There is a lot to admire about Meghan Markle. Self-made, intelligent, and prodigiously hard-working, Britain has welcomed her as a free-thinking addition to our Monarchy. But even her staunchest fans would find last week’s extraordinary display difficult to defend.
Whatever Meghan’s intentions, her five-day trip to New York, which concluded with an elaborate ‘baby shower’, was not merely ill-judged, it was widely perceived as an exhibition of extravagance at a time of national hardship. As an exercise in public relations, this was a catastrophe.
Even the social media accounts run by Kensington Palace were deluged with criticism, with Meghan said to have delivered ‘a slap in the face to those in poverty’.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (left) and Abigail Spencer in New York for Meghan’s five-day ‘baby shower’ holiday on February 19, 2019
The royal couple must refrain from crossing narrow line between royalty and celebrity, says Angela Levin
Harry said last year he wanted to be recognized for contribution to public life – not as a celebrity
If she seemed reckless with her own reputation, however, it is for Harry, her husband, that I fear the most.
When I spoke to the Prince last year, he made it crystal-clear that he had no interest in becoming a celebrity. He could see the dangers. He told me that, instead, he wanted to be taken seriously for his contribution to public life.
Yes, Harry is famous, too, but he clearly knew that his wife’s fame was different from his. Her world was founded on showbusiness with all the ostentation that implies, while he was part of something altogether more purposeful: the fabric of our nation.
Seven months pregnant Meghan Markle in New York City as she prepares for a baby shower thrown by her closest friends. Her trip was widely perceived as an exhibition of extravagance at a time of national hardship
Meghan Markle boarded a private plane to fly back home to London following her baby shower in New York (above)
Meghan Markle was seen leaving The Mark last week after her five-day baby shower holiday
Prince Harry accepted that the line between royalty and a celebrity is a narrow one.
But he was also clear that line was one he must not cross.
Now, his wife has told the world that she takes a different view, as the bare facts of her brief New York tour make plain.
The guest-list featured some of the wealthiest women in the world, including Serena Williams and Amal Clooney, who are thought to have picked up some, if not all of the estimated £330,000 tab, including the cost of a £125,000 private jet.
For the baby party, Meghan who is now seven months pregnant, hired the most lavish penthouse in New York, a £57,000-a-night suite in The Mark hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The guests dined on £150 steaks while celebrated harpist Erin Hill performed in the background. As a throwaway touch, guests were given a £445 suitcase as a present.
Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex visit the Natural History Museum in London on February 12
These are quite extraordinary amounts of money, particularly to the millions of Britons who are struggling to get by. So it is all the more telling that Meghan’s husband stayed at home and visited a youth centre, where he handed out food to children.
As his press machine pointed out with unintended irony, an estimated three million poverty-stricken children in Britain go hungry in the school holidays.
In retrospect, Meghan’s statement of excess has been coming for some time. Her wardrobe has been expanding at such a rate, for example, that, according to one respected fashion website, she wore clothes worth nearly £500,000 in just six months – more than any other Royal woman in Europe.
That figure excludes her £395,000 Givenchy wedding dress, which she later replaced with a £116,000 Stella McCartney gown for the reception.
Stunning, yes. But appropriate?
How does such luxury fit with her patronage of Smart Works, granted by the Queen last month? Smart Works uses donated clothes to help vulnerable and long-term unemployed women find jobs.
Meghan, whose background is far from privileged, has the potential to be an inspiring figure. Yet she arrived to meet the charity’s clients in an outfit that cost £5,600 – a fortune to people who are at the bottom of life’s pile.
These are hardly the mistakes of an ingenue. Meghan is a skilled actress who understands the value of appearance and how signals can be sent to those who know how to read them.
Indeed, her New York trip looked every bit as choreographed as the rest of her public outings.
The Duchess of Sussex helps pack food during her to visit the Hubb Community Kitchen, London
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, prepares personalised messages on fruit in the charity kitchen with volunteer Sue Creighton
Is Meghan letting the world know that she doesn’t much care to be fettered by Royal protocol? That, for all her duties as a Duchess, she won’t be reined in completely?
As The Mail on Sunday revealed last year, Meghan remains privately determined to acquire an independent, global status of her own, whatever the conservative traditions she has now chosen to embrace. And in New York, she put down her mark.
Surrounded by the world’s media and her own pack of protection officers, Meghan appeared to delight in the showbiz-style attention.
And in the process she made a mockery of recent claims by her film star friend George Clooney that – like the late Princess Diana – she has been victimised, ‘vilified and chased’ by the press.
Meghan’s famous friends: Amal Clooney (left) arrives for the baby shower while Serena Williams (right) heads into a dinner with Meghan at The Polo Bar the previous evening
No one is suggesting that adjusting to Royal life is easy. The Duchess of Sussex has made an enormous leap from a role in Suits, an American cable TV legal drama, to life with a prince who is sixth in line to the throne.
It is also true that the Royal Family needs hauling into the 21st Century. Meghan has a fair wind behind her.
Yet there are times when she seems to lack respect for ways of behaving that go back generations. There are times, too, when she seems unwilling to listen, preferring instead to press her own views home.
Is it wise to voice support for a campaign which aims to ‘decolonise the curriculum’, and increase diversity among ‘male, pale and stale’ academics, as she did on a recent visit to City University in London (dressed in Givenchy)?
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attend the Endeavour Fund Awards at Drapers Hall on February 7
There may be some truth in what she said, but does she really know enough to align herself with such views? She has been part of British life for less than a year, after all. Being Royal comes with duties and obligations quite different from those of Hollywood. Yet I am not so sure this is something she accepts, unlike her husband.
When we spoke last year, Harry told me several times: ‘I just want to be ordinary.’ But in a marriage, being ordinary is a team game.
Harry is clearly very much in love but he has, I believe, been badly let down by the sort of behaviour which threatens to damage Meghan herself, the Royal Family – and most of all her husband.
In fact, I feel a small knot of anxiety when I watch the Sussexes together. Harry is a natural action man who, under Meghan’s guidance, now meditates daily and says he is a feminist.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex helps serve lunches to children during his visit to a Fit and Fed half-term initiative in Streatham, south London on February 19,
When, last month, she visited a charity called Tomorrow’s Women Wirral – looking stunning, once again – she spoke about women ‘on behalf of both of us’, while Harry hovered close by looking distinctly under par. When she finished her speech, she nodded and pointed to him to unveil a plaque. He obeyed. She then laughed and clapped him as one might a small child.
For despite Harry’s ebullient personality and natural charisma, he is still scarred by the loss of his mother at the age of 12. He remains emotionally vulnerable and has no wish to contradict a charismatic and extremely determined wife.
Yet he must. While congratulating Meghan on the many things she has accomplished, Harry must also explain in clear terms what she is getting so wrong.
It is important Harry finds his voice. The stakes are high.
Harry: Conversations With The Prince, by Angela Levin, is available in hardback. A paperback versions will be published in early May.