With her natural beauty, easy charm and fierce intelligence, our newest royal-to-be has not only bagged Prince Harry, she has won over YOU columnist Liz Jones, too.
There were two moments during the 20-minute interview Meghan Markle granted the BBC, right after her engagement photo-call in the sunken garden at Kensington Palace on 27 November last year, when I fell head over heels.
The first I knew I was smitten was when Meghan used the term ‘my rescue pups’ on national primetime television to describe her beloved dogs Guy, a beagle, and Bogart, a labrador/shepherd mix. No two more maligned breeds would it be possible to choose. Guy has already made the trip to London to join her; Bogart is staying with friends in Toronto, but despite the US gossip rags trying to dig up doggy dirt, the truth is he’s too old for change.
You see, when you really love your dogs, they remain puppies, no matter how long in the tooth. Meghan Markle (my goodness, even her initials are delicious: mmmmmm!) would never dream of breeding dogs, as the Queen is wont to do. She is a woman after our own hearts. She is normal. She says ‘rescue pups’.
The second frisson came when the microphones were turned off and Meghan gesticulated and laughed while the crew packed their things. She placed her little heart-shaped chin on one fist. It was endearing, unguarded, spontaneous. It spoke volumes. She wanted to make us laugh.
Note I haven’t yet mentioned Harry, or used any plural pronouns. We’re used to him. There is fondness for him, yes – ever since he walked, head bowed and tiny, behind his mother’s coffin. We wish him well. He has served his country, not just in Afghanistan, but by supporting numerous good causes: his campaigning for injured veterans and for funds to help those with mental health issues to name just two. He hasn’t (yet) gone bald. But that is as bright as his star has shone.
He would inevitably, we thought – given his class and penchant for drunken japes – marry a blonde deb: a frequenter of Annabel’s nightclub, the sort of lazy gal born into a posh family who has no need to work for a living, beyond designing jewellery and turning the pages of Tatler, and who never had to strain her blue eyes to read, you know, books.
But look at Harry now. My, has he gone up in our estimation. He has swollen in stature – eclipsed even his brother! – to become half of a super-couple we hope will eclipse George and Amal. He has chosen a woman who has read every tome by Toni Morrison. Now that’s class.
Also Meghan never, ever shuts up. Not for her false modesty, or coyness, or awe, or fear or – God forbid – deference. That’s what made me (and Harry, probably) fall in love with her. Not just the freckles nor the courage to centre-part that jet black (ironed? I’d probably love her a teensy bit more if she’d only have the courage to go Sarah Jessica Parker curly) hair, which only works if your face is truly symmetrical, which hers, of course, is: she’s perfect. And the straight-up-and-down narrow calves, the sort you find only on supermodels. Or the fact she has breasts and a bottom, which means she’s slim because that’s How God Made Her, not through dieting or, heaven forbid, surgery. You can tell Meghan has never denied herself anything.
And why should she? She believes she’s worth it (and for anyone who thinks she’s a gold digger, the girl could land a L’Oréal contract tomorrow). Not for her the Diana doubt, the fear she is not clever or beautiful or sexy enough. We might laugh at the cult of Californian self-care, but look at Meghan! It bloody well works. How well adjusted is she? How normal; how easy she makes life seem. She apologises for nothing. She stares at Harry – and the world – with that open, unwary expression.
I wouldn’t ever dare to cross Meghan, but that isn’t a criticism: I love strong women. She is just honed, down to her shell-like short pink nails. For that Vanity Fair cover in October last year she was photographed barefoot by Peter Lindbergh, no less, the man who gave us the iconic supermodel cover of Vogue in January 1990. Meghan insisted that she not be airbrushed; you can see every freckle. She has a mole just above her lip, the sort of lovely flaw that did Marilyn Monroe no harm. She wasn’t icy, even in black and white; she still oozed warmth.
What I love most about Meghan is that she is self-made. Yes, she was privately educated – at the all-girl Immaculate Heart High in Los Angeles, the alma mater of supermodel Tyra Banks – the daughter of a white father, Thomas, a (now retired) Emmy-winning lighting director, and a black mother, Doria, a yoga instructor and social worker.
She is quoted as saying that on Suits – the TV series set in a New York law firm that has run for seven seasons, and in which she plays Rachel Zane, a paralegal with a fondness for high-waisted pencil skirts and court shoes – if the writers put in a scene where she was required to wear a towel, she would put a marker through it. Maybe that’s why she never became a film star: she has too much integrity.
Meghan says now she is moving ‘out of my career and climbing into a new role’. She has also said, ‘I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches; I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works.’ She is not giving up: I imagine changing the world will be an even harder job than satisfying number crunchers at the big studios. It’s a trend, these days, that actresses such as Emma Watson and Angelina Jolie see stardom as a stepping stone to a higher calling.
But Meghan has always had a social conscience. Aged 11, she went on TV to call out an advert for being sexist for the line, ‘Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.’ As an adult, she became an ambassador for World Vision, travelling to Rwanda to work with the Clean Water Campaign, and is a counsellor for the charity One Young World. As a biracial woman, she doesn’t dabble in injustice as some sort of PR exercise; she has lived it. She defied definition in castings: ‘Feeling too light in the black community, too mixed in the white community for castings, I was labelled “ethnically ambiguous”. Was I Latina? Sephardic Jewish? Exotic Caucasian?’
It might sound a little like an Anglican minister wishing Prince George were gay, but I hope that, at 36 – to Harry’s 33 – Meghan might just have one child, then decide to adopt another, or two, or three (they can afford it). From Botswana, perhaps, where Harry, needing to ‘up his game’, whisked her on a minibreak to the luxury canvas of Meno a Kwena after just two dates in London, to sleep under the stars, and from where he sourced an ethical diamond for her ring. (He was probably feeling guilty; the front pages have just revealed he took Chelsy Davy to the very same camp ten years earlier.)
I would love to see an adopted black child waving from the balcony at Buckingham Palace. (A slight proviso: I found Meghan’s carefully wheeling out of the word ‘commonwealth’ during her TV talk awkward. But you can guarantee she will balk at anything that makes her feel uncomfortable. I can only imagine Queen Victoria spinning in her grave as Meghan continues to make menstrual health one of her pet causes.) A black child on the balcony, adopted or no, would do more for highlighting injustice, for our image on the world stage, than the frocks the (tipped) future Duchess of Sussex – that’s just awful; can’t she be Princess Meghan? – chooses will boost our economy.
Last year Meghan outstripped Kate in the number of searches for a clothing brand once she has worn it. She dresses with a nonchalance Kate has never had: a ‘husband’ shirt for her first official appearance with Harry at the Invictus Games. Ripped jeans. Flats. Sunnies. She makes Kate seem awfully prim and provincial. Oh, and workshy, too. One writer noted it took Kate three months after her engagement to William was announced before she undertook a royal engagement; it took Meghan four days. You see, where two middle-class brunettes are married to aristocratic brothers, the claws must surely be unsheathed, like an upmarket version of Dynasty. I imagine Kate is relieved to have handed over the heavy baton.
Vogue, surely smarting at not having nabbed the most famous black woman in the universe for its first cover under an African editor (I imagine Meghan would have thrown a proffered Boden hat out of the window; she has a very clear idea of how to look her best), is already pondering what designer Meghan will choose to make her gown for the wedding in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on 19 May. The magazine actually suggested as candidates John Galliano, who left Dior under an anti-Semitic cloud, and Marchesa, one half of which is married to Harvey Weinstein. I hope Meghan chooses an American label – Oscar de la Renta is grand enough – rather than an adopted British brand such as couture couple Ralph & Russo (she wore one of their dresses, with a price tag of £56,000, for her official engagement photo). We don’t want her to lose her identity to the Windsors completely. It’s bad enough she’s changing her name.
Erdem Moralioglu, whose tropical maxi she chose for the wedding of Harry’s friend Tom Inskip in Jamaica last year, would be a good compromise: his atelier is in London but he was born in Canada, where Meghan rented a home – she decked it out in white and is said to favour pristine ‘hotel-style’ bed linen; boy, is she a girl after my heart – for the seven years she spent filming Suits. But no matter how accustomed Meghan is to the red carpet,like Grace Kelly, who arrived in Monaco six days before her wedding to Prince Rainier in a too-large hat that concealed her face, and which promptly took flight on a gust of wind, Meghan will still need schooling in royal protocol. Dressing as a paid-up member of the royal family is full of things to trip you up, such as the fact no toe cleavage is allowed in a cathedral. Meghan seems to possess a very American, romanticised view of all things English: she keeps mentioning tea and country walks. She would never wear anything as dowdy and scratchy as that Bill Pashley tweed suit Diana wore on her honeymoon in Scotland. I wonder how she will take to the hunting and fishing; I hope she has the guts to refuse to countenance all the…guts.
Most of all, though, now that Harry is marrying an American, I am nervous and proud in almost equal measure. I feel the UK should have had a chance to get a spring clean first, before she arrived with her Le Labo candles, wicker furniture and peonies (don’t you just wish she had the balls to continue with Instagram? I so want a peek on all those cosy evenings à deux in Nottingham Cottage; those weekends at Soho Farmhouse!) to take up residence across the courtyard from Will and Kate at Kensington Palace. When it was announced she was making her first official trip on Harry’s arm, to Nottingham on World Aids Day, I didn’t want her to see the cones on the A1, or even the concourse at St Pancras. I want her to be shielded from our petty politics, housing estates and the rubbish that litters our countryside.
I doubt she will have encountered snobbery before, but that’s where Harry comes in. His communications secretary protected her with that unprecedented broadside to the British media in autumn 2016, lamenting her harassment: ‘He [Prince Harry] knows commentators will say this is “the price she has to pay” and that it is “all part of the game”. He strongly disagrees. This is not a game – it is her life and his.’
But despite understandable attention, she is still delightfully unguarded (she used the word ‘organic’ in that BBC broadcast, after all). She is unused to British bitchery. Despite Harry’s warning, the papers, on the first weekend after the engagement was announced, were full of salacious stories about her ‘missing’ dad, whom Harry has yet to meet in the flesh. There were murmurings of Alzheimer’s in the family and an aside that her father is prone to ‘bouts of melancholy’.
Her half-sister Samantha, from her father’s first marriage, is writing a memoir. The reported working title isn’t flattering: The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister. Well, give me pushy any day. It beats being a walkover. Meghan’s former childhood best friend spilled the beans on how she had been ‘dropped’, as well as describing what happened to Meghan’s short-lived first marriage to film producer Trevor Engelson.
That’s what brought her and Harry together, after all. He saw beyond the freckles and the legs up to here (indicates just below the armpits), when most British women’s legs only go up to here (indicates the knees). Hell, even professional sourpuss Julie Burchill opined of Meghan telling Vanity Fair, ‘We’re two people who are really happy and in love. We were very quietly dating for about six months before it became news, and I was working during that whole time, and the only thing that changed was people’s perception’: ‘It really is too banal – and too beautiful – not to be true.’ Awww!
Though Meghan has Diana’s luminous star quality, she has none of her neuroses or fragility. Anyone who is able not just to survive but thrive on the sort of filming schedule a hit TV series demands – during their courtship, she and Harry made it a rule never to spend more than two weeks apart, which meant she would get straight off a plane and on to set: bring on the Touche Eclat! – is truly made of steel. Harry insists he had never heard of Meghan, nor seen her on TV, before he was introduced by a friend on a blind date. But if not drawn to her fame, he must have been lured by her Zen-like calm. He said he ‘loves this girl’. Thank the Lord he didn’t once utter the words that made his mother’s blood turn to ice in her virginal veins: ‘Whatever love means…’