How the royals plan to ride out the media ‘onslaught’ of Meghan Markle
“ROYAL FEUD: Real reason behind Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton’s rift revealed.”
“Is the public falling out of love with Meghan over rumours of tantrums?”
“ROYAL RIFT: Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton’s ‘tit-for-tat war’ could ‘bring the monarchy to its knees.”
These are some of the more sensational headlines that have been appearing in the British media in recent weeks. Just seven months after she married Prince Harry, in a ceremony lauded by commentators as a celebratory reflection of modern Britain and turning point for the monarchy, the knives are out. And it’s not really clear why.
So far, the duchess has said nothing publicly about the coverage. That’s not unusual in itself — only when relations with the media really broke down, as they did with in the Diana era of the 1990s, would royal spokespeople engage directly in battles with the media.
But how is the onslaught being received behind palace walls? Is there a rift between the former Meghan Markle and the former Kate Middleton? Are the “Duelling Duchesses” (another recent headline) really at loggerheads? Is the monarchy under threat?
Back in the days when Markle was an actress, I could have called up her celebrity publicist for a steer on how she feels and wanted to position herself.
Now, however, reporters must rely on sources close to the royals who talk on condition of anonymity. According to protocol, they are not usually authorized to speak on the record about these sensitive matters.
These sources won’t confirm or deny any rifts within the family.
One source close to the Sussexes, however, told me the general “wives at war” narrative was “sad and predictable” and you could see it coming even before Meghan and Harry’s blockbuster wedding at Windsor Castle in May. In that source’s view, the whole storyline playing out says more about the framing of women in the media generally than it does about what’s really going on.
There are some things that are undeniably true. The Sussexes are moving out of Kensington Palace in London, which they shared with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor estate, west of London, a decision that seems to have fueled some of the coverage.
But a royal source drew my attention to one article in particular, which, it is alleged, was simply “made up.” The story in question was about Prince Harry snubbing the traditional royal family Christmas pheasant shoot to avoid upsetting his wife.
The piece suggested Markle was vegan — which, I was told, was ridiculous, when you consider she famously said in her engagement interview that Harry proposed as they roasted a chicken. The source nevertheless would not say whether Harry would attend the shoot.
In that engagement interview, Markle offered the only public clues so far about what she thinks of the increased media scrutiny of her role, discussing the shock of becoming part of tabloid culture. “I made the choice to not read anything, positive or negative,” she said.
I am told that’s still the case, though I know Harry pores over what’s written about him. The duchess will, therefore, be aware of the coverage around her but I understand that her focus after the wedding moved to a tour of the South Pacific, and now to selecting the charities she plans to support in her role as duchess. That’s on top of renovating her new home — and preparing for a new baby.
There were two occasions where those close to the Sussexes felt some of the media crossed the line and caused real concern. The first were the racist undertones detected in some reporting as the couple’s relationship was first revealed. There were real fears for the physical safety of Meghan and her mother, Doria Ragland, I am told.
The second occasion concerned her father, Thomas Markle, and the exposure given to him by parts of the media ahead of the wedding.
That “onslaught” continues and the “lack of restraint” is “shocking”and “galling,” I am told by one source. Those close to the couple feel it’s inappropriate to keep subjecting him to the same lines of questions on a public platform without regard for the pressure on him and his pregnant daughter.
So what’s the truth about all this? Well, there are always differences within families and I know some of the reporters who have written on this and trust what they say. One source previously told me that the Duchess of Sussex “knows her own mind.” Read into that what you will.
Does any of this matter? It could, if you consider that the working monarchy — those who are paid by the British taxpayer and undertake official duties on behalf of the monarch — is being slimmed down over time to the Cambridges and Sussexes.
In the long term, they need to be able to cooperate and I am reminded they do so currently through The Royal Foundation, the institution set up in 2009 to advance the charitable aims of Prince William and Prince Harry. The duchesses have joined the princes as patrons.
Princes William and Harry, I am also assured, remain particularly close, their fraternal relationship overriding any professional differences they may have.
The general sense I get from Kensington Palace is that the British monarchy is an ancient institution which has weathered greater storms than this and it will pass.
There’s an awareness in royal circles that the public will be following the soap opera playing out in the media but that people will also set that against what has been a momentous and exciting year for the Sussexes.
Doubtless, they think, the hashtag will soon move on to #royalbaby.