This week, reports leaked out that Meghan Markle will be editing the September issue of the British edition of Vogue magazine.
Although the magazine did not respond to emails requesting comment, and the palace also declined to confirm the story to The Daily Beast, few doubt the account of American magazine Us Weekly, which declared, “Meghan will be writing an opinion piece of her own as well as bringing a selection of female change-makers on board to write their own personal essays,” and adds that a photo shoot with the duchess is scheduled to take place at her new home, Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, sometime next week.
Sources at Vogue were tight-lipped about the reports, saying they couldn’t comment even off the record, although given the long lead times associated with glossy magazines it is likely the production of the magazine is already well underway.
Ever since her barnstorming appearance at the British Fashion Awards, when she took to the catwalk to praise British fashion designers and enthuse about the industry’s increasingly ethical stance, it has been clear that the fashion world is a place where Meghan can comfortably express her opinions and be herself.
Plus, she has a lot of friends in the industry who are understandably thrilled at having access to the most glamorous female celebrity of the era.
It helps, of course, that her friend and/or rival in princessdom, depending on who you believe, Kate Middleton (who also did a Vogue cover) has made so little effort to engage the high fashion crowd, bar her regular trips to the McQueen atelier.
There is no conflict over territory here—Kate owns Boden, Meghan gets everything else.
And it is interesting to note that rather than subjecting herself to an interview, Meghan is instead contributing an essay to the magazine and acting as ‘guest editor.’ This is a clever ruse by Vogue editor Edward Enninful—it’s essentially a way of making a virtue of giving a powerful celebrity copy and image approval.
However it will also be fascinating to see who Meghan chooses to be the contributors to her issue of the legendary magazine, and what they will write about.
One thing we can be sure of is that her writers will not be the usual upper class, white establishment figures that pretty well made up the Vogue writing stable before Enninful took over.
And the subject matter? Well, it seems reasonable to conclude that the September issue of Vogue will spell out, for those who missed the memo, that Meghan is unafraid to use her position and influence to intervene in the culture wars, on the side of the liberals.
A source told The Sun: “Meghan is going to write a piece on causes such as female empowerment and women’s education... This is nothing to do with Archie, or family, or home life. It’s purely on women’s empowerment.”
Meghan has, of course, been a political campaigner on this very issue since childhood, when, as an 11 year old, she objected to a detergent advert that implied only women did or should do the dishes. The ad boasted that “women all over America were fighting greasy pots and pans” with the branded liquid.
She wrote to, among others, Gloria Allred and Hillary Clinton in her efforts to get the advert changed. Markle ended up on a local news channel, and, a month later, as a result of the controversy, Procter & Gamble changed the tagline of the product to “People all over America…”
So it is not the case that Meghan has suddenly discovered a political conscience. Her insistence on her right to continue to voice her beliefs on political matters is well-known by now: she saluted the Irish referendum result which legalized abortion in that country; and she expressed her horror at the minuscule numbers of non-white-males employed by British universities (she is patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities).
It seems increasingly likely that, finally freed from the controlling hand of William and Kate (Meghan and Harry have not just moved house, they are no longer affiliated with the Cambridge’s charitable foundation either) most observers believe that Meghan will continue to speak her mind.
But how far can Meghan go? There are many inside and outside the Palace walls urging caution.
Meghan has powerful enemies at court who believe she is going too far too soon, but many neutral observers also have misgivings.
For example, Robert Lacey, the royal historian, writer and historical consultant for the Netflix series The Crown, is one of those urging more caution: “The tradition of the monarchy is conservatism with a small ‘c’. And being conservative with a small c is the key to the royal family’s popularity and influence. The great strength of Elizabeth II, over the years, has been her apparent passivity,” he tells The Daily Beast.
“For Meghan and Harry to come rushing in and make bold statements of belief and intent could be extremely dangerous. It’s very easy to go out and make gestures, and to sound trendy, but the price of that for Meghan and Harry could be cutting themselves off from the grassroots, the 70-80 percent of the country that support the monarchy—but in a traditional and cautious way. As new arrivals, they need to be careful that they don’t end up being the darlings of the liberal, bien pensant elite who read The Guardian while the rest of the country—the real foundation of support for the system—look on with disbelief.”
No-one, not even the crustiest courtier, believes the monarchy can stay the same, immobile and frozen in time forever. Indeed, change is the one constant in British royal life, but it is wrapped up and disguised so carefully, and happens usually so incrementally, that it is hardly noticed. (While Meghan has proved massively popular with the British public, some have claimed there is racism and snobbery at play in how Meghan has been covered by the media.)
The nervousness one can detect spilling out of the inner sanctums of the establishment comes from the fact that traditionally, royal wives do not hit the ground running at this pace.
Meghan is not set to be the typical royal wife, who spends the first five to 10 years of married life dutifully doing everything they are told, during which time they are handed a plethora of mind-bogglingly tedious charitable patronages that the old guard have no use for anymore and with which it is impossible to say or do anything controversial.
Meghan is the royal family with a conscience.
According to reports this week, Meghan and Harry will travel to Angola later this year as ambassadors for the HALO Trust, pointedly recalling the visit of Princess Diana to the country in January 1997, just months before her tragic death, when she was pictured wearing a protective visor as she walked through a minefield.
Harry said in 2017 that his mother was criticized for stepping “over the line into the arena of political campaigning—but for her this wasn’t about politics; it was about people. She knew she had a big spotlight to shine, and she used it to bring attention on the people that others had forgotten, ignored or were too afraid to support.”
Diana was of course long divorced from Charles by the time she made that huge gesture, and had been cruelly stripped of her HRH title.
Being publicly seen to be even very slightly ahead of mainstream thinking is explicitly what the great constitutional historian Walter Bagehot advised against. Meghan has not done that, yet. But it will be interesting to see—either in the distant future, or perhaps in Vogue this September—if Meghan decides to eschew the advice of ages and lead, rather than follow, on some of the most sensitive social issues of our time.