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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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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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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.

 

 

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The Middleton Marriage Media Meltdown

And so… the Pippa Middleton Wedding Wagon rumbles on, with flags flying and whistles tooting. Every day, certain newspapers treat their readers to breathless updates and speculation about the day in question – from who is invited or not invited, who might wear the same colour and cause social pandemonium and which fence is being repainted to ensure Bucklebury is in gleaming form for the Very Important People who are attending.

With only a few days to go, this self publicised hype is only likely to reach fever pitch with no scaling down in sight. It seems to me that people all over the country who have read anything related to the forthcoming nuptials are simply desperate for it all to be over so that we don’t have to read any further gushing about the bride’s latest walk down the street or gym exit.

Originally, we were told that this marriage was a private event, taking place on a private estate and that therefore, public scrutiny was not welcome. Fair enough, I thought.

Until events took over my original thinking.

The very close up, clear series of photographs of Pippa Middleton and James Matthews apparently canoodling behind a bush in front of a Chelsea church seemed planned. The constant pictures of a smiling Pippa wandering about her neighbourhood in various poses might well underline that thinking. Then, we are told by the very knowledgeable Sebastian Shakespeare of the Daily Mail, that Pippa has hired none other than the PR guru who has worked successfully for the Beckhams in helping to create their brand. You might well ask why would a ‘private’ event require the hype that tends to be rustled up by hiring a very expensive PR guru?

I can only assume that the Middletons, who protest themselves to be quiet, private people who are simply hounded by media interest, are actually involved in creating the cloud of ‘public interest’ in themselves. Certain journalists have certainly confessed to having Middleton sources for stories in the past.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, other families who ‘married in’ to the royal family managed to remain pretty low key. I am verging on certain that none of them ever needed PR guidance to ramp up interest or indeed, wanted it.

The rather ironic thing about the self-publicism of the wedding and the run up to it, is that no matter how much fanfare the media gives or on whose orders, there isn’t the public interest to back it up. Pippa is not a much-loved character, the nation is not overly interested in what she does (or doesn’t) do, her attempts at writing in the past have been ridiculed and her lack of direction is baffling to most.

For me, the only interest I have in the wedding is that we may possibly see George and Charlotte, those secret royal children whom we know exist but hardly see; along with a chance to see Prince Harry with Meghan – incidentally, whose wedding WOULD bring similar hype but on much more solid, public-interest level, ground.

And so… get your hard hats ready. I think we are in for a bumpy few days. Roll on Sunday.

 

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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.

Ready?

 

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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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