As a very pregnant Meghan Markle made her way Wednesday night onto the tarmac for a ride back to the U.K. on Amal Clooney’s Gulfstream, there was a definite sense that we were witnessing a sea change in the presentation of the British royal family, and the birth of its first truly international superstar.
On Saturday, Meghan is due to touch down in Morocco. Meghan and Harry are bound to receive a rapturous reception as they spend three days touring the deeply conservative Islamic kingdom, with a mixed human rights record—Meghan is hoping to advocate for greater access to education for girls—and ongoing problems with terror attacks.
Her high-volume brand star power may well prove harder for the institutions of Morocco’s establishment to resist than decades of soft royal diplomacy.
It would be a busy enough schedule for any mere mortal, but given that Meghan is thought to be well over 30 weeks pregnant (Kensington Palace have not confirmed her due date but Meghan has hinted at late April / early May), and she has the added pressure of being scrutinized at every moment by the world’s media, the rate of activity is, frankly, awe-inspiring.
Five nights in New York, a few days at home, then three nights in Morocco quietly making the case for human rights… Meghan is, consciously or unconsciously, modeling herself more on the example of Angelina Jolie and Amal than the Queen, Princess Anne or Kate Middleton (indeed, attempted comparisons with Kate, who fairly or unfairly was seen to use her pregnancies as excuses to retreat from front-line public duties, now seem more absurd than ever).
Meghan is blissfully unconcerned by the criticism of her in the British media (which have been notably way more hostile to Meghan than the global media) which has now reached deafening levels.
The latest charge to be laid at her feet is extravagance, with estimated costs of the New York trip being gleefully broken down by the tabloids which have now decided the trip was a half-million-dollar folly.
The fact that the British taxpayer is on the hook for precisely none of it (Amal Clooney paid for the jet, Serena Williams shelled out for the rooms at the Mark) except the cost of a few security cops who are a fixed cost anyway, is being disingenuously downplayed by her critics.
Self-appointed leader of the anti-Meghan camp, Piers Morgan, for example, said it “doesn’t matter whether she paid for anything,” if “Serena Williams paid for the hotel,” or if “Amal Clooney paid for the flights,” saying, “The key thing about the royals is to be understated. We all know that they’re royal, that they’re very wealthy. But the absolutely number one rule is don’t rub the British people’s noses in your wealth.”
Of course, this depends on the public's suspension of their critical faculties: the royals are extremely rich, live lives of extraordinary privilege ensconced in palaces. That's in British people's faces every day.
Isn’t it odd that we don’t seem to have this level of confected media outrage that Prince Charles endlessly commandeers the royal train, at a cost of £40,000 a time, for overnight journeys that could easily be accomplished in a car?
You don’t see critics expressing outrage that the Queen does not have to pay death duties like everyone else in the UK (an exemption which truly reveals the cost of a trip to New York as small beer). We were not treated to breakdowns of the ‘cost’ of sending a few security men along with Kate, William and their kids on their fancy half term ski holiday this week.
But for Meghan, the rules appear to be different. It’s open season and the gloves are off.
And she quite clearly couldn’t care less.
Disturbingly to some, refreshingly to others, Meghan is not going to pipe down and be silenced by what Diana used to call the ‘men in grey’ at the palace, or their conspirators in the media.
While she clearly has no time for the official Kensington Palace press office (there was no KP press officer with her in New York), she is consolidating an increasingly powerful coterie of supporters and advisers (not least human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who arrived during a snowstorm on Wednesday at the Mark Hotel for Meghan's baby wearing a red jumpsuit and gold heels).
Trying to imagine how the wider royal family might have reacted to pictures of the baby shower (a little-practiced concept in the U.K., but that now may change) has kept some commentators entertained this week.
While Morgan and his ilk are correct that Her Majesty does not like overt displays of wealth (despite the fact she is the richest woman in the U.K. by a long chalk) the idea that she will be shaking her head over a few press photos seems far fetched, when you consider what her family have got up to in the past few decades alone.
The royal family and their advisers are experts on carefully crafted photo ops and staged events to show themselves in the best light.
If the emergence of Meghan Markle as a globe-trotting, humanitarian superstar raises any questions, it is surely how she has managed to tolerate the muddy, tweedy environs of British aristocratic life as stoically as she has over the past year.
Meghan Markle is making it pretty clear that she declines to be bent to the will of the British royal family.
She won’t shut up and put up.
She will complain and she will explain.
She will insist on the right to have an opinion on injustice, British institutional racism, and the marginalization of women and girls.
And she may avail herself of her mates’ private jets now and again to do all this.
Anyone who has a problem with that is welcome to express it. Meghan is finding her own way of tuning the whining and criticism out.