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The Meaningful Marketing of Meghan

With a confident, easy smile on her face and some very well placed confidantes at her side, Meghan Markle looked every inch the official royal girlfriend last weekend, as she watched Prince Harry play polo at Coworth Park in Ascot.

The Audi Polo Challenge was attended by both Prince William and Prince Harry, so it was hardly a low key event. The very presence of Meghan Markle might be seen as a typically tactical royal nudge to observers and media alike that:

A. She and Prince Harry are definitely a ‘thing’.

B. They don’t really care who knows it.

And

C. Their partnership might well be heading for a more official status.

Despite Prince Harry releasing a statement last autumn describing Ms. Markle as his ‘girlfriend’, some royal watchers have taken it upon themselves to believe that the relationship was already over/never really began. If you don’t believe me, check Twitter! Personally, this seems an odd presumption, since the couple have been seen on various occasions since – a date in London, Meghan wandering around near Kensington Palace, the pair attending a wedding together etc. It seems pretty clear to me that there is something going on, and actually something pretty serious. Sorry, Harry fans – but there it is.

Having been a royal watcher since the heady days of Lady Diana Spencer in her pie crust collars, I think it is fair to say that this semi-official polo appearance has quite big implications. Not only was Harry’s brother, William, also in attendance, but Meghan was standing alongside Mark Dyer, the Prince’s trusted friend and mentor for many years.

Quite an endorsement.

And let’s face it, would Prince Harry – a man who grew up with frequent pictures of his mother in the media while sunbathing, sitting on car bonnets, playing with her sons at polo matches – not know that those moments when he decided to cuddle and kiss his girlfriend next to his car would be captured and shared by any photographer present?

The royal family like to send messages without saying a word. They like to micromanage our beliefs about them without actually saying anything. Who remembers a certain Sarah Ferguson being asked to accompany The Princess of Wales on a visit to HMS Brazen to see Prince Andrew in 1986 before any engagement had been announced? That was a big indication that Miss Ferguson was being accepted in to the family as an ‘official girlfriend’.

I see this polo match attendance as a similar move. The reports that Meghan will also attend the wedding of Pippa Middleton and James Matthews as Prince Harry’s partner is also a significant step.

Perhaps we are being prepared for a move from ‘official girlfriend’ to something more?

I, for one, very much hope so.

 

 

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Remembering Diana

The mass of white flowers interspersed with cheery colourful tulips casts a wonderful fragrance in to the air around those waiting to view Kensington Palace’s new exhibition, ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’. The garden, usually called The Sunken Garden, has been transformed in to a gloriously beautiful space entitled The White Garden, in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales twenty years after her death. People mill about, quietly taking in the scent of the flowers and the splendour of the planting. It seems a fitting tribute to a lady who loved flowers, was herself beautiful, fragrant and a one off. The garden will be re-planted through the season to maintain it’s beauty, the tulips and tiny white forget-me-nots replaced with roses, lilies and jasmine.

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The exhibition inside the palace is equally stunning. Although the queues are lengthy, even with a pre-booked ticket, (and one of the assistants informed me it has been like this every day since opening) – it is worth the wait. The exhibition consists of several adjoining rooms, each featuring several iconic outfits worn by the princess. Early items included are a pretty blue ballgown worn by the teenage Diana, the delicate pale pink blouse she wore for her Vogue portrait pre-engagement and the earthy tweed suit worn at Balmoral on honeymoon. Later dresses include the dramatic red and black flamenco-esque she wore with contrasting red and black long gloves, the magnificent beaded ‘Elvis’ dress and the dramatic midnight blue velvet of the ‘Travolta’ dress she famously wore to a ball at the White House.

For me, I loved the Catherine Walker designs best. Superbly tailored, with an eye for detail and perfectly fitted, they became Diana’s ‘uniform’ – whether a smart red business two piece or an intricately embroidered evening gown, each one is a work of art.

There are several designer sketches of outfits hanging on one wall, while other walls are covered in quotes about the princess and the impact she had both in fashion and in humanitarian terms. One room has beautifully carved, white wooden panels which seem to luminously echo the embroidery in some of the dresses themselves.

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Towards the end of the exhibition, a short video runs with iconic shots of Diana – the charity worker, the mother, the fashion icon. People watch in silence. There is a heavy emotion in the air – this is a woman who is missed. I could hear people as they walked around the glass display cases – “This one was when she was still happy,” I heard one say while gazing at the tweed suit. We, as a nation, embraced Diana and her story. We supported her and wanted her to succeed. Her presence in the royal family is sorely missed, and the massive queues and quiet comments serve to underline the great esteem in which Diana is still held.

I highly recommend a visit to both the garden and the exhibition. Uplifting, memorable and yes, just a little bit emotional too.

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Heads Together – The Diana Harry Connection

 

When Prince Harry spoke openly about his mental health problems this week, it was a welcome diversion from the usual royal ‘stiff upper lip’ and also, very reminiscent of another royal personage, not too long ago, who also wanted to use their own issues to help others in need.

Harry’s admission, made during a podcast for The Telegraph with Bryony Gordon, allowed us a glimpse in to the reasons behind the campaign for better conversations about mental health, ‘Heads Together’. The campaign, fronted by Harry, his brother William and sister-in-law Kate, has sought to bring awareness to the problem of mental health issues and the impact they can have on other areas such as addiction, violence, and homelessness. For some time now, the campaign has consisted of a series of royal engagements, short speeches and some engaging video montage sequences. All very well done, but not really hard-hitting or particularly memorable. For someone like the prince to actually express his own difficulties with emotional issues and how it has impacted upon his life, has far more lasting effect than all of the previous occasions put together.

While listening to Harry’s podcast, I was reminded of his mother, Diana, whose willingness to share her own problems in order to help others was part of her huge success in her later royal career. I recall her speech about eating disorders, (“I have it, on very good authority…”) along with her speech to women’s charity, Wellbeing,

“I think you are very fortunate to have your patron here today, I was supposed to have my head down the loo for most of the day. I’m supposed to be dragged off the minute I leave here by men in white coats. But if it’s alright with you, I thought I might postpone my nervous breakdown.”

 

Diana’s tongue in cheek use of her own difficulties was partly to dilute the media’s stories of her emotional problems and partly to reach out to sufferers to let them know she understood their hardship. She sat with eating disorder sufferer groups, domestic violence groups – and was becoming a strong advocate for women’s issues globally before she died.

Harry’s willingness to open up publicly about his mental health problems and feelings of anger following the loss of his mother has the very same impact that she had in sharing what is usually ‘behind closed doors’ stuff for the royal family. And perversely, it is the very thing about Diana that the public loved and valued so much. It has been clear for some time that Harry, not William, has inherited Diana’s inherent skill in dealing with people of all backgrounds. Regardless of Harry’s feelings of anxiety, which he admitted in the podcast, he has that very magic ability to charm and seem like ‘one of us’ to those he meets – whether army veterans, pensioners, young people or the microcosm of people he meets on walkabouts.

It is an innate ability, which cannot be assumed or pretended.

Harry’s genuine approachability was again seen this week when he unexpectedly enlisted a five year old to help cut the ribbon to open the London Marathon Expo. These characteristics have helped to endear him to the public in a way that no other current royal family member can equal. Anyone who has been present at any royal event will bear testament to the roar of the crowd whenever Harry appears, in contrast to the perhaps lacklustre response to some other members of the royal family. The Queen, of course, receives the biggest cheer of all.

Harry’s quality of human warmth is so reminiscent of his mother that it might be said that he is the true heir to Diana’s legacy. His willingness to take on the mantle of her causes such as continuing the campaign to rid the world of landmines shows him to be the rightful successor to her populist crown.

Diana prided herself, above all her roles, in being a good mother. Her boys were the most important part of her life and she worked hard to instil the sort of values she believed in with them. She wanted them to understand the difficulties of the lives of others less privileged, to have empathy for the vulnerable of society and to be prepared to help, as she was. While the youngest of her two, it is clear that Harry is the one who has most embraced her ethos. Whether nature or nurture, it is apparent that Harry is her natural successor.

I can’t help but feel that if Diana could see now the impact of the life she lived, the one element she would be most proud of would be to see the transformation of her youngest son from ‘party prince’ to ‘caring prince’. As Shakespeare once showed us in his Henry IV plays, a young, wild Prince Hal might just surprise those around him by becoming the most committed, dutiful King Henry possible. And what a shame it might be that popular Harry is not the man next in line for such a title.

Instead, perhaps, we should remember the words of his mother, and think about the son she has left us to continue her work in her absence:

“I don’t see myself being Queen of this country. But I’d like the be the Queen of people’s hearts, in people’s hearts.”

Harry might never be the King of this country, but he is certainly well on his way to being embraced by people’s hearts.

Something of which Diana would have been very proud.

 

 

Photograph – Getty Images