With its idyllic private beach, antiques-furnished villas and tropical gardens, Jamaica Inn has been catering to the whims of affluent lovers since the days when Marilyn Monroe and playwright Arthur Miller honeymooned there more than 60 years ago.
So when a bellboy was beckoned aside, handed a few dollar bills, and asked to buy sufficient marijuana for the 100 guests who were due to attend the wedding of an American couple at the hotel later that week, he readily obeyed the request.
Eager to create an authentic Jamaican ambience, Meghan Markle, then aged 30 and a fast-rising television actress, and her fiancé Trevor Engelson, a hot-shot Hollywood producer four years her senior, evidently felt that handing out gift bags containing cannabis joints would add a ‘cool and cheeky’ touch to the occasion.
Having planned every last detail of the event, Meghan personally arranged to purchase the consignment of small, muslin gift bags that would contain the reefers, and even helped roll the joints — in her bridal suite, of all places, according to sources who attended.
Tying the knot: Meghan Markle, then aged 30, and Hollywood producer Trevor Engelson
A bacchanalian fiesta lasting four days, during which guests played raucous beach games and drank lashings of rum-punch, it was already known that the Duchess of Sussex’s first wedding, in September 2011, contrasted sharply with her marriage to Prince Harry in the sombre confines of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in May.
However, the jaw-dropping details of this hippie-style Caribbean shindig were revealed by The Sun newspaper yesterday.
It will doubtless come as an embarrassment, both to the pregnant Duchess of Sussex and to the Royal Family, whose concerns about drug use are well documented.
Last night, Buckingham Palace declined to comment. However, it would be difficult to deny that Meghan knew cannabis was one of the party ‘gifts’. For the newspaper published an email she sent to a friend, who had been helping her to find the right type of bags for the dubious gifts.
‘Already ordered ’em. And teeny ones for the pot that say “ssh”,’ Meghan wrote, after the friend sent her the link to a website that sold the bags. As a mark of her self-satisfaction, she signed the message off with a smiley face.
‘Meghan thought it would make it memorable. She was excited about making that [the cannabis] a thing, showing a cheeky side people wouldn’t have imagined she had, especially at her wedding,’ says one insider.
Sources point out Meghan was never a habitual cannabis user. In fact, having come from a background where drug usage was not uncommon — her half-brother, Thomas, would smoke cannabis with his friends, and her father, Thomas senior, has admitted to ‘the occasional sniff’ of cocaine when he worked as a Hollywood lighting director — she is said to have had a ‘conservative’ attitude towards drugs since her teens.
Raucous celebration: A bikini-clad Meghan by a table of drinks at her wedding to Trevor Engelson
Moreover, she is said to have behaved with comparative restraint when it came to cannabis, preferring to drink Champagne and rosé wine.
Nonetheless, the idea of supplying party bags containing pot seems an act of extraordinary recklessness, even if she didn’t buy the cannabis herself.
For one thing, purchasing marijuana on the back streets of Jamaica — where dealers fight violent turf-wars and regularly rip-off unsuspecting customers — can be dangerous, and there have been many violent incidents in the edgy resort town of Ocho Rios, where Jamaica Inn is situated.
Furthermore, by supplying the drugs to their guests, Meghan and Engelson placed themselves at risk of prosecution, according to attorney Jacqueline Cummings, president of the Jamaican Bar Association.
For although the island’s drug laws were relaxed in 2015, making possession and usage a minor misdemeanour, in 2011 it was still a criminal offence.
And though the penalty for possession was punishable by a very small fine of 100 Jamaican dollars for each ounce of cannabis, those who failed to pay could be jailed for ten days. Stiffer sentences were handed out for distributing the drug.
However, foreign tourists were seldom, if ever, troubled by the police for buying ‘ganja’ (as Jamaicans call it) and a wedding guest said the couple probably didn’t consider the legal risks involved.
For Meghan, of course, those were very different times. She was then, in her own words, a ‘free-spirited Californian hippie’.
How could she have envisaged that her marriage to Engelson would be over within two years, and that she would remarry into the Royal Family, where every aspect of her conduct would be scrutinised and she would be expected to uphold the highest standards of behaviour?
Indeed, Prince Charles has voiced fears that cannabis is a ‘gateway drug’ that can cause addiction to harder drugs, and when a 16-year-old Prince Harry was revealed to have smoked pot at Highgrove, in 2001, Charles reacted swiftly and firmly, sending him to visit a London rehabilitation clinic to witness the perils of addiction first-hand.
Through his charity, the Prince’s Trust, Charles has also done a great deal of work towards combating drug abuse, as have the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
So strong are Kate’s convictions on this matter that she is the patron of the charity Action on Addiction. Prince William is similarly determined to help curb the drugs epidemic, speaking out against the scourge of the synthetic high ‘spice’ a few days ago, when he and the duchess toured a shelter for rough sleepers.
There is yet another troubling aspect to this episode. While some Jamaicans have welcomed the softening of its cannabis laws, many believe it’s been a huge mistake.
Carol Narcisse, director of Jamaica’s Mental Health Advocacy Network, has warned that it could lead to ‘a whirlwind of mental health issues’ on the island, because there has been no education programme to warn young people of the potential dangers.
Health Minister Christopher Tufton has also called for the impact of the new law to be reviewed, saying that the number of students being treated for marijuana-related problems has doubled.
The bride is carried aloft by partying guests. She was then, in her own words, a ‘free-spirited Californian hippie’
Nor has liberalisation stopped the misery and violence behind the island’s drug trade. Unseen by well-heeled visitors, secure in luxurious gated resorts such as Jamaica Inn, gangs still fight a bloody war for control of the market. Last year, 1,616 people were murdered in Jamaica; one of the highest rates in the world.
So, while the concept behind Meghan’s Jamaican-themed wedding was doubtless conceived in all innocence, there is a more serious side to this story that cannot be brushed aside. Having spoken to my own sources, including Engelson’s charismatic uncle, Lacrosse coach Mickey-Miles Felton, 74 — who cheerfully admitted to me that he got ‘high’ at the wedding — I can shed further light on the extraordinary goings-on.
It was so far removed from the royal wedding at Windsor that the bride almost seems to have been a different woman. But then, as Mr Felton remarked wryly to me, from his home in Arizona: ‘The Queen wasn’t watching when Meghan married the first time around.’
Meghan and Engelson had been together for about nine years when he proposed to her.
She had just landed her first major TV role, that of Rachel Zane, in the legal series Suits, and his career was also demanding, but they found a window in their hectic diaries and set the date for September 10, 2011.
Before flying to Jamaica, they were legally married at the Beverly Hills courthouse in California, with not a solitary guest in attendance. So the ceremony at Jamaica Inn was actually a blessing rather than a formal wedding.
They chose that hotel for sentimental reasons, having spent a romantic break there earlier in their relationship. Meghan had also fallen in love with the island’s laid-back vibe and natural beauty as a little girl, when she holidayed there with her mother, Doria.
She intended the trips to be partly educational, taking Meghan to the shanty towns and villages to show her just how privileged she was to have been raised in affluent America.
It was a side of Jamaica that Meghan’s wedding guests, including members of the Suits cast, such as Patrick J. Adams and Rick Hoffman, and friends and relatives of Engelson, who travelled from Long Island, New York, were not about to see.
Meghan spent many months planning what one source described as ‘a boozy beach wedding with a magical backdrop . . . an epic weekend under the sun and stars’.
Funded partly by her father, and also by Engelson’s parents, David, a wealthy dentist, and Leslie, a speech therapist, the couple booked out the entire hotel — named by the style bible Conde Nast as one of the world’s most romantic holiday destinations.
The inn’s most desirable villa, priced at £1,200 a night, was allocated to the bride and groom, with its Wedgwood blue colour scheme and veranda overlooking the turquoise water. Other guests were installed in its 55 villas and rooms, where they found a ‘tote’ bag filled with souvenirs and trinkets, such as sunscreen, lip-balm and Jamaican snacks. Inside it was a smaller bag containing between three and five marijuana joints.
These were given to everyone except those who, Meghan thought, might disapprove.
‘I was kind of surprised, and I think other people would be surprised, but I wasn’t offended by it,’ Mr Felton told me. ‘It wasn’t as if they were rolling a joint and forcing it in my mouth. Yes, it was unusual. But again, it’s Jamaica, and so much is grown there.’
The groom’s uncle added that he does not usually smoke cannabis because it would sit uncomfortably with his image as a leading sports coach and would ‘set a bad example’ to his grandchildren.
Pictured: Meghan takes part in wedding wheelbarrow races. The Jamaican wedding is remembered as a fun-packed occasion
The joints — about 200 of them — were rolled by a friend of the couple, according to a source, although it has been reported that Meghan lent a helping hand in a task that took more than two hours.
If anyone felt affronted by the presence of cannabis at the wedding, only one person complained — a guest who omitted to check the contents of the gift bag before packing it into her luggage for the homeward journey.
Fortunately, they found the stash before going to the airport. However, when they realised they might have been caught they confronted Meghan, and ‘that caused some tension on the final day, for sure’, says a source.
This was not the only stressful interlude, however. For in her determination to control every aspect of the wedding programme, an insider recalls, Meghan behaved like ‘bridezilla’. She handed the guests a rigid schedule of events and insisted they adhere to it, almost to the letter.
On the Friday there was a casual welcome dinner; on the Saturday morning it was beach yoga with Doria (or ‘Meghan’s mom’ as she was billed), and competitive games pitting members of her party against Trevor’s.
Looking fit and toned after following an intensive Tracey Anderson work-out programme, and wearing a yellow bikini that showed off her figure, topped off with baseball hat, Meghan took vigorous part in the wheelbarrow race. There was also a tug-of-war, and raucous drinking games such as ‘beer ping-pong’.
On Sunday, the ‘wedding’ day, guests were instructed to relax at the hotel in preparation for the sunset ceremony. However, some apparently incurred Meghan’s displeasure by going sight-seeing at the nearby Dunn’s River Falls. She also banned guests from taking photographs, which is why so few are in circulation.
There are echoes here, of course, of Meghan’s reportedly wilful attitude when arrangements for her wedding to Prince Harry were being made.
She is said to have left the Duchess of Cambridge in tears over her exactitude concerning Princess Charlotte’s bridesmaid dress, and complained about the ‘musty’ smell in St George’s Chapel.
Despite all this, the Jamaican wedding is remembered as a fun-packed occasion, as we might expect when copious quantities of Pina Colada, rum-punch and Red Stripe lager were consumed, and joints were being passed round.
On Sunday evening, as the sun fell low in the Caribbean sky, the guests took their seats on the beach for the ceremony. There were gasps as Meghan, wearing a stunning white gown, made her grand entrance to the thrum of steel drums.
She then walked down the makeshift aisle to Cat Power’s emotional song Sea Of Love.
The ceremony was interfaith and included some Jewish traditions, such as serenading the couple with the folk-song Hava Nagila and carrying them aloft on chairs, in accordance with the Engelson family’s religion.
However, it appears that Thomas Markle was mistaken when he said, in a recent interview, that the groom’s father, David Engelson, was ‘a rabbi’, and had conducted the service. Engelson’s mother, Leslie, and his uncle Mickey-Miles Felton have both assured me that he is not a rabbi.
After the service, people swapped their evening wear for bathing suits and cooled off in the sea. The more adventurous went skinny-dipping, and the revelry continued until sunrise.
For those who were there as guests, they were four days never to be forgotten.
However, one suspects that the Duchess of Sussex and perhaps also Mr Engelson — who is happily settled with new partner, nutritionist Tracey Kurland, 32 — would prefer to draw a discreet veil over this rather louche affair.