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.


Who Will Fill Phil’s Shoes?

Amongst great speculation and media frenzy, Buckingham Palace announced last week that HRH The Duke of Edinburgh is going to retire in August this year. At the age of ninety five, I think most people would agree that this is a reasonable decision for the royal consort to take, after many years of supporting HM The Queen with great diligence. The monarch and her husband are now of an age when most people would expect to be sitting back and enjoying life in the slow lane, but ruling is another game entirely. The Queen cannot step down, she will be Queen until the day she dies. That is what monarchy is and always has been in the United Kingdom. Abdication is not something likely to ever be considered, although a regency of sorts might be if the situation demanded it. For the consort, however, there are slightly different rules.

The question remains though – who will step in to this new vacancy? Prince Philip, along with starting the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, has hundreds of charitable patronages which will have to be covered by other members of the royal family. Prince Edward has volunteered that all the family will work as a team to ensure that the work goes on – but frankly, it seems that some of the family are more team players than others. It is well known that some of the family are genuine work horses, their numbers of engagements are always high in the court circular and their commitment and duty cannot be questioned. I fail to see how such people, like the Princess Royal, could possibly do more. There are, however, other members of the family who appear to be sadly lacking in this department.

I refuse to add Prince Harry to this list, because despite low(ish)numbers in the court circular, many of his charitable endeavours are apparently ‘not counted’ as royal work – the Invictus Games, for example. I think Harry will step up where needed anyway, it is his character to do so and I feel that he is accepting of his role within the family, within the nation and his duty to fulfil that as best as he can. I hope I am right.

There is, however, a growing issue within the family which must be dealt with – and that is both the media interpretation of the Duke of Cambridge as unwilling – and the actuality of his limited amount of work for ‘The Firm’. There is a sense that William is not a safe pair of hands, and that is a worrying factor for those within the Palace who do succession planning. The Cambridges have marketed themselves as a happy, nuclear family. A couple who met at university, married and had two children – one of each. The problem is that this little family is not like the little family who live next door. When Kate Middleton married William Wales, she was also marrying a role and a job. The recent Heads Together Campaign and accompanying media showed just what can be done with the sort of influence and inspiration the royal title bestows. It is a shame to waste that sort of platform, when so much good can be done.

Recent newspaper articles have suggested that Kate intends to be the new Prince Philip, and that she models herself on him. While hoping that this might be true (minus the grumpiness/swearing/unfortunate remarks, one hopes), it seems a little far fetched at present.

Another idea was that the Duke of York might step in to the breach. While he might have the unfortunate remarks element covered, he is not a popular royal, with a difficult reputation, and I can see no benefit to him stepping up in a more public manner.

And so, as they line up in this brave new world, with some edging more to the back of the line than others, it remains to be seen who will really fill Phil’s shoes – and who will say they fit while refusing to try them on.




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.


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.




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.


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.


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.




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


A Very Middleton Marriage

Pippa Middleton, the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, is due to marry James Matthews, financial whizz-kid and billionaire, in Berkshire on 20th May 2017. In typical fashion, the details of the upcoming wedding have been breathtakingly revealed bit by bit – until last week, we were treated to an actual statement from Kensington Palace about which royal family members would be actually attending the nuptials. Considering that neither Pippa nor her family are actually part of the royal family, this seemed a step too far to many royal observers.

The Middleton family have an unfortunate habit of making themselves seem publicity hungry. Their apparent desire to be front and centre, rather than taking a side seat like other royal in-laws, has caused them to be called social climbers, showy people who want a slice of the lifestyle their daughter and sister has access to, being the wife of Prince William.  They have gone from being a quiet, affluent family living an a typical middle class village home to living in the local manor house and wearing crest-engraved signet rings. The British have never been fond of those who try to be something they are not. The whole concept of the popular sitcom, ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ was that the audience could laugh at the character of Hyacinth Bucket (“Bouquet”), a working class woman who created an upper middle class fantasy life through her immaculate home and expensive china tea-sets. We all know people like Hyacinth, to greater or lesser degrees. However, it feels more than slightly incongruous that the family of the Duchess of Cambridge should be perceived as behaving like this – we somehow expect the royals to marry into families who are equally illustrious, like the Spencers for example who had been aristocracy for hundreds of years. Those families without such background should have the class to stay low-key and maintain a quiet dignity. Sophie Rhys-Jones, who married Prince Edward, was from a less grand background but her family have stayed private figures, rewarded for their decorum by several invitations to spend time with the Queen and her family.

The Middletons have apparently chosen not to take this path. The fact that Pippa’s upcoming wedding is being sold as the ‘wedding of the year’ and every snippet of organisation for it apparently leaked, might suggest that there is a certain enjoyment of the celebrity this endows to a couple who would never have been heard of had the bride’s sister never met Prince William.

It remains to be seen how much of the wedding will be photographed, since Prince George and Princess Charlotte are to be pageboy and flower girl. This strange hybrid of private family wedding and quasi-royal event seems to sum up the problem of the Middleton family themselves. Neither private nor royal, their half way house style of managing things is unprecedented and raises quizzical eyebrows amongst traditionalists. In a media-hungry culture, when people may become stars from reality shows or merely drawing attention to themselves, is it so unlikely that this family have allowed themselves to become the sort of celebrities who apparently have no claim to fame, other than close proximity to someone who married a famous man?



Kate Middleton and the Requirements of Royalty

When Kate Middleton was first pictured in the national media, kissing Prince William on the ski slopes, my alarm antennae went off. It seemed to me that William’s new girlfriend was more interested in checking whether the journalist was getting the photograph than her prince. My opinion didn’t change throughout the courtship of the prince and Kate (sorry… Catherine) – so many breakups; so many reports of Kate glaring at any other woman who went near William; so many falling-out-of clubs-and-not-working photographs.

On the 16th November 2010, my heart sank even further. The news came that William and Kate were engaged, and even worse, that he had given her his mother’s hugely recognisable sapphire engagement ring. Sitting in front of the TV, I felt he had made a huge mistake. As someone who had seen the engagement of Charles and Diana – a young woman who had already made a living caring for children and cleaning when she didn’t have to – I felt that Kate was not likely to pull her weight and was more interested in status than the man sitting next to her on the plump sofa.

Friends told me I was unfair, and I really wanted to believe that to be true. I suspended my sense of disbelief and embraced royal wedding fever as best I could. I wanted to give them my blessing, I really wanted to. The wedding day loomed large. I admit to shedding a small tear watching Diana’s boy get married without his mother to support him. I also admit to wondering why the TV correspondent got so excited about a wedding dress that looked to me exactly like Grace Kelly’s but with Madonna-esque cone boobs.

As the years have gone by, I have willed Kate to find the sort of work ethic her mother in law had. Instead, I feel I have seen a regurgitation of many of Diana’s styles and mannerisms, without any of the genuine warmth or sense of noblesse oblige. It feels like we are expected to be grateful for Kate to turn up to two engagements a month (if we’re lucky), most lasting less than an hour, wearing hugely expensive designer clothes. The over-long, over-big, over-blown hair; the huge grin even in the most inappropriate circumstances; the bizarre public statements (“Can you test the smell by smelling it?”) and her newly-adopted uber-posh accent combine to give rise to alarm. I feel like she is trying too hard to be royal while missing the crucial elements. Adopting causes that mean something to her and that she would be prepared to spend some time on; understanding how to talk to people without making overt hand gestures or being constantly aware of where the camera is; making speeches without pushing her hair around, staring at the paper or sounding completely unconvincing – all of these would be welcome advancements.

Six years after their wedding, I am still eager for Kate to properly fulfil her position as royal duchess and future queen. As a monarchist, I want the Cambridges to succeed. But I am also much aware that for this to happen, the couple must adapt to become what the people need. The Queen has walked a very fine line between private and public, between mystique and the maternal. William and Kate must find some similar balance. Too often they are shut away, with very few pictures emerging of their growing family. They are becoming unknown to us as three dimensional characters, and in that breeds the fear of disinterest from the very country whom they need to support them. Kate’s morph in to a cartoon-esque character of hair, teeth and L.K.Bennetts does neither her, them nor us any good.

The sad part of all this is that Kate apparently waited a long time for William to commit to her officially. She, it seems, put up with a lot of shenanigans, to win what she had set her heart on. Now she is there, complete with Diana’s tiara and goodness know how many ballgowns, she doesn’t seem able to live up to the hype. Ever-shrinking in weight, nervous, skittish – it sometimes seems that Kate liked the idea more than the reality.

Regardless of my own personal feelings about whether William chose the right person (and after all, that is up to him not us) – we now have a woman in a very senior role within the royal family who seems to need guidance and direction in order to meet her potential. Whether that means new advisers are required, or merely a more experienced member of the family to take her under their wing (Sophie Wessex springs to mind) or maybe Kate herself needs to go back to the drawing board and try to remember who she was before she tried to become something else.

I will be watching the next couple of years with interest, and yes – with a little bit of secret encouragement – because after all surely, we all want Kate to succeed in the role she waited so long to step in to.

For us, for the royal family and most of all, for Kate herself.