When Meghan Markle sat down with her friend Ellen DeGeneres for a remarkably bland interview that was aired Thursday afternoon, she must have known this would be a very different encounter to the shocking and astonishing interview she gave to Oprah Winfrey.
The absence of a single question stirring up the gory details of her vexatious relationship with her allegedly racist British in-laws suggest that she was keen to bury the idea that she is nothing more than an embittered ex-royal with an axe to grind.
Instead, here was Meghan redefining herself as a happy-go-lucky soccer mom, a sentimental wife, a successful woman—a published author, no less—but one not above punking herself and equally ready to use the happy accident of her connections and status to try and deliver meaningful change for other American parents.
On the other side of the planet, as the luck of scheduling would have it, her former nemesis, Kate Middleton, was offering a masterclass in the life Meghan left behind, appearing at London’s Royal Variety Show with perfect new hairdo.
We may have wanted Meghan to spill a little more tea on the queen, or finally tell us who the royal racist is, but Ellen was very clearly not going there. The royals will have been overjoyed to see such a resolutely non-news-making public appearance.
Instead, Meghan talked at some length about her family; she shared a picture of Archie feeding his chickens. It was carefully taken from behind so we couldn’t see his face, but even Ellen wasn’t treated to an image of baby Lilibet, who has, so far, not been seen by the public in photographs.
Meghan was keen to talk about her political campaign for paid parental leave. Meghan is quite right that it is a scandal that America is, as she said, “The only wealthy nation [in] the entire world that does not mandate and have a federal paid leave program. Everybody knows, especially if you have had a child and even if you haven’t, you know how hard it is and how critical it is in the first few weeks if not months to be together as a family. And the fact that we don’t offer that here is something that now, as a mom of two, I will do everything that I can to make sure we can implement that.”
Ellen was far too considerate of her friend’s feelings to point out that Meghan’s publicly revealed efforts in service of this cause so far have been limited to two not particularly well-received phone calls to senators, but it’s interesting to see Meghan squarely positioning herself as a champion of parental rights.
It’s an admirable and noble campaign. It’s also uncontroversial, and will probably eventually happen. Meghan must know she is on the right side of history with this one.
It is very clear that Meghan doesn’t want to be challenged, but the absence of questions around a host of very real controversies that Meghan has put herself in will do little to convince skeptics to rally to Meghan’s flag.
Can you really take someone seriously who is not asked about an admission, in open court, last week, that she “forgot” about having issued an extensive briefing to the authors of a complimentary biography of her?
Can Meghan really expect that people will not question the inconsistencies between her and her husband’s account of an allegedly racist comment made by a member of the royal family? Harry told Oprah the remark was made before he and Meghan were married, Meghan says it was made when she was pregnant. Given the gravity of the accusation, Oprah should have pushed them a bit, but even though she didn’t, don’t they want to clarify?
One wonders whether the Ellen arrangements specified that neither woman was to ask the other about their respective bullying accusations. Meghan is the subject of an inquiry at Buckingham Palace into allegations that she bullied staff, and Ellen has her own well-documented issues with workplace bullying.
Ellen seems such a curious choice as a patsy interviewer owing to this alone. Did anyone stop to think that this might look like a stitch-up? Or did Meghan’s fixers think Ellen’s own vulnerabilities, after all the accusations made about the running of her chat show, might make her more compliant than, well, almost any other journalist on the planet?
Bullying, deception and racism are weighty issues, and it felt very odd that they were not even acknowledged by either person.
Instead, there was perhaps the most bizarre attempt at self-deprecating comedy since It’s a Royal Knockout. The hidden camera sketch was, depending on your take, either hilarious or toe-curling (or both) but for Meghan it probably achieved her objective, which is to banish the memory of the angry and wounded character on Oprah in favor of a mom-next-door. There was much discussion of Thanksgiving dinner and the family Halloween in service of this goal too.
This was Meghan leaving, forever, the dignity, artifice and majesty of royalty behind.
At Kensington Palace, once she had shaken her newly coiffed hair out and slipped out of her Jenny Packham dress and fired up the laptop, one suspects Kate’s mood was most likely one of relief.
The royals would ideally like to never hear from Meghan and Harry again in the media as long as they live. Failing that, they’d much prefer Meghan to be doing cat impressions than stirring up a royal nest of vipers.
It’s just possible that Meghan’s new, lighter, non-confrontational incarnation will suit everyone rather well.