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The Maligning of Markle

If the eleven year old Meghan Markle was hurt and angry when she first saw that dish soap advert implying that women’s place was in the kitchen, one wonders what she would have made of the media onslaught against herself just days after announcing her engagement. This period should be one of the happiest times in her life, but I wonder how much hand wringing is going on behind the walls of Nottingham Cottage as media outlets root and dig in to every chapter of her past in a gleeful attempt at sales.

There are always those people in everyone’s life who are best forgotten. The friend who let you down, the sister who got jealous… we all have them. We hope, however, that in a moment of public scrutiny, such people would have the dignity to keep their (and your) past to themselves, no matter how much the bribe. Sadly for Meghan Markle, the people in her life she would probably like to forget are right at the top of the parapet, waving dirty linen and scattering old photographs down on the populace like confetti.

Over the weekend, newspapers have printed private photographs from practically every part of Markle’s life – from chubby cheeked toddler to smiling schoolgirl; gangly teenager to wedding day joys. These photographs have been supplied by an ex-best friend, who has clearly completely sold out the woman she once loved and was inseparable from. It is probably the most bitter pill for Markle to swallow, and she is now unable to reply as a future member of the royal family. It would be unseemly for her to try to explain why their friendship disintegrated – and it is really nobody else’s business. The shame lies with the ex-friend, who has shown to all the world her true sense of loyalty and that she has a price. She has taken her thirty pieces of silver.

She has a price, but Markle has a prince.

Jealousy is a cancer that unless acknowledged and dealt with, will fester and destroy. One hopes that Meghan Markle has the sense to know that this onslaught is born from this – and that she, in her cosy cottage making plans with her royal fiance, has already won the war.

Surely Harry will have told Meghan that this would happen. That the media would dig in to every nook and cranny of her life, unearthing unsavoury characters and unflattering photographs, and if they can’t find anything juicy enough to feed the masses – they might just make it up.

The salivating over every past cleavage shot or sexy scene in Markle’s acting past has a horribly misogynistic undertone, driven by a male dominated media. The wish to reduce a woman who has also worked for the UN to just her body, or what she might do with it, reeks of a wish to demean and to humiliate. It is telling that the young Meghan objected to the wording of a television advert years ago, yet womankind are still being reduced to one dimensional characters in order to sell products. It might be dish soap or it might be a newspaper, but you can get your stereotype here, everyone! At bargain prices!

The latest debacle has been the ‘discovery’ of Markle’s father – a man who clearly lives a quiet life and has stayed out of the spotlight. This hunting down of a private person to see what more can be found out about possible rifts or instability reminds me of a Victorian Freak Show. Roll up, roll up – here is the hermit dug out from his cave! Look at him, wonder at him! It’s shameful and inhumane, yet still the people stare.

Meghan Markle must do what she has done many times in her life – pull her shoulders back, switch on that smile and get her ‘boots on the ground’. As a person, as a three dimensional real person, she is warm, charismatic, kind and hard working. She must not allow herself to be reduced to a cardboard cut out or salacious headline. She must prove the naysayers wrong and push the cupboard skeletons firmly back in as she sashays past with a determined eye on the future.

It is what her younger self would definitely expect.

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The Very Remarkable Ms. Markle

A very chilly morning in Nottingham saw the debut of a new royal star – as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle began their first joint royal engagement since their announcement on Monday.

With the type of warm pizzazz not seen from a royal lady since 1997, Meghan approached the waiting crowds with a big smile and huge appreciation for their friendly welcome. Whether with Harry beside her, or dealing with the crowd alone, she oozed confidence and seemed like she had slipped in to the royal role just as easily as Cinderella’s dainty foot once slid in to her glass slipper.

Markle, however, is no fairytale maiden. She is already a self-made woman, who has travelled the world on humanitarian visits and spoken at the UN as a self-declared feminist. She does not need Harry to prop her up or lead the way. She has got it sorted, and her eagerness to get out there and meet the people already speaks volumes about her perception of her role and how she intends to go about her future work.

This royal fiancee is hands on, with her sleeves already metaphorically rolled up. She has said previously that she does not want to be a lady who lunches but a woman who works. Harry has chosen someone who will give him personal joy along with providing him with a professional team player. She has his way with people, his sense of fun and his determination to make a difference.

Their team is going to be the best thing to hit the royal family since Diana looked out from under her swept fringe and started shaking the hands of the people without wearing gloves. Her son has inherited that down to earth yet sparkling way with people -and he has chosen a partner who will join him in that mission.

While certain forums and parts of the media seem determined to dismiss Ms. Markle as a ‘princess pushy’ or unfit for royal life, she has answered that in the best way she can – by going out there, doing a first class job and winning people over. There can be no better way to answer critics than to silence them with your success. Just as her eleven year old self once wrote to the First Lady to complain about the sexist language used in a dish soap commercial, Meghan Markle’s clear self belief shows a predilection for doing what is right, doing what needs to be done and doing it with style.

In comparison to her future sister in law, Kate, who still seems nervous and unsure in her public role, Meghan’s professional capabilities are a refreshing change – and just what is needed from a modern woman coping with a very traditional family in a somewhat already defined role. Her ability to embrace tradition yet still sprinkle enough contemporary magic to appeal to old and young is what will help the monarchy to survive and evolve in the way it must, if it is to continue to play a part in our future as a nation. And for that, Her Majesty the Queen must be breathing a large sigh of welcome relief.

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The Chosen Two

At 10am yesterday morning, after weeks of fevered speculation, a statement was finally released by the Prince of Wales, confirming what we had all hoped – that Prince Harry was engaged to marry Meghan Markle. On a very chilly, wintry November morning, the engaged couple made their way to Kensington Palace’s Sunken Garden to prove to the world that it was true – the world’s most eligible bachelor was off the market, and on the arm of a woman who is going to change the face of the royal family in the way that her soon to be mother in law once did. This girl has got charisma and heart in buckets.

With a photocall that proved their genuine connection and joy, Harry and Meghan brought a new sparkle to the House of Windsor – and not just with the three diamond sparkler on Ms Markle’s finger. If Charles and Diana’s engagement announcement can be remembered as awkward and formal, then this one will be remembered as natural, warm and full of promise. Not even William and Kate’s announcement can hold a flame to this dancing fire of cosy togetherness.

Meghan’s American easy nature and willingness to share brought anecdotes of the couple’s life to us all, from corgis lying on her feet at a tea with the Queen to the surprise proposal over a roast chicken. This exuberance and friendliness came through the television like that breath of fresh air we all talk about – the magic of being a people person just like Diana once was. Harry and Meghan brought us in to their Nottingham Cottage with tiny glimpses of the life they are sharing and the plans they make, in a way that makes us invest in them and their connection to us.

It is this connection with the people which makes the monarchy survive, and which some members of the family, in their eagerness to seek privacy, sometimes fail to see. It isn’t that we need to know the Queen uses Tupperware at breakfast. It is that we need to see the human side of their characters, and their willingness to share a small part of their ups and downs with us – their extended family and nation.

With her ‘boots on the ground’ mentality, Meghan has already engaged with the role she now must undertake – that of an ambassador for the country she will marry along with her prince. For we will all be metaphorically standing at the altar with Harry, as she walks up the aisle – and her promise to him is also a promise to us. As Diana embraced this role with natural warmth and dedication, Meghan also proves that, with her background in humanitarian and women’s rights work, she will do the same.

There may be those who feel it is Meghan’s career as an actor, her mixed race heritage or her divorced past that will have an impact on the royal family. But for me, none of that matters. As the lady herself said yesterday, this is just ‘noise’. The real truth is that she will impact the family with a new vigour – confidence, kindness and commitment.

And that can only be a good thing – for us for them and most importantly, for Harry.

You can watch the whole engagement interview here.

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Hurry Up Harry!

Well, her Toronto home has been packed up and closed and Meghan Markle has officially said goodbye to her role as Rachel Zane in Suits. With all accounts suggesting she is now cosily ensconced in Kensington Palace’s Nottingham Cottage with Prince Harry, all bets are off that an engagement will be announced any day now.

When I say ‘any day now’, it genuinely feels like every single day royal observers and commentators have been on tenterhooks from dawn til mid morning, debating on Twitter and other social media platforms whether today will be THE DAY, and have thus far been sadly disappointed.

To go by previous royal engagement announcements, should Harry and Meghan choose to follow the traditional form, the day is usually a Tuesday or Wednesday, with an announcement coming around 11am. Traditionally, the royal parent of the engaged party will announce it – so I would expect the announcement to come from Clarence House rather than Kensington Palace itself. However, Prince Harry has been known to do things his own way – which leaves those waiting unsure how this is going to work.

The royal family don’t tend to make big announcements on days when there are political events, such as the budget or an election. They are also unlikely to announce on a day of crisis internationally, as it would draw attention away from the reporting of such an event and would therefore be unseemly.

An announcement seems likely to happen before Christmas, and as such is likely to happen in late November or early December since there will be plans for festive parties or celebrations the closer to Christmas we get. The House of Commons is also on their traditional Christmas recess from 21st December until the 8th January, so an engagement announcement seems unlikely to occur between those dates.

With all the anticipation and holding of breath that is going on within interested circles, an announcement seems sensible sooner rather than later. With newspapers reporting that Prince Harry wants Meghan to be protected by royal protection officers, an official status for her would not only be helpful, but also has been traditional in such cases. Royal fiancees have generally been left to run the media gauntlet until the moment the ring was officially twinkling on their finger.

After an eighteen month courtship, with two people who are in their thirties and have both expressed the desire to be parents, a swift engagement and wedding would appear to be on the cards.

And so, we continue to sit and wait. It could be Tuesday or Wednesday.

Or Thursday. Or Friday…

 

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I’m Back….

Dear Reader,

Apologies for my six month break from the blog – I really appreciate all the supportive messages I have received checking I am OK and asking when I will be back! It has really warmed my heart to know you care.

Unfortunately, whilst I originally took some time out to concentrate on some work I was committed to completing within a tight deadline, events overtook me and work (and writing) became pretty much the last thing on my mind.

Back in June, my mother took ill. Whilst in her eighties, she has always been a very busy, active person and this sudden illness was a shock to the whole family. After tests, it transpired that she had cancer – cancer that was about as bad as it could be – and only had weeks left to live. She reacted to this news in her usual style – with calm acceptance and an almost rueful shrug. Her dignity and faith was a complete revelation to me and if I had ever needed an example of quiet strength and courage, I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

I dropped everything to care for Mum in her last weeks. It was terrifying, because I had never had to care for a dying person before. Difficult, because I had to learn everything on the hop. Devastating, because I watched her fade away before my eyes, growing ever-smaller while her cancer grew larger at a seemingly furious pace. And yet it was also tender, funny, loving and a labour of love.

Mum and I had a relationship which had it’s up and downs. Like many mother/daughter relationships, we had had our differences and problems over the years – along with some wonderful times too. Those last few weeks seemed like a renewal of every loving moment and a strange sweeping away of every difficult one. There was a new understanding, an awareness of time slipping away and therefore the need to cut down to the bone – that there was love, had always been love and would always be love. The rest was just detritus that flowed steadily away with every hand hold, every conversation, every tear, every knowing look that passed between us. We talked, we laughed, we mended as surely as she never would.

When that moment came that finally she left us – she just peacefully drifted away, holding my father’s hand after I had just combed her hair and told her how pretty she looked. She knew she was surrounded by our love, and always would be.

In the months that have followed since I lost my Mum, I have talked to her still and laughed at the things she would have found funny. I have smelled her perfume in the air and known she was with me, in whatever way that can be. It might sound strange, but I do feel that she is still around, still keeping us in check!

It has been the sort of personal learning curve I never would have welcomed, but I am proud that I managed it. I could not have managed to care for Mum without the kind and practical expertise of district nurses, Marie Curie nurses and a very supportive GP. Even in the middle of the night, there was someone to answer my call and tell me how to help Mum feel more comfortable. They taught me how to wash her, how to change her, how to have confidence in my ability to comfort her and that was what she really needed the most. I cannot say how highly I respect them and the job they do. And never did I feel that they saw Mum as just another patient. When she was in pain and I had tears in my eyes, they had tears in their eyes too. She was a person to them, an individual and they treated her with such respect and kindness. In Mum’s memory, I will be running a half marathon next year to raise money for Marie Curie in order to enable other people to die peacefully in their own home, as Mum was able to.

…………

Now – in my absence, there have been so many subjects I have thought I should have been blogging about, but I just didn’t have the heart. I’ve realised however, that Mum would most of all want me to continue as I was before, and closing myself off would not be doing her any justice whatsoever.

As she said matter of factly to the doctor just a couple of days before she died, when he tried to explain that she was winding down,

“We must be sensible and face these things, mustn’t we?”

And so that is what I am going to do.

Rest in peace Mum. You have been so loved.

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The Fight They Won’t Win

On Monday night at about half past ten, hordes of teenagers and young children started to pour out of Manchester Arena following an evening enjoying an Ariana Grande concert. Some carried the pink balloons that had played a part in the show. Happy chatter and laughter filled the air. There was no warning of what was to follow as Salman Abedi walked in to the foyer filled with patiently waiting parents, and those starting to leave the venue, and detonated a horrific suicide bomb, filled with nuts and bolts – created to cause the most damage possible. The moment of the explosion was caught on a dashcam of a waiting car. The sound deep and unforgettable. A moment of violence that would change the lives of those standing around Abedi at that moment, and those who saw the carnage afterwards.

The UK has become used to hearing about terrorist attacks at home and abroad. We all know that the police have already managed to stop several attacks due to surveillance and intelligence methods, honed over years of dealing with IRA terrorism in the past. We knew that there was the chance of more attacks. But for an extremist to target an audience of predominantly young people, some very young indeed, has been the cause of deep anger and shock across the nation.

Abedi, whose family originate from Libya, was born in the UK. He has had the opportunity to free healthcare from our NHS, he has had free education and schooling, he has had the freedom we cherish in the UK. We took his family in when they needed to escape Libya and Gaddafi. He repaid that kindness by striking at the heart of what our freedom stands for – the chance to enjoy music and dancing, to gather with friends and family, to celebrate a female singer who stands for female empowerment and independence. That he chose to target a predominently young, female audience was surely no accident. Islamic State, as they choose to call themselves, are against the emancipation of women, against equality. I wonder what went through his mind in those seconds before he detonated his bomb. Did he see the faces of those around him? Did he feel for one fleeting moment their humanity and innocence?

As the investigation commences in to Abedi’s connection with extremists, this horrendous attack and the thinking behind it, must be a catalyst to stop this disease within our society. We value our freedoms and we value our diversity as a nation. We welcome those from other cultures who wish to share those aims, who wish to work here and contribute to our communities. But those who wish to come in to our midst and sow seeds of discord and violence are not welcome. There must be and has to be a clampdown on those who profess extremist beliefs, who wish to bring Sharia law to our shores, those who engage with radicals and are determined to boost their cause. These people must be removed from our communities. It seems that each time an extremist causes carnage, the police admit that the culprit had already been on their radar. Those on the radar must now be dealt with, and there has to be a determination from law enforcement and government to do this.

This is not about race. This is not about religion or culture. This is about refusing to accept extremist, violent people – CRIMINAL and ANTI-SOCIAL people who are against everything we as a nation stand for and believe.

And as we come to terms with the grief and shock of losing 22 people, who did nothing more than go out for an evening of entertainment, we must hold our beliefs dear. We must stand strong and show these inhuman extremists what love and faith and unity really are. For it is at the very worst of times that we see the best in human nature. We must continue to be tolerant and accepting and free people, the very opposite of the hate, intolerance and cruelty the extremists promote.

And in living our free lives, they can have no hold over us. It is a fight that they can never, and will never, win.

 

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When Pippa Married James…

As yesterday dawned – bright but with a hint of rain in the air, Bucklebury braced itself for an onslaught of media and celebrity as Pippa Middleton started to prepare herself for the wedding she has spent months organising. The run up to the special day had been picked over in newspapers until there was nothing left to pick at – with readers everywhere wondering how much hype exactly was needed for the wedding of a couple nobody would have heard of, if it hadn’t been for the sister of the bride having married a prince.

With the Beckham’s PR guru, the Queen’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Anson, Prince Charles’s ex valet and now consultant to all things, Michael Fawcett all enlisted to create the perfect spectacle with no expense spared, only time would tell whether the enormous glass marquee would cause the illustrious guests to be deafened by very English rainstorms or not.

As guests started to arrive, with smatterings of recognisable faces such as Roger Federer and Princess Eugenie, a small crowd waited to see if Meghan Markle would make an appearance. As time went on, it became clear that we wouldn’t get a glimpse of the eagerly-anticipated royal girlfriend, as Princes William and Harry strolled in to St Marks’ Church, Englefield alone.

Carole Middleton appeared in pale pink, escorted by son and marshmallow entrepreneur, James. She appeared to wave with glee to the onlookers, smiling with what can only be described as a recently-filled face. Certainly, puffier than I have ever seen her before. She must rub her hands in delight at the conclusion sending her children to the ‘right places to meet’ the ‘right people’ has brought.

Michael Middleton, as ever, seemed less keen on the media but very proud of his youngest daughter. I wonder at times what he makes of the media storm other members of his family have whipped up. I wonder if he has a man-shed and a secret bottle of whisky somewhere on the Middleton Manor estate?

The Duchess of Cambridge turned up escorting the tiny bridesmaids and unfortunately pantalooned pageboys. She seemed stressed by having to get small people from the car to the church door, and was completely oblivious to the pageboy who decided to make V signals at the massed crowds. Wearing a peachy beige matchy matchy outfit that had already creased and wasn’t fitted properly around the bodice, Kate’s matron of honour role looked more than slightly awkward. By the time the party was leaving the church, she had already had to scold a weeping Prince George, control a confused looking, but very cute, Princess Charlotte and ineffectively manage a bunch of primary school children with rose petal baskets. Doting husband, William, was nowhere in sight, preferring to hang around with his brother and reality star best man, Spencer Matthews.

For the bride however, we must reserve praise. Pippa’s Giles Deacon designed dress was elegant and beautifully made, with delicate attention to detail. Her gossamer veil held in place by a deceptively simple, sparkling diamond tiara from Robinson Pelham. Pippa has clearly planned her bridal outfit for a very long time and her dogged determination paid off. She looked delighted by everything, and as she took her father’s arm to enter the florally bedecked church, she must have known her choice was a massive success.

An hour or so later, as bells rang out to celebrate this much-hyped union, the two people involved left St Marks looking full of joy. The photographers clicked and the other guests stayed back to allow the couple their moment. Apart from Kate, of course, who milled about at the front trying to look like she knew what to do with the tiny attendants while nanny Maria stayed out of sight. In the end, she got in a car and left for the reception – leaving the newly weds to lead the rest of the party over to Englefield House on foot. A champagne reception awaited.

Later, Pippa and James left in a vintage car for Middleton Manor in Bucklebury, in a scene reminiscent of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge driving Prince Charles’ Aston Martin from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House following their own afternoon wedding reception.

And as the Duchess herself returned to her parents house, to prepare for the rest of the celebrations, William was again nowhere in sight. I wonder if he was in the man-shed with Mike, hiding from wedding planners and photographers everywhere?

Finally, after a day of waiting, Prince Harry drove up with Meghan Markle in tow (not Merkle, as the unfortunate BBC News Reporter called her) – one solitary blurry snap the only proof that she attended.

As the expected Spitfire swooped over the venue, in a celebratory fly-past (one must keep up with one’s sister) and lights twinkled in the glass marquee, so large it could be seen from the other side of the valley, I wonder if Pippa raised her glass to herself for pulling off the media extravaganza of the year, while Kate – avoiding the canapes – searched in vain for the elusive William.

And readers everywhere sighed in relief.