Five years ago, Meghan Markle could only have dreamt of occupying the front pages around the world as she attempted to move on from amiable Suits cast member to becoming a real live movie star.
Now she’s achieved her wildest fantasy – and that of every jobbing actress like her: she is known by her first name, both globally and financially.
And all it took was marrying Prince Harry, a man who wanted the opposite – anonymity – due to an understandable hatred of the paparazzi because of what happened to his mother, Princess Diana.
When I was writing Harry’s biography, I remember touching on this delicate subject with hesitation. Harry told me that one of his most upsetting memories was seeing his mother cry when he and William got in her car to go out, only to be surrounded by photographers using flashlights. The poor boy felt upset and angry as he didn’t know how to protect her. (He was also too young to know that Princess Diana had refused to have protection officers, which Prince Charles himself had offered to pay for.)
The Duchess of Sussex revealed her profound unhappiness about life in the media spotlight during an ITV documentary
Those feelings of guilt and frustration lessened somewhat once he was older. In 2017, he told me, as we talked one to one in Kensington Palace, that he now didn’t think journalists and photographers “were all bad. There are some exceptions.”
I remembered this comment two years later at the end of what had been a hugely successful tour in South Africa, for them both, when a sad and bitter-looking Harry took part in an ITV documentary detailing his Royal visit: “Everything I do reminds me of [my mother],” he said. “Every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash it takes me straight back, so in that respect it’s the worst reminder of her life.” In other words, he still hated being in the spotlight.
Yet, the fact is that now he and Meghan could choose to live a completely private life away from all forms of media. We see, instead, the pair opting for global visibility, even inviting chosen media into their LA home. In particular, they are photographed – almost constantly – even when that could easily be avoided.
Take, for example, the Sussexes’ “private visit” to a Los Angeles cemetery in November 2020 to honour fallen soldiers and mark Remembrance Sunday in the UK. They could have gone alone and paid their respects quietly. Instead, the pair enlisted celebrity fashion photographer Lee Morgan, and their office released the resulting pictures to the UK.
Ditto their four-day faux-Royal tour in New York City a year later, when the couple had their own photographer following them around – some thought for a future Netflix documentary – as well as the regular press photographers.
Looking back to the start of the relationship, when Meghan met Harry, she must have been delighted at first that here was guaranteed glamorous PR for free as the Prince’s girlfriend. But the closer they got, the more frustrating it must have been to realise that her meat-and-drink need for publicity had to be curtailed because of his need for privacy. Harry’s need was so deep, he projected it on to her when he issued an unprecedented appeal to the world’s media for his then girlfriend to be left alone, claiming she had been subjected to a wave of “abuse and harassment”.
The Duke and Duchess pay a ‘private visit’ to the Los Angeles National Cemetery
Credit: Lee Morgan
Harry wasn’t pleading for Meghan here as much as himself. He has blamed the press for scaring off two previous serious girlfriends, Chelsea Davey and Cressida Bonas, who both loved Harry but couldn’t cope with being in the spotlight. He was desperate, I was told at the time, not to lose Meghan in the same way although he also hoped that being accustomed to the flashing lights of showbusiness would enable her to cope.
However, he knew, too, there would also be a conflict for her, telling me that while he hated the “goldfish bowl” and sometimes hid behind the meat counter at his local supermarket to avoid being seen, Meghan had grown up with the understanding that actresses can pick and choose when to be in the spotlight. Unlike Royals, who are “in the public eye 24-7” merely because of the family they are born into, and whether they like it or not.
It’s difficult not to think that Meghan – having thrived on publicity as an actress – must have wondered why she had to give that up? Especially as Harry now insisted she was in control and could cherry pick her choice of journalist and photographer when she wanted to hit the headlines. Those chosen journalists would then have to follow “her truth” rather than ask questions or evaluate what was going on.
Yet as an extremely helpful bonus, Meghan seems to have seen a chance to please Harry at the same time. The more she complained about feeling under threat from the press, the more powerfully Harry reacted.
So can we assume that Meghan set herself and Harry against the world – and particularly against the Royal family – before they were even official? It would certainly have given them a special bond when they both had to endure unwanted and relentless chronicalisation of their rather unglamorous lives as working junior Royals.
In the now infamous interview, Oprah asked Meghan what she thought about the Palace ‘hearing you speak your truth’
There is a further twist to the couple’s campaign against uninvited press coverage: a now familiar deep-seated need to examine it all, regardless of where it came from, rather than letting it lie. Over time, it’s been apparent that the pair have worked to be equally outraged by any new material in the media (however tame), with the result that anyone around them – including family and staff – who doesn’t agree, has to go.
Harry in particular seems to search for and build up countless petty grievances that outrage him but prove Meghan is always right. A recent example is the word Megxit, used to describe their stepping back as members of the British Royal family, which most people take as a play on ‘Brexit’. Harry angrily decided it was sexist and it’s believed to have been removed from the recent BBC TV documentary Prince and the Press.
On the other hand, many have assumed Meghan’s experience as an actor would have enabled her to manage the press with ease, shrugging off difficult stories and boosting positive ones. Yet, instead, she seems addicted to “bad” press, reading it, cogitating over it and fanning it for more. There is a rumour that she spends huge amounts of time, day and night, checking on her round-the-world image.
Perhaps she is also creating scenarios to ensure privacy on her terms as an ongoing issue? Refusing to share names of godparents, hiding their babies’ faces and withdrawing information to keep everyone on their toes and create demand?
Meanwhile Harry, who looks more lost than ever, issues grandiose and pompous statements that are about as far from the Harry I met as you could get. The Harry I knew was someone who genuinely cared about “making a positive difference” and told me he longed to live in Africa and help with endangered species. He also had a terrific sense of humour. This new Harry and Meghan show of positioning themselves against the world, private when it suits them, going public when they need the spotlight, doesn’t suit him.
He seems to have taken several steps back behind Meghan, both literally and figuratively. I feel sorry for him even if he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. Meanwhile Meghan is getting what she wanted all along – to be the star of her own show on her own terms.