written about him. To do that, he penned an Op-Ed in the Mail on Sunday. He would later claim that he was being ignored by his daughter, in a story written by Caroline Graham- a Mail on Sunday Journalist based close to him in Mexico. This is the same Caroline Graham who has been revealed by Bylines Investigates, to be Thomas Markle’s babysitter, paying him a visit every weekend at his Mexico residence. Not to be left out, Samantha Markle travelled to the UK to “try and make amends with her sister”. She appeared on yet another ITV show – The Jeremy Vine show and was strangely photographed delivering a letter to security guards at Kensington Palace.
In September 2018 Meghan launched her first solo project as a Royal; Together, a cookbook she developed with survivors of the Grenfell fire, to raise funds towards keeping the Hubb Community Kitchen open 7 days a week. Around the same time, there were rumblings from the Royal Rota regarding access to the Duchess of Sussex. Their grievance was that, they had not been given exclusive access to the cookbook prior to the promotion video being released on social media – never mind that the Royal Rota was invited to the official launch a week or so later. Maybe the protest was because news of the launch traveled farther and wider compared to what would have been the reach of the Royal Rota, perhaps a sign of the changing media landscape. The book topped Amazon’s bestseller even before it was released bumping JK Rowling off the number one spot.
Weirdly though, after the media had gone to great lengths to point out that the royal family works hard to avoid a clash of events, Rebecca English chose the weekend before the cookbook launch to announce a new project by the Duchess of Cambridge. This would be her first major project after 8 years of marriage. Details of the project were lacking and the launch date was yet to be determined, bringing into question the apparent urgency/timing of the announcement. Preemptive strike maybe?
Nonetheless, the Duchess through this project demonstrated a working style and a level of success that was rare within the royal family. Meanwhile Harry and Meghan were preparing to embark on their first major royal tour. A 16-day tour, comprising over 70 engagements across 4 countries – including Australia and New Zealand whose head of state is the Queen. The tour started on a high note with an announcement that the Sussexes were expecting their first child in the spring of 2019. While the world and the media entourage in Sydney were celebrating the news, back in the UK, royal commentators were stirring up controversy regarding the pregnancy announcement.
On the Saturday before the tour, Harry and Meghan attended Princess Eugenie’s wedding. According to the palace statement key family members had been informed, and had a chance to congratulate the couple in person at the wedding. In an article for the telegraph, Camilla Tominey advances a narrative that we had witnessed over the summer by claiming another ‘protocol violation’ in a story titled “Harry and Meghan may have breached etiquette by announcing baby news at Eugenie’s wedding, says expert” allegedly to the displeasure of some members of the royal family. This was of course a complete misrepresentation of the statement from Kensington Palace, but that did not matter and the mainstream media were only too happy to amplify this narrative.
Murmurings aside, the tour kicked off on a high note with droves of people turning up at every stop. According to Forbes “Crowds the size that have not appeared for Queen Elizabeth on any of her trips to Australia (which date back as far as the 1950s)”, came out for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Amidst the success of this landmark tour and glowing coverage for the British royal family, the Sunday Times reported that plans were underway to split Kensington Palace and create a separate household for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Once again we see the palace put out a speculative article while Harry and Meghan are undertaking a highly important tour, making the purpose and the timing of the article questionable at best. Also, it did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding the tour, which had so far been a success and was commanding unprecedented positive global coverage for both the couple and the Royal Family.
Once the tour concluded, on cue, the tone in media coverage for this couple changed. For one, the main focus of the coverage was Meghan. Secondly, it was persistently negative and thirdly it was driven by the royal rota. A key fixture in this media whirlpool was Robert Jobson, who had just published a Prince Charles biography “revealing” that Meghan threw a tantrum over a tiara. In the middle of November, Meghan visited the women at the Hubb Community Kitchen. This was a couple of months after the cookbook launch, and Camilla Tominey suddenly remembered that the mosque where the Hubb Community Kitchen is located had “links to terrorists”. The leader of a white supremacist group who advanced that theory, would later thank Camilla Tominey on Twitter for putting their mosque-terrorist story in the paper.
Jack Royston, then at the SUN and currently at Newsweek, wrote that “Meghan made Kate cry”. Why, he couldn’t say, but he was certain it happened. Rebecca English also weighed, in referring to Meghan as an ‘interloper who does not belong’. It was open season with article after article attacking Meghan specifically, calling her all kind of names; difficult, demanding, social climber, over sexual and a lot more. All steeped in racism, sexism and all kinds of bigotry. Every day bore a new story about Meghan, and every story trashing Meghan was an opportunity to uplift Kate.
The Telegraph, for no apparent reason, did a fawning feature on Carole Middleton, praising her as a hard working hurricane. The same paper had earlier described the Duchess of Sussex as “Hurricane Meghan”, a destructive force that was raining havoc on the Kensington Palace staff with her difficult and demanding ways. Curious, isn’t it? Amidst this onslaught of negative coverage, Emily Andrews via a palace source reports that, Harry and Meghan would leave Kensington Palace and move to the Windsor estate, getting ahead of the official palace statement. This became another opportunity to attack Meghan- the narrative being that she was instigating the move, and questioning why the couple would choose to move away from William and Kate at Kensington Palace.
In just one year, how did Meghan go from being the one to bring the Monarchy into the twenty first century to being cast as this villain? To recap events so far:
- The media inform us that ‘William will be furious’ because of the shift in attention, which we have witnessed each time Harry and Meghan have a public engagement.
- Meghan has delivered her first project, an international best-selling cookbook without the exclusive marketing and spin of the Royal Rota.
- The attention Harry and Meghan are getting locally and internationally is nothing the Royal Family or the media has seen since Diana.
Was the spare and his wife outshining the heir? Also what is the connection between ITV and the Markle family? Why does this mainstream channel consistently give them platform? And what about the Royal Rota – they exist to sell the Monarchy to the public while also subjecting them to the appropriate scrutiny. Did they not think the negative coverage surrounding Meghan would have a negative impact on the Monarchy? Where was the Royal Family in all this? When Diana and Sophie were faced with negative media coverage, the Queen and the palace asked the editors to ease up on them. Even Kate was given a grace period to settle into her role as a Royal. Why were they not offering Meghan the same protections?