THE ROYAL DOOM

A real ac­tor joins the long­est-run­ning soap opera in his­tory… that of The Bri­tish Royal Fam­ily

Society - - CONTENTS - By Craig Brown

Will the Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, even­tu­ally head for splitsville?

How long do you give it? Con­ver­sa­tion about Harry and Meghan are among the most pop­u­lar in the UK jostling for the num­ber one slot with con­ver­sa­tions about (a) Trump and (b) Brexit. There is a talk of Trump, but no de­bate. He is a uni­fy­ing sub­ject, like the weather. A right-wing Con­ser­va­tive MP told me re­cently that he could think of no Bri­tish politi­cian, in any party, who would have voted for Trump. So, in Bri­tain, if you want to feel the warm glow of sol­i­dar­ity, you have only to say the world Trump and every­one starts singing from the same song sheet. But Meghan Markle, like Brexit, seems to divide peo­ple. Some ar­gue that she will have a re­ju­ve­nat­ing in­flu­ence on the House of Wind­sor, drag­ging it into the easy­go­ing class­less, colour-blind world of the 21st cen­tury. When the en­gage­ment

was an­nounced, a friend of mine, a veteran royal bi­og­ra­pher, was du­bi­ous. But he has since been won over. “I got my first glimpse of the bride at the Royal Al­bert Hall on Satur­day night,” he emailed me, hav­ing seen her at a con­cert to mark the queen’s 92nd birth­day. “Wow—the surge of ex­cite­ment from the en­tire au­di­ence when Harry and Meghan came in. I was amazed…The whole hall erupted with one of those loud rip­ples of ap­proval, with a few cheers…I haven’t met her but those who have say she is de­light­ful—and she is very lithe and beau­ti­ful. And bright.” Oth­ers, like Ger­maine Greer, adopt a more skep­ti­cal line. “Why would a girl born in poverty marry a man worth 53 mil­lion quid?” she asked on Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion in April. She went on to make a pre­dic­tion. Re­fer­ring to the royal life’s cre­at­ing “vis­tas of bore­dom that are un­be­liev­able,” she added, “I think she will bolt.” Of course, in re­cent years Greer has be­come a sort of hu­man juke­box of ran­dom opin­ions, whether on Proust (‘Time wasted’) or cud­dly toys (‘Truly hideous, be­yond kitsch’). But there are many who share her sus­pi­cions about Meghan Markle. Jan Moir, a colum­nist at the Daily Mail, thinks that she should learn restraint. “It seems far, far too early for Meghan to go into full Diana mode and un­furl any fondly imag­ined royal su­per­pow­ers. Or to start be­liev­ing that she can change the lives of trou­bled cit­i­zens merely by be­queath­ing a megawatt smile and a con­so­la­tion hug around their luck­less shoul­ders … Per­haps she doesn’t mean to, but in pub­lic she fre­quently slips into gluti­nous ac­tress mode, as if she were rather ham­mily play­ing her­self in some fu­ture episode of TV’s The Crown … Too many lay­ers of the cus­tard of com­pas­sion on this par­tic­u­lar royal tri­fle is go­ing to make us all feel a lit­tle bit sick.” Will their cyn­i­cism prove jus­ti­fied? There are, it must be said, clear cul­tural dif­fer­ences be­tween the Markles and the Wind­sors. “I was born and raised in Los An­ge­les,” Markle once blogged, “a Cal­i­for­nia girl who lives by the ethos that most things can be cured with ei­ther yoga, the beach or a few av­o­ca­dos.” This is a long way from the world­view of Her Majesty the Queen, who would prob­a­bly treat an av­o­cado with deep sus­pi­cion, prefers tramp­ing in the wind and the rain through the gorse of the Scot­tish High­lands to bask­ing on a beach, and has never been spot­ted in a yoga leo­tard. Many of the royal fam­ily only re­ally come alive in the com­pany of horses. “If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she’s not in­ter­ested,” Prince Philip once said of their only daugh­ter, Princess Anne. Her Majesty has never con­fused be­ing fa­mous with be­ing in­ter­est­ing. In 92 years, she has never ap­peared on a chat show or talked about her­self to an in­ter­viewer. Some time ago, she was speak­ing to two mem­bers of the pub­lic when the woman’s mo­bile phone be­gan to ring. “You’d bet­ter an­swer that,” the queen said. “It might be some­one im­por­tant.” The charm of this story lies in the fact that she prob­a­bly wasn’t jok­ing. There is an al­most Andy Warhol–style blank­ness about her. Her age, en­ergy and po­si­tion in life prob­a­bly mean that she has been in­tro­duced to a greater num­ber of peo­ple than any­one else who ever lived, but few can re­mem­ber a sin­gle word she has ever said. It is al­most as though her con­ver­sa­tion was writ­ten in dis­ap­pear­ing ink. She tends to ask ques­tions (“Do you live nearby?” “Have you been in­volved for long?”) and then re­ply “Re­ally?” be­fore mov­ing on. How strange, then, that this most out­wardly un­re­mark­able of women

“Her majesty has never con­fused be­ing fa­mous with be­ing in­ter­est­ing.”

should have such an elec­tri­fy­ing ef­fect on those with whom she comes into con­tact. It has been said of her that she must think that the world smells of new paint, be­cause re­dec­o­ra­tion so of­ten pre­cedes her ar­rival.

But the peo­ple she meets are al­tered, too: “Be­fore the royal ar­rival, there is a height­ened sense of ex­pec­ta­tion: ner­vous laugh­ter from those due to be pre­sented, re­peated check­ing of watches, self-con­scious straight­en­ing of ties, last-minute vis­its to the loo,” writes Gyles Bran­dreth. “When the royal party ap­pears, a sud­den hush de­scends, the at­mos­phere a mix­ture of ex­cite­ment and awk­ward­ness, in­ter­rupted by sud­den bursts of laugh­ter. When the queen says to a hospi­tal or­derly, ‘You work here full-time? Re­ally?’, for no good rea­son we all fall about with mer­ri­ment. In the pres­ence of Her Majesty, no­body be­haves nat­u­rally. And the mo­ment the royal visit is over, the re­lief is in­tense.” Bran­dreth goes on to quote one royal ob­server who noted, “When roy­alty leaves the room, it’s like get­ting a seed out of your tooth.” This is the world that Meghan Markle is join­ing. Even though Prince Harry is a mem­ber of a more re­laxed and open gen­er­a­tion, he re­tains a strong sense of the royal fam­ily as a team, ded­i­cated, above all, to its own sur­vival. It is in­ter­est­ing to com­pare the vo­cab­u­lary used by Harry and Meghan in the BBC tele­vi­sion in­ter­view to mark their en­gage­ment. Meghan uses the soft lan­guage of Cal­i­for­nian mind­ful­ness: She speaks of a “learn­ing curve,” and “nur­tur­ing our re­la­tion­ship,” and be­ing “fo­cused on who we are as a cou­ple.” De­scrib­ing their first meet­ing, she says, “So for both of us, it was just a re­ally au­then­tic and or­ganic way to get to know each other.” Later, “when we re­alised we were go­ing to com­mit to each other … we knew we had to in­vest in the time and the en­ergy and what­ever it took to make that hap­pen.”

“Per­haps she doesn’t mean to, but in pub­lic Markle fre­quently slips into gluti­nous ac­tress mode, as if she were rather ham­mily play­ing her­self in some fu­ture episode of TV’s The Crown …”

Harry, on the other hand, speaks of Meghan’s en­trance into his fam­ily al­most as though it were some sort of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion, a suc­cess­ful call for re­in­force­ments. “For me, it’s an added mem­ber of the fam­ily,” says Harry. “It’s an­other team player as part of the big­ger team, and you know for all of us, what we want to do is to be able to carry out the right en­gage­ments, carry out our work, and try and en­cour­age oth­ers in the younger gen­er­a­tion to be able to see the world in the cor­rect sense.” But the world is mov­ing Meghan-ward. While count­less other royal fam­i­lies — French, Rus­sian, Ira­nian, Ital­ian, etc. — have fos­silised and then fallen, the Bri­tish royal fam­ily has sur­vived by con­stantly adapt­ing to the de­mands of the mod­ern age. Back in 2002, the queen’s Golden Ju­bilee was marked by a so-called Party at the Palace, which kicked off with Brian May of Queen play­ing God Save the Queen on his elec­tric gui­tar on the roof, and con­tin­ued with Her Majesty en­joy­ing—or at least en­dur­ing—per­for­mances by, among many oth­ers, Brian Wil­son, El­ton John, Eric Clap­ton, Joe Cocker, Paul McCart­ney, and Lady­smith Black Mam­bazo.

This is one rea­son why the royal fam­ily has wel­comed Markle with such en­thu­si­asm. From her blog and her tweets and her in­ter­views, it is clear that Thor­oughly Mod­ern Meghan makes no dis­tinc­tion be­tween net­work­ing and phi­lan­thropy, hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism and self-pro­mo­tion, each skill shad­ing into the other. This is the way the world is go­ing, and the roy­als are, as ever, anx­ious to re­main on­board. She is me­dia-savvy, ma­neu­ver­ing deftly be­tween old and new, be­tween the pro­fes­sional and the pri­vate. In June 2016, she spent an af­ter­noon at Wim­ble­don, watching her friend Ser­ena Wil­liams play­ing ten­nis. Dur­ing that trip (she was still liv­ing in Toronto at the time), she had con­tacted the me­dia blab­ber­mouth Piers Mor­gan, with whom she had cor­re­sponded on Twit­ter, and ar­ranged to have a drink with him at a bar in Kens­ing­ton. He re­calls that they spoke of Suits, gun con­trol, and women’s rights. She was, he con­cluded, “fab­u­lous, warm, funny, in­tel­li­gent and highly en­ter­tain­ing.” And, he failed to add, dis­creet: As they said good-bye, Meghan ne­glected to tell him that she’d also be vis­it­ing a smart pri­vate mem­bers club for her first meet­ing with Prince Harry. And, he failed to add, dis­creet: As they said good-bye, Meghan ne­glected to tell him that she’d also be vis­it­ing a smart pri­vate mem­bers club for her first meet­ing with Prince Harry. There has re­cently been a lot of talk in Bri­tain about the Un­in­vited. Ev­ery day, it seems that new mem­bers of the Markle fam­ily pop up to com­plain that they haven’t had an in­vi­ta­tion to the Wed­ding. Meghan’s un­cle Michael and her un­cle Fred have both been left off the guest list, and so has her un­cle Joseph. “We as a fam­ily are very sad­dened that we won’t be there to wit­ness her beau­ti­ful cel­e­bra­tion,” said her first cousin Tr­ish Gal­lop. Meghan’s half-brother Tom Markle Jr is fu­ri­ous not to have been in­vited. “She’s torn our en­tire fam­ily apart. She’s clearly for­got­ten her roots … Meg likes to por­tray her­self as a hu­man­i­tar­ian, a peo­ple’s per­son and a char­i­ta­ble per­son, but she is none of those things to her fam­ily.” Mean­while, Meghan’s half-sis­ter Sa­man­tha pro­duces fresh griev­ances on Twit­ter reg­u­larly, call­ing her “self­ish” and a “so­cial climber.” She is cur­rently tout­ing an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal book to pub­lish­ers. Its ti­tle is The Di­ary of Princess Pushy’s Sis­ter. (It should be noted that Sa­man­tha has also fallen out with her mother, her brother, and her former hus­band.) Far from be­ing put off by such feud­ing, it is likely that the royal fam­ily will treat it as valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter all, at any one time half of them are on non-speaks with the oth­ers. Writ­ing my new bi­og­ra­phy of the queen’s dif­fi­cult sis­ter, Princess Mar­garet, I dis­cov­ered that the princess never once ad­dressed a word to her cousin’s wife, Princess Michael, even though they lived in the same build­ing.

“Things go hay­wire when the roy­als go off-script and per­form the lead role in their own psy­chodra­mas.”

In most im­por­tant re­spects, the royal fam­ily is a branch of show busi­ness, cov­ered by the me­dia as such. “You could equate it to a soap opera, re­ally,” said Princess Diana, in her con­tro­ver­sial se­cret in­ter­view with the BBC. “It goes on and on and on, and the story never changes.”

All mem­bers of the royal fam­ily are play­ing a part. They are ac­tors in a pageant, a sort of his­tor­i­cal re-cre­ation, in which they are ex­pected to sub­merge their own char­ac­ters be­neath tra­di­tional roles. Like an ac­tor, the queen mother knew that, in pub­lic, she was play­ing a role. “Her en­gage­ments, whether pri­vate or pub­lic, were like per­for­mances,” ob­served her bi­og­ra­pher Hugo Vick­ers. “Pri­vately, there was less go­ing on, since be­tween these per­for­mances she rested.” Prob­lems be­gin to arise when they con­fuse their pri­vate and their pub­lic lives and start to think that the pub­lic is in­ter­ested in them for who they re­ally are, rather than what they rep­re­sent. Then things go re­ally hay­wire when they go off-script and start to per­form the lead role in their own psy­chodra­mas. The most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple is Princess Diana. Orig­i­nally cast as Mary Pop­pins, af­ter a few years she in­stead took on the role of a free-form Hedda Gabler. Oth­ers of her gen­er­a­tion of royal brides have also come a crop­per, not least the Duchess of York. Six years af­ter her “fairy tale” wed­ding to the queen’s sec­ond son, Sarah Fer­gu­son was stay­ing at Bal­moral when a news­pa­per car­ried pho­to­graphs of her hav­ing her toes sucked by her “fi­nan­cial ad­viser.” Oddly enough, her sub­se­quent fall from grace has served only to boost her self-ab­sorp­tion. Her books of wis­dom in­clude What I Know Now, Rein­vent­ing Yourself With the Duchess of York, Din­ing With the Duchess, and Dieting With the Duchess. Lat­est among a stream of au­to­bi­ogra­phies is Find­ing Sarah: A Duchess’s Jour­ney to Find Her­self, which in­cludes a check­list of pieces of “Wis­dom From the Duchess.” One of them is “Lis­ten to Your Heart,” an­other “Free Your Mind and Your Bot­tom Will Fol­low.” The queen was the last mem­ber of the royal fam­ily to marry an­other royal: She and her hus­band, Prince Philip, are cousins, both be­ing great-great-grand­chil­dren of Queen Vic­to­ria. The next gen­er­a­tion spread their nets a lit­tle wider, but both Diana Spencer and Sarah Fer­gu­son had def­i­nite royal con­nec­tions: Diana’s grand­mother Ruth, Lady Fer­moy, was a close friend of the queen mother and, for over 30 years, a Woman of the Bed­cham­ber; Sarah’s fa­ther, Ma­jor Ron, was the Prince of Wales’s polo man­ager. Both mar­riages ended in tears. Small won­der that to­day’s gen­er­a­tion has de­cided to ditch royal tra­di­tion and look fur­ther afield. Meghan Markle’s bi­og­ra­pher An­drew Mor­ton de­scribes her as “the first di­vorced bira­cial Amer­i­can to take her place in the House of Wind­sor,” which is true as far as it goes, though few Bri­tons seem to re­gard any of these char­ac­ter­is­tics as a hin­drance. Af­ter all, in 2004, Prince Harry’s cousin Lady Dav­ina Wind­sor, daugh­ter of the Duke and Duchess of Glouces­ter, mar­ried a Maori former sheepshearer called Gary, who had an 11-year-old son from a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship, and no one bat­ted an eye­lid. Peo­ple seem much more sus­pi­cious of Markle’s suc­cess as an ac­tual ac­tor, wor­ry­ing that it calls her au­then­tic­ity into ques­tion. When she looks so lov­ingly at Harry on tele­vi­sion, how can we tell she isn’t act­ing? On tele­vi­sion, hasn’t she just walked down the aisle with an­other man, look­ing ev­ery bit as ador­ing? In the early ’ 80s, Harry’s un­cle An­drew courted an­other ac­tress, Koo Stark, and may well have been al­lowed to marry her had she not made the mis­take of ap­pear­ing top­less in a shower scene in the low-bud­get film Emily. Markle has cer­tainly taken on some sexy roles—she ap­peared in 90210 as a girl who had just given a young man oral sex in a car, and she snogged Russell Brand in Get Him to the Greek. She also played a se­rial killer in a crime show and pre­tended to snort coke in a TV com­edy. YouTube car­ries a handy med­ley of her sex­i­est mo­ments on Suits. In one, she is strad­dled be­tween fil­ing shelves, aban­don­ing her­self to an ea­ger col­league. But, mirac­u­lously, she keeps her bra on. Her cau­tion paid off: Ac­tresses hop­ing to fol­low in her foot­steps should re­mem­ber to keep their tops on at all times. It’s im­por­tant to note that Meghan Markle is not the first ac­tress to turn royal. On

“Markle may look back on her wed­ding day as the high point of her life as a royal.”

the day of her wed­ding to Prince Rainier in April 1956, Grace Kelly turned, as if by magic, into the most ti­tled woman in the world: twice a princess, four times a duchess, eight times a count­ess, and nine times a baroness. But she was soon to find that, for all its pomp, her new role had its lim­i­ta­tions, not least its in­suf­fer­able dull­ness. At only 500 acres, the en­tire coun­try of Monaco would fit com­fort­ably into Cen­tral Park. More­over, her stocky, mus­ta­chioed hus­band lacked a cer­tain sparkle: When he pro­posed to her over a pud­ding of pears poached in wine, he passed her a pic­to­rial his­tory of his fam­ily with the words “If you are to be at my side, then you may need this.” Sti­fled by the clammy, claus­tro­pho­bic at­mos­phere of the court of Monaco, Grace had be­gun to pine for her Hol­ly­wood days. So when Al­fred Hitch­cock—who had di­rected her in To Catch a Thief—sug­gested she should re­turn to act­ing, of­fer­ing her the ti­tle role in Marnie, she was tempted. “Princess Grace has ac­cepted an of­fer to ap­pear dur­ing her sum­mer va­ca­tion in a mo­tion pic­ture for Mis­ter Al­fred Hitch­cock, to be made in the United States,” ran a palace an­nounce­ment is­sued on March 18, 1962. “It is un­der­stood that Prince Rainier will most likely be present dur­ing part of the film­mak­ing de­pend­ing on his sched­ule and that Princess Grace will re­turn to Monaco with her fam­ily in Novem­ber.” Five years from now, will Meghan Markle feel the same sort of tug? Or will life as the Duchess of Some­where-orOther hold suf­fi­cient ap­peal? Will she be con­tent un­veil­ing commemorative plaques at schools and hos­pi­tals, smil­ing through wel­com­ing pageants in na­tional cos­tume of­fered by C-list coun­tries, en­gag­ing in po­lite con­ver­sa­tion with for­eign dig­ni­taries of a sim­i­lar sta­tus at Buck­ing­ham Palace? Or will she yearn for some­thing less dogged and du­ti­ful, some­thing with more zip? “A princely mar­riage,” said Wal­ter Bage­hot, the Vic­to­rian con­sti­tu­tional his­to­rian, “is the bril­liant edi­tion of a univer­sal fact, and, as such, it riv­ets mankind.” He wrote this in 1863, the same year the fu­ture King Ed­ward VII wed Princess Alexan­dra of Den­mark at St Ge­orge’s Chapel, Wind­sor Cas­tle, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were also mar­ried. If mankind re­mains riv­eted by a princely mar­riage, it is as much for its jeop­ardy as for its bril­liance. In the old days, it was only royal in­sid­ers who were party to the pos­si­ble pit­falls in a royal en­gage­ment, and they would du­ti­fully keep the in­for­ma­tion to them­selves. For in­stance, the royal ex­pert Hugo Vick­ers con­cluded the Charles-andDiana tie-in De­brett’s Book of the Royal Wed­ding (1981) with the judg­ment that Prince Charles was “in­deed for­tu­nate to have found in Lady Diana Spencer some­body who is, in his words, ‘pretty spe­cial’.” Yet nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury on, in his 2005 bi­og­ra­phy of the queen mother, he re­vealed that he had recorded his mis­giv­ings about their com­pat­i­bil­ity in his pri­vate di­ary. “The Royal Wed­ding,” he wrote, “is no more ro­man­tic than a pic­nic amid the wasps.”

Re­cent his­tory has taught the queen’s sub­jects to be more savvy. Af­ter all, the queen’s younger sis­ter, Princess Mar­garet, mar­ried Antony Arm­strong-Jones in 1960; they di­vorced in 1978. The queen’s daugh­ter, Princess Anne, mar­ried Cap­tain Mark Phillips in 1973; they di­vorced in 1992. The queen’s el­dest son, the Prince of Wales, mar­ried Lady Diana Spencer in 1981; they di­vorced in 1996. The queen’s sec­ond son, Prince An­drew, mar­ried Sarah Fer­gu­son in 1986; they, too, di­vorced in 1996. And so to­day’s roy­al­wed­ding con­ver­sa­tions keep re­turn­ing to that ques­tion: How long do you give it? In years to come, Markle may look back on her wed­ding day as the high point of her life as a royal. At the mo­ment, she imag­ines that she will then be in a po­si­tion to es­pouse causes close to her heart. In­ter­viewed by the BBC, she said that one of the first things she and Harry ever talked about “was just the dif­fer­ent things that we wanted to do in the world and how pas­sion­ate we were about see­ing change.” But the royal fam­ily main­tains its po­si­tion by keep­ing well away from pol­i­tics or any­thing re­motely rad­i­cal. This is not the life for some­one who dreams of chang­ing the world. Fur­ther­more, as the years roll by, Harry and Meghan will be­come in­creas­ingly marginalised. With the birth of Prince Louis at the end of April, Harry dropped from fifth to sixth in the royal suc­ces­sion. If Prince Wil­liam’s three ba­bies all have three ba­bies of their own, he will drop a fur­ther nine places. For younger sib­lings and their spouses, the royal progress tends to be downhill all the way. Soon af­ter the an­nounce­ment that Princess Grace was to be star­ring in Marnie, Al­fred Hitch­cock was asked by a re­porter if there would be any love scenes. “Pas­sion­ate and un­usual love scenes,” he replied. He added that the sex ap­peal of the princess was “the finest in the world.” Monaco went into melt­down. The Moné­gasques did not like the idea of their princess be­ing filmed kiss­ing an­other man—lit­tle did they know that Hitch­cock also had plans for him to rape her. Grace’s mother-in law led the out­cry, scoff­ing, dis­dain­fully, “C’est une améri­caine!” Princess Grace stopped eat­ing and had trou­ble sleep­ing. Even the an­nounce­ment that she would be do­nat­ing her $800,000 fee to Monaco char­i­ties did noth­ing to ap­pease her op­po­nents. Even­tu­ally, she was obliged to an­nounce that she was dropping out of the film. “It was heart­break­ing for me to have to leave the pic­ture,” she con­fessed in June 1962 in a let­ter to Hitch­cock. “Yes, it was sad, wasn’t it?” replied Hitch­cock. But, on re­flec­tion, he con­sid­ered it all for the best. “Af­ter all,” he told her, “it was only a movie.” With spe­cial per­mis­sion.

Grace Kelly, hus­band Prince Rainier and their chil­dren

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