We knew it was coming but that has not made the day any less joyous. Royalists and non-royalists, Britons and Americans alike have begun celebrating over the engagement of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. Harry, is after all, the most popular royal, but in Meghan we’ve found someone we can fall in love with too.
It’s not simply that she is in possession of, as one British journalist put it, “remarked-upon beauty”, nor is it her charity work, impressive as that may be. It’s the fact that, after years of conservative, pantyhose wearing millionaires, austere horse-lovers, plaid-clad ladies-in-waiting with their unfortunate Philip Treacy hats, we have, at long last, someone who is cool.
Princess Diana understood fashion, she was well-connected, and, as time wore on, she became known for her glamorous lifestyle. But she was also shy, and found the glare of the media, not to mention, the Royal family, to be too much. It didn’t help that her husband, Prince Charles, was not in love with her. More challenging was the fact that she was engaged at just 19.
Los Angeles-raised Meghan Markle is, at 36, a woman of the world, who is used to being in the spotlight. An established actress, she graduated from Northwestern University, which is considered on par with the Ivy League. Not that Markle could be accused of elitism; her mother, Doria Raglan, a yoga instructor and social worker, once had to file for bankruptcy. Indeed, until her father won a sizeable prize in the lottery, the family were struggling.
Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, has done her level best to eschew any sort of lofty associations to snootiness, being careful to recycle her outfits, and remain cheerful – and even athletic – despite her third bout of debilitating morning sickness. And yet, because of her station, as mother of the future king, and her own background, as the daughter of millionaires with their own distant ties to the throne, Catherine is not perceived to be all that relatable. This is despite our best hopes and projections, and that stunning Alexander McQueen wedding dress. But poor Catherine, so desperate to appear uncontroversial, actually left such a gaping hole in gossip that the populace turned to her sister, Pippa, for some flavour. Alas, this also proved to be a dead-end.
Before she deleted them, Markle’s blog, The Tig and Instagram account portrayed a confident, well-travelled, fun-loving foodie, who had her own opinions on everything from race, (her mother is African-American, her father, white) to human trafficking, to the best way to roast a chicken. Markle already released her own fashion line and just happened to be a U.N advocate for gender equality. Her fashion-sense has no need to be deliberately relatable, or “high street”, it already is. (To wit: the ripped jeans she wore at the Invictus Games sold out almost instantly.)
Almost exactly 80 years ago, in 1937, an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, changed the course of history, when Prince Edward, abdicated the throne so he could marry her. Simpson then went on to be known almost in disparaging terms, as a socialite. Fortunately, times have changed. And this is perhaps the core reason for Markle’s coolness: put simply, she is cool because she’s allowed to be.
Prince Harry, at fifth in line to the throne, faces none of the pressures of his brother William or his father, Charles. He’s also had quite the personal trajectory, (including naked romps, NAZI uniforms, and numerous dalliances with society girls). The result of this life well-lived is that expectations have been rather low for the Prince. All he has had to do is act like a grown-up, and resume his charitable efforts, including of course, the very cool Invictus Games.
Harry is known for his cheek, his irreverence, and so this has freed him up to choose a person who is similarly laid-back, (royally-speaking). In Markle he’s landed someone who is not only prepared for the spotlight, she’s already bathed in it. But while her celebrity and looks have endeared her to a thousand Royal commentators, women’s magazine covers and websites, it is her poise, and her self-awareness that will ensure that long after her cool factor fades, her character will remain the most exciting thing about the union.