The British royal family may not have got all the arts of public communications down to perfection, but one thing they have learned to stay on top of over the past 950 years is their mastery of symbolism.
So the sight of Doria Ragland appearing at her daughter’s side yesterday was far from being an uncomplicated case of a mom offering a bit of moral support on the occasion of the launch of Meghan’s first solo royal project, a cookbook put together by members of a London community kitchen which was set up in the wake of the devastating Grenfell Tower fire.
Doria’s appearance with Meghan and Harry was a very deliberate and carefully thought through set piece, communicating a plethora of unspoken messages, and laying down an important marker about the entirely new type of royals Meghan and Harry think they are and seek to be.
The first thing to understand is that an appearance by a royal mother-in-law as a kind of wingwoman at an official royal engagement of this nature is completely unprecedented.
Kate’s mom and dad, Carole and Michael Middleton, may have been invited to ride in the queen’s carriage at Royal Ascot, and both are firm favorites of the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, but neither have never participated in anything remotely like the official event Doria was a part of on Thursday.
Her role as a de facto part of the royal group was inclusion of a completely different order to being paraded in Her Majesty’s wake.
Doria’s presence—she showed her style, dressed in a camel jumper, matching cropped trousers and a pair of Stuart Weitzman heels—would have been debated and sanctioned at the highest levels of the family.
Presumably it was Meghan’s idea in the first place (the palace wouldn’t say when the Daily Beast asked) but it is inconceivable that this appearance would have happened without being signed off by both Prince Charles and the queen.
Doria arrived in the front seat of the royal couple’s Land Rover, walking by Meghan’s side into the event, where a cornucopia of delicious dishes whipped up by the ladies of the Hubb Kitchen were being served.
Harry, after opening her door, hung back, allowing the focus to settle on Doria and her daughter, who both smiled at the waiting reporters, and many of whom, more like starstruck teenagers than veteran journalists, posted video clips on Twitter of Doria immediately afterwards.
Doria then went into the event and after watching Meghan’s speech, literally joined the walkabout. She introduced herself to individuals with a cheery, “Hi, I’m Meghan’s mom,” and then, standing with a small group of Hubb kitchen cooks, the Telegraph reported that Ragland hailed, “the power of women,” saying, “We make things happen. We're curious, we say yes, we show up. I'm inspired.”
It was implicitly political, proudly feminist, and absolutely of the moment.
The contrast with Carole Middleton, who gave one interview eight years ago saying how excited she was at Kate’s engagement and has never been heard to utter a word since, could not have been clearer.
For all those who have spent the last few months wondering just how, exactly, Meghan and Harry were going to push back against three months of interviews given by her father, which seemed solely intended to shame and humiliate his daughter, despite her efforts to include him in the wedding, here was the answer.
Meghan’s dignified and strong mom is a powerful rebuttal to the anatagonism of Thomas Markle.
After a summer in which her dad, in a series of vituperative newspaper interviews, seized control of the Meghan narrative, and her strategy of not engaging with him was widely questioned, Thomas Markle suddenly ceased to matter.
The connection with Doria, it is now very clear, is the parental relationship which has informed Meghan’s life and is the one which she values.
We have always known this: In an interview with Glamour magazine in her pre-royal life, Meghan said of Doria, “We can just have so much fun together, and yet, I'll still find so much solace in her support. That duality coexists the same way it would in a best friend.”
Doria’s presence also scotches another negative myth that has grown up around Meghan—that she ‘goes through people’ and dumps them when they are no longer of use to her, and that she was preparing to ditch her old life and her roots wholesale.
There is a possibility that Doria’s appearance on her daughter’s arm will freshly enrage her father and provoke him into making another angry outburst to TMZ. But, with the slack summer season over, the value of Mr Markle’s self-pitying interviews to the British media is fast declining.
He has already compared the royal family to scientologists, revealed he slammed the phone down on Prince Harry, and called his daughter a fake. What else is there to say? One quick Nazi comparison, maybe, will make a final headline, and then Mr. Markle will be all out of ammo.
But Doria, Meghan made clear yesterday, is here for the long run.
Rumors are rife that she is planning a move to London, having reportedly quit her job as a social worker for the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services clinic in Culver City, Los Angeles.
Friends have reportedly told British media that she is ‘eager to live closer to her daughter’ and is ‘beside herself with excitement’ at the thought of moving near Meghan.
The presence of her mom by her side as she makes her way in royal life has the potential to be a transformative concept not just for Meghan, but for Harry and the entire royal family.