What royal feminist Meghan, Duchess of Sussex will do next
Meghan Markle, the new Duchess of Sussex, has taken to her role with ease and style. Ahead of her New Zealand tour, we look at her first months in the spotlight and what to expect from the royal feminist
IIf the young Duchess of Cambridge once faced the cruel jibe of ‘waity Katie’, appearing to fill her days before her eventual betrothal with a job as a part-time accessory buyer, Meghan Markle could be accused of nothing of the sort – she has worked nearly every day of her adult life: as a calligrapher, waitress, soup-kitchen server, blogger and actress. Three days after her wedding to Prince Harry, she made her debut as Meghan, Duchess of Sussex at a Buckingham Palace garden party, celebrating her father-in-law’s 70th birthday. After a secret honeymoon – the destination has not yet been made public – the newlyweds returned for Trooping the Colour 17 days later. Just a handful of engagements have been undertaken since then, including a trip to Dublin and a visit to an exhibition about Nelson Mandela’s life, with aides keen to calm the feverish interest in Meghan by spacing out her public appearances.
THE DUCHESS AT WORK
The duchess’ work in public has, in other words, been relatively quiet so far. While critics waited for her to put a foot wrong, she has opted for caution and getting to know her newly adopted country. “Before starting big projects it’s about taking time to listen and learn and get out and see people,” an insider says. “It’s clear that she’s going to take her time and get things right.”
In private, Meghan has been thrust into the bustle of the royals’ summer calendar, including a low-key trip to Balmoral Castle, attending the Duke of Sussex’s childhood friend Charlie van Straubenzee’s wedding, and a private celebration to mark her 37th birthday on August 4. Running alongside these, a schedule of meetings is happening, with under-the-radar trips around the country to visit charities and to make arrangements for 2019. Although she has announced no star turns yet, there is talk of a solo project to be revealed soon and hints about where her future campaigning may lie. Her previous life saw her champion women’s rights, period poverty, clean water and global children’s charity World Vision. Her official royal profile, which went live on the royal family’s website the day after the wedding, emphasises her identity as a feminist.
‘It’s clear that she’s going to take her time
and get things right’
Speaking as a biracial American, Meghan has already become a role model for youngsters who see more of themselves in her than they have in any other royal. For young women too, her issues could not be more of the moment. She used her first Q&A with Prince Harry in February to reference the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, declaring, “Women don’t need to find a voice: they have a voice. People need to be encouraged to listen.”
THE POP SHOW
When Prince Harry told the world his fiancée had loved spending Christmas with the “family she never had” live on Radio 4 on December 27, most put it down to a slip of the tongue. But by the time the wedding came around, and her father Thomas Markle had pulled out of attending due to heart surgery, after a series of misguided attempts to work the press in his favour, the mutterings could be heard loud and clear.
Mr Markle has set about embarrassing his daughter at every turn, by opening a hotline to the tabloids and the US tabloid-news website TMZ. Meghan initially held out an olive branch to her father, but has since been silent in public. In return, his comments have been increasingly provocative. “I’m enjoying the fact that I can make the entire royal family not speak,” Thomas has said in an interview. He has also criticised his daughter’s “sense of superiority”, saying she would be “nothing without me” and railing, “Perhaps it would be easier for Meghan if I died.” In another interview with a Sunday paper, he claimed that he’d hung up on a phone call to Harry after the prince berated him for selling pictures to the press.
Meghan’s mother Doria, on the other hand, has remained a pillar of support, going back to her social-worker job in LA and preparing for her daughter’s next clandestine visit. No photos have emerged of her daughter visiting her since the wedding, but according to insiders, the duchess is very good at getting over there without being seen.
Meghan has taken pains to praise sister-in-law Kate as “wonderful”, cleverly pre-empting any media narrative of the women locked in jealous rivalry. The two were seen chatting happily at Wimbledon. The Prince of Wales has also found much in common with his daughter-in-law, bonding over their shared love of the arts, and the Queen herself could not have given a clearer indication of her support than inviting the duchess to accompany her for a day out in Cheshire in June. Meghan was even offered a treat no other young royal is known to have so far enjoyed: a sleepover on the royal train en route to the event.
A former red-carpet regular, Meghan has already carved out a newly formal style to suit her duties. With her stylist friend Jessica Mulroney at the end of the phone, she has shopped for her own wardrobe without the help of an assistant, relying on elegant dresses and sharp tailoring. Unlike her sister-in-law, who prefers to patronise British brands, Meghan’s approach has been more international, wearing designs from French house Dior and Italian label Prada. She has bought British too, specifically London Fashion Week designers Roland Mouret and New Zealand-born Emilia Wickstead – despite controversial comments made on the latter’s social media accounts about Meghan’s choice of wedding dress.
THE TOUR TO NZ
As she grows in confidence, there’s no doubt the duchess will find a way to shine in words and actions. In addition to her soon-to-beannounced solo project, there’s the tour with Prince Harry in October, where the couple will attend the Sydney Invictus Games, followed by visits to Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand.
A tour wardrobe needs to be planned – no mean feat across four countries, a part-tropical climate and millions of judgmental eyes on every outfit. And, as any 30-something couple will know, no sooner have the wedding bells stopped ringing than the inevitable questions about children begin. So far they have been graciously deflected, with the prince saying only that they hoped it would be “very soon”. With the Zika virus still present in areas of their South Pacific tour, the Sussex family plans are bound to come under scrutiny.
They have both made it clear, however, that there is much to do. First, there is the hope that Thomas keeps his promise not to give any more interviews, although if recent rumours are to be believed, he’s launching his own fashion label. Then, after the tour, it’s back to Britain for Remembrance Sunday and the Prince of Wales’ real birthday, as well as translating all those unseen meetings into public work. Judging by her first faultless months, the duchess will no doubt take it all in her stride. As she said when her engagement was announced, “Very early out of the gate, I think you realise you have access or a voice that people are willing to listen to and with that comes a lot of responsibility, which I take seriously.”
As one long-time observer says, “They’ll be doing cartwheels around Buckingham Palace. Meghan just gets it.”
‘You have a voice that people are willing to listen to and with that comes responsibility’