Over the past 40 years, there have only been a handful of young “new joiners” to the British royal family, and, by a quirk of fate, they have all been female: Diana, Kate, Prince Edward’s wife Sophie, and Prince Andrew’s (sort-of) ex, Fergie.
All have received an enthusiastic public reception, but none has been quite like that enjoyed by the newest member-to-be of the royal family, Meghan Markle, who this week moved one step closer to total assimilation into the royal way of life when she deleted all her (known) social media accounts.
Novelty could well be a factor in her astonishing public popularity, both nationally and internationally of course, but still the contrast between how “Meg,” as she is increasingly dubbed by the British press, has been received and the current disinterested attitude to Kate Middleton—the fact of her third pregnancy has failed to register on large sections of the population—is glaringly obvious.
Partly it’s a function of the speed with which the relationship developed. By the time Kate and William finally announced their engagement they had already lived together for several years, split up, and got back together again before announcing their engagement. They felt like an old married couple long before they ever were.
Kate was mocked as “Waity Katie” in some quarters, and when she finally began her official journey into public life, she was almost painfully shy.
But with Meghan, fans might be excused for feeling they have been swept up in a more passionate and impulsive romance, one which has gone from nought to 100 in less than two years.
And, post-engagement, Meghan has presented a massively more engaging public facing persona than Kate ever has, especially in the early years. Kate essentially refused to do interviews (or, to be more accurate, William refused to allow interview requests to be put to her), she didn’t make any solo public appearances for over a year after her marriage, and made a point of dressing in “High Street” (mass market) clothes instead of designer frocks.
Meghan, with her Hollywood training, has been the diametric opposite. It was Meghan who took the lead in their joint interview, Meghan who has walked away from Harry’s side at public engagements, enthusiastically meeting and greeting the public on her own, usually introducing herself with a warm and assured, “Hi, I’m Meghan.”
Robert Lacey, the historical consultant for the Netflix series The Crown points out that this week, when Harry and Meghan did an engagement in Brixton “there were huge crowds, it was on all the front pages,” but that the day before, William and Kate had done something for their charity Place2Be, also in London, and it was virtually ignored; “as if the Duchess of Kent or some minor royal had been to call,” says Lacey.
“We had this before, of course, the younger sibling overshadowing the older, with the excitement that surrounded Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, back in the early 1960s. The Queen was already being seen as rather boring—she was retiring from public life a little to have Andrew and Edward—and the story of Margaret, hooking up with a trendy photographer who was the epitome of swinging London, was very exciting.
“So the younger sibling and their exciting mate capturing the headlines is nothing new for the Royals, and it is perhaps quite natural that the quieter and more staid figures of William and Kate will now take a back seat. Of course there is a case for saying its entirely consonant that the future King and Queen should be less flashy and less in the public eye, and I doubt they feel in any way jealous.
“Of course, they know that the media and the public are fickle, and the situation may well be reversed in a year’s time if Meghan is pregnant and out of the spotlight while William and Kate have a new baby to display.”
Indeed, Kate has played quite a clever hand, faced with this impossibly glamorous new rival for the public’s attention. Rather than choosing to compete, Kate appears to be taking the opportunity to double down on her Sloaney go-to looks of coat dresses and court shoes.
Meghan and Kate’s respective clothing choices at Christmas spoke volumes in this regard. Kate couldn’t have been more traditional, in a tartan coat dress and furry black hat, whereas Meghan was pure creamy American luxury. She wore a Sentaler camel-colored wrap coat (estimated cost: $1,295), a matching suede Chloe “Pixie” bag ($1,550) and a fabulous pair of Stuart Weitzman over-the-knee boots (around $800), the likes of which have certainly never graced Sandringham before.
There seems little doubt that the swarms of media that previously materialized whenever Kate was due to make an outing will now transfer their attentions to Meghan.
And little surprise, say industry insiders. “You have the shiny exotic Bond Girl in diamond killer Louboutins, versus the nice girl who can’t get enough LK Bennett,” says one fashion editor. “Meghan is not in danger of eclipsing Kate, she already has. People are just so bored of Kate’s looks; no glitz, no skin. Kate is pretty, but Meghan is major fireworks. She’s the one people are interested in now.”
Kate and William have spent much of their married life begging the media to leave them alone.
Now they have their wish, and it will be interesting to see how they like it.