What to make of Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle? Much has been written about the serendipity of Harry’s choice ergo an American mixed race actress of independent means and strident opinions. The inference is that the Royal Family has somehow kept up with the tempo of public opinion. Even more backslapping about how far the monarchy has come in welcoming a divorcee into the fold eighty years after the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s marriage in France was boycotted by the entire family.
Well for one the then King Edward VIII had a lot of public support in his love for twice-divorced American with strident opinions Mrs Simpson. He was hugely popular amongst the people and ultimately stymied into Abdication in a pincer movement between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, the Colonial powers and, allegedly, the Duchess of York and Queen Mary.
Equally popular was the love match between Princess Margaret and Group Captain Peter Townsend. The divorced Townsend was substantially older than the fairytale princess but the country was more than ready to let love win. It is rather a mercy that Princess Margaret wasn’t alive to see Miss Markle being paraded like a multi-cultural turkey. I’d imagine the lady was incredibly beady about the divorces of Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew.
Perhaps Mrs Simpson and Peter Townsend’s true crime was to be too old to fit the picture of a dashing royal consort. The monarchy thrives on new blood – as it initially did with the late Diana, Princess of Wales – and had to use every art of spin and suggestion to ease Mrs Parker-Bowles into the family album.
What do you make of Miss Markle? She entirely dominated the engagement interview while Prince Harry practically had hearts circling his head and a dazed, goofy smile on his face. It must be love and love is just the ticket in this period of constitutional uncertainty as the Brexit negotiations sputter like the exhaust pipe of an old banger. Apparently Prince Charles is dancing a jig, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge adore Meghan and even the corgis melt to her touch.
Announcements from The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are never effusive but I detected a whiff of ‘let them get on with it’ as the old regime drifts serenely to an inevitable if hopefully still distant end. What surprised me most about the engagement was Miss Markle’s seeming eagerness to forsake her career as an actress to become (odds on) Duchess of Sussex and become a full-time member of the royal family.
There is a precedent in history. Princess Grace left movie star Grace Kelly behind to marry Prince Rainier and become Her Serene Highness. Apparently Princess Grace was keen to accept Hitchcock’s offer of the lead role in Marnie: an awful, twisted plot as it happened but evidence that the princess was keen to work again. There was a melancholy about Princess Grace having to be serene in the tiny principality of Monaco after being an Academy Award-winning queen of Hollywood.
Forgive the presumption but I would have thought Prince Harry would have been happy to walk away from royal duties and, like his cousin Lord Frederick Windsor, go and live in LA with his actress wife. I can’t imagine the new Duchess being contented with a life of charitable activities, waving and tiaras as feisty as she is. Then again, I’ve never met the lady and she appears to be playing the role of duchess-in-waiting rather brilliantly.
I do wonder whether the Duchess of Cambridge is going to relish a genuine A-list star joining the family; particularly one who is not dissimilar to she in looks or age. To quote The Valley of the Dolls, ‘there’s only one star in the Helen Lawson Show and that’s Helen Lawson’. I did find the engagement interview was a deft performance and that was quite unnerving. Both Diana and Kate were understandably nervous when they announced their engagements. You’d have to be very sure of yourself to give an Oscar-winning performance as ‘Miss Breath of Fresh Air’.
Looking back on the Abdication Crisis, I wonder whether it wasn’t Edward VIII that was the object of loathing within the royal family and Mrs Simpson was simply the scapegoat. King George V positively cursed his son in his dying days saying the boy would ruin himself within a year of the old man’s death. As it happened he did and King George’s other wish – that Bertie become King George VI and Lilibet follow him as queen – also came true.
When he was Prince of Wales, the Duke of Windsor was the closest the royal family ever came to movie star mania until Diana’s arrival in 1981. His clothes were copied, his travels endlessly reported and his penchant for jazz, cocktails and married mistresses made him a ‘Modern’. His mother Queen Mary clearly disapproved even more than King George V. When Duchess of York, the Queen Mother was clearly beady about the glamorous ‘David’ while she was married to the stuttering Bertie.
What nobody’s brought-up yet is the thought that Meghan Markle could be rather like her late mother-in-law. I don’t get the impression she will be a blushing flower or a shrinking violet and will become a major part of the national debate from now on. The privacy Prince Harry wished for her is now over. Time will tell how both adjust to life as a full-time royal couple.