Elizabeth Day: Meghan’s just doing what comes naturally

I’m in Los Angeles at the moment. I advise you to look away now if the casual smugness of that opening sentence was too much to bear. There is nothing worse than reading about someone else’s holiday when you’re not on one. It’s like scrolling through Instagram and being visually assaulted by a constant stream of painted toenails on sandy beaches when you’re on a rush-hour train watching rain beat against the windows.

Elizabeth Day
Jenny Brough

But I haven’t just been wafting around drinking celery juice. No, I have been undertaking vital journalistic research: asking Americans what they think of the Duchess of Sussex – although, over here, she is still known as Meghan Markle, royal titles generally only being used when saying ‘Yasss queen!’ to emphasise something worthy of admiration.

I start by asking my friend Joan, a wildly successful television executive. ‘I think she’s fantastic,’ she replies, without missing a beat. Wherever I pose the question, the response is the same. Angelenos see Meghan as one of their own. She grew up here. Then she became an actress: a profession this city was built on. In LA, celebrity is not a negative thing; it is a way of life.

The fact that Meghan has chosen to use her celebrity as a platform to help others – from guest-editing British Vogue and filling the magazine with female change-makers, to setting up a crisis texting service for those with mental health issues – is seen as wholly commendable. Her marriage to Prince Harry is almost incidental. In truth, most people I spoke to thought that he was the one to have made an excellent match.

It strikes me that much of the criticism Meghan has faced in the UK springs from two sources. One is the pernicious idea that somehow her face doesn’t quite ‘fit’. The people who believe this might not think they are being racist. They might have inherited an innate, nameless discomfort bequeathed by generations of embedded prejudice. But – let’s be clear – it is racism.

The second criticism is that it’s all a bit… well… tacky. It’s that the royal family should, like a Victorian child, be seen and not heard. It’s astonishing to me that in 2019 we still expect our royals to behave as they would have done a century ago: opening new hospital wings, wearing conservative clothes and never once expressing a mildly controversial opinion. We expect them to offer up their children for photocalls and renovate their houses in ways that we think are appropriate because they benefit from our taxpayer money.

Meghan has given up her lucrative career and much of her privacy to marry a man she loves. In the process, she brings a starry glow to our most traditional national institution. Navigating the role would be fraught with difficulty for any of us, let alone an American who grew up in a city where it’s perfectly normal to aspire to fame.

Used effectively, fame can be a valuable currency. Kim Kardashian successfully lobbied the president to release a grandmother serving a life sentence from jail. Taylor Swift caused a voter registration spike after an Instagram post in which she encouraged teens to vote and endorsed two Democrat candidates. Celebrity is power, whether you like it or not. You might wish it were otherwise – that nurses and teachers were better paid and wielded more influence than someone who was once on Suits. But this is the world we live in. Of all the members of the royal family, Meghan is the most equipped to deal with modern times. She has chosen to use her celebrity for good rather than to disappear meekly from view. Like my friend Joan says: fantastic.

This week I’m…

Reading

My Name is Why, the extraordinarily moving new memoir from British poet Lemn Sissay about growing up in care.

Watching

The Great Hack on Netflix, a documentary examining the terrifying reality that Facebook basically knows everything about me.

Defining

My brows with Dipbrow Gel by Anastasia Beverly Hills. It makes them look thicker, naturally darker and – best of all – stay in place all day.