From sparkling welcome to stormy goodbye: JAN MOIR was there cheering at Meghan’s first ever walkabout, and now, as the couple quit Britain, she gives her take on their troubled three-year journey
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex returned to the UK this week, for a last waltz of official engagements before slipping their bonds as royals and starting a new life in the wild.
On Thursday night they clung together under an umbrella outside London’s Mansion House, an enraptured couple dappled with camera flashlights, looking utterly radiant in the rain.
Attending the Endeavour Fund Awards, Harry and Meghan seemed anointed with a faraway glamour, effortlessly exuding the kind of starpower that exceeds anything the House of Windsor could ever provide.
It became clear that they have already crossed the great divide, mutating before our eyes into molten celebrities instead of dusty old royals; no longer that lowly couple from Frogmore Cottage, forever constrained by protocol and stricture.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pictured arriving at The Endeavour Awards at Mansion House, London, on Thursday
It was this boundary — the once impregnable chasm between celebrity and monarchy — that was the cause of so much friction between the Sussexes and their staff, between them and the Queen, and particularly between them and us, the bemused public.
If we wondered why their wedding pews were filled with VIPs and stars they barely knew instead of family and friends; if we bristled at being lectured on climate change and feminism by a pair of high-rolling hypocrites; if we pondered the wisdom of writing empowering messages on bananas to give to sex workers, or dared to comment on a Duchess’s lust for excess, we were labelled as racists and worse.
And as we rattled unhappily together along the zip wire of their short-term membership of the Firm, it wasn’t long before hostilities clouded the air like a swarm of angry bees.
Prince Harry, a man who is easily stung and forever on a fuming quest for respect and veneration, demanded a change in attitudes while refusing to accept that his own behaviour might be flawed. He fails to understand that respect is something to be earned, not insisted upon by royal command.
Amid all this tumult, no wonder the couple wanted to bolt, to be done with it all. To swap the sackcloth, the ashes and the tattered, battered Windsor ermine for the heady rush of spangles and liberty. Suddenly it all makes perfect sense.
Before reaching their decision in January to step back as senior royals, the Sussexes were doomed to a second-tier life of ribbon-cutting, bouquet-accepting and hand-shaking with minor dignitaries from Dullsville — and relegated to doing so forever in the shadow of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Meghan Markle pictured while she attends the National Theatre on Thursday
Now they are centre stage in their own production, the authors of a dazzling dramaturgy, the starring attraction, not the supporting players. It is no exaggeration to say that, in one bound, they have gone from Duke and Duchess Do-Good to perhaps the most famous couple in the world, which is no small feat and one to be admired.
The superb choreography of Megxit is a credit to their mutual zeal and organisational skills, give or take the occasional petulance over the use of the word ‘royal.’
For even as they made their daring escape from the sour scrutiny of courtiers and columnists, the Queen stepped in to make them aware of the constitutional limits of their act of usurpation.
Yet despite the rancour of the past year, one wishes them nothing but the best. How could we not? It was noticeable this week that Harry and Meghan haven’t looked so riotously happy since their engagement in November 2017, and the fairytale wedding that followed six months later.
That was back when everything seemed so hopeful, when the future brimmed with promise and good intent, when Meghan during her TV engagement interview was all ‘boots on the ground in the UK’ and ‘excited to just really get to know more about the different communities here’.
Sadly, that excitement was not to last. It was over quicker than you could say: ‘I’m ready for my close up, Mr Disney Executive.’
Indeed, the Sussexes’ tenure as a fully operational royal couple lasted less than a thousand days.
History will view this brief moment as perhaps not much more than a wrong stitch in the regal tapestry, a scratch on the imperial crown — while only time will tell if their reign in Hollywood lasts much longer.
Sometimes it is hard not to look at the dust and gas in the blaze of their comet tail and wonder: What the hell just happened?
Meghan Markle pictured in Nottingham on her first official engagement with Prince Harry after the couple announced their engagement in November 2017
Consider that they moved into Frogmore Cottage only at the beginning of April last year, after the property was upgraded by a series of taxpayer-funded refurbishments that cost £2.4 million. By the end of November they were gone, no doubt never to return in any meaningful way. The vegan paint in Archie’s new nursery barely had time to dry.
There are probably still some of Meghan’s fro-yos in the fridge. I imagine pristine hats left behind in their boxes to gather dust — she won’t be needing them any more — and wardrobes rustling with a forest of coathangers, each one mourning the delicious Ralph & Russo gowns and the excellent collection of coats that once hung there.
If the Sussexes leaving was a surprise, what they have left behind is even more shocking. In their wake an entire nation, a media industry and even the Royal Family themselves have been accused of institutionalised racism — mostly for having the temerity to criticise some of the more questionable decisions the couple has made.
This week, Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel has claimed that the Duchess of Sussex is the victim of ‘abominable racism’ and anyone who thinks otherwise should ‘check their privilege’.
Hillary Clinton joined the party by stating that the UK’s treatment of Meghan has been ‘heartbreaking and wrong’.
These women are not alone in their views. Yesterday I watched a preview of a new documentary about the Duchess of Sussex with mounting horror. Escaping The Crown has been made by American cable channel Vice and premieres in the U.S. on March 10, before being shown on a Virgin channel here.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pictured clapping at The Endeavour Awards on Thursday
During the 60-minute special, ‘palace insiders’ — including Left- wing commentators such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Ash Sarkar — fall over themselves to tell of the ‘tsunami of hate’ and ‘widespread abuse’ that have apparently dogged the Duchess since she first set a dainty foot on British soil.
‘I don’t know how you stay mentally resilient in the face of that onslaught, knowing that your in-laws are unsupportive,’ said Sarkar, while Miss Alibhai-Brown ventured the following: ‘I don’t think Meghan could have known she was entering a country which wasn’t necessarily going to accept her, and a family that is so dysfunctional. I think Britain thought it was ready to embrace a mixed race duchess — but it wasn’t.’
Of course, that is simply not true — but it is now the victim narrative Harry and Meghan will seed into their new lives in America, the tale they will spin into solid gold in interviews, in print and on coast-to-coast television shows fronted by new friends such as Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey.
Brace yourselves for repeat performances of this tale of woe, featuring an embattled Cinderella and her noble prince, heroically escaping the wickedness of an Old World apparently entrenched in prejudice and flecked with spite, as they strike out for the sunlit uplands and a ravishing waterside mansion in Canada.
However, one can wish them the happiest of endings, but still dispute this version of events.
For the truth is that, in the beginning, the UK welcomed Meghan with open arms and a big heart. I should know. I was there on that frosty morning in Nottingham in the winter of 2017, when she made her debut as a working royal.
I remember that giddy day like it was yesterday, which it almost is, to be fair. I was standing on the High Pavement in the city’s historic Lace Market, among the thousands of cheering fans who were chanting her name.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the awards on Thursday. They celebrate the achievements of service personnel who were injured and then went into sport
‘Hi, I’m Meghan,’ was how she introduced herself to everyone. She told one woman in the crowd: ‘I’ve been made so welcome and I can’t believe it.’ It was her first taste of the eccentricities of British royal life, as fans handed her endearingly absurd gifts including fridge magnets, garage flowers and Haribo sweets. Everyone adored her.
‘This seems to signal the launch of a new royal team of true equals, the like of which we have never seen before,’ I wrote in my report for the Daily Mail the next day, noting her ‘dazzling and confident debut’ and how it was a ‘pleasure to see a royal partner already so at ease with herself and her role’.
Other newspapers, broadcasters and magazines reported positively on what we were already calling the Markle Sparkle.
It was thrilling to see Harry, this poor, motherless son who had sometimes lost his way rather spectacularly, whose need for love and family was almost an open wound, finally settling down with the woman he loved.
Then there was the wedding and a beautiful honeymoon period for us all, in which we basked in their virtuous deeds and highly curated grab-bag of good causes.
However, the honeymoon ended rather sooner that anyone could have imagined, leading to the abdication in all but name which we now face today.
I would venture that the relationship between the Sussexes and the country soured not because of intolerance and bigotry, but more that people just grew tired of their increasingly woke sensibilities and brittle lectures about global warming, while taking private jets when no one was looking.
The hysterical subterfuge around the birth of Archie didn’t help, but it was their prerogative, as new parents and privacy-mad royals, to behave exactly as they pleased.
Yet the turning point for many — certainly for me — came in October last year, when the couple were interviewed by ITV’s Tom Bradby for a documentary called Harry & Meghan: An African Journey. It was filmed during their official visit to the continent.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle beam as they watch a man propose to his girlfriend on stage
Jaws dropped during the broadcast when the couple set out to prove that no one, not even those poor misfortunates living in dirt and poverty in Africa, had a monopoly on suffering.
They used the backdrop of some of the world’s poorest countries to complain about their own problems and first-world grievances, illustrating both the depth of their hurt and their lack of empathy.
Harry revealed he was still not over the death of his mother, while Meghan had a mantra.
‘It’s not enough to just survive something, right? That is not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive,’ she said. Indeed you do, but if you can bear witness to all of that misery and still stand in front of a camera, biting your lip or with a tear in your eye, as you complain that behind the ramparts your life is tough, then you are blind as to how you are perceived and tone deaf to the needs of others.
I can’t forget the appalled reader who emailed me saying that she had thrown a champagne-drenched garden party when the couple got married, but now ‘wouldn’t walk to the end of the street to see them’.
There are a few more engagements over the coming days before the curtain comes down for ever on their lives as royals. They will return to North America, to begin selling, not the monarchy any more, but themselves.
Is Harry really prepared to commercialise his family and his background in a world where every public appearance is harshly transactional?
He has already made a speech to bankers in a five-star Florida hotel, where he told guests he had been in therapy for seven years in a bid to deal with the trauma of losing his mother.
What else is he going to talk about, on his one-note samba never-ending tour? He’s a lovely guy, but he is not known for his intellect or oratorical skills.
Meanwhile, how soon can it be before there are magazine spreads featuring multiple photographs of baby Archie? It can’t have escaped the Sussexes’ attention that Brad and Angelina got more than £3 million for pictures of their children. And that images of their son, a symbol of love in a time of trouble, will be worth an awful lot more.
Yet I’ll say it again, I wish them nothing but the best. I have never bought into the myth that wicked Meghan stole our Harry away, and this was her plan all along. Instead she has merely provided him with an escape route to happiness, the prism through which his life can be reset and refracted.
Clearly, Harry felt compressed by the meat-and-potatoes drudge of royal life, compressed by the machinations of a system which demanded more of him than he was willing to give. Now he leaves all that to the Cambridges, whose load is heavier as a result.
Does he care? Obviously not. After fulfilling their final royal duties, Harry and Meghan will head West into the sunset, to take their place among the celebrity wranglers and powermongers of Hollywood, where they will hope to thrive. They are just two drifters, off to see the world — and there is such a lot of world to see.
All I hope for the future is that they are honest about the scope of their ambition and intent — and desist from blaming Britain for the bruising separation that has set them free.
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