Pity the poor woman who marries into the British royal family.
In exchange for a life of material wealth and privilege, she must give up her own successful career, she must never express her political opinion in public, she must always look like she stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine, and she must live with the knowledge that the intense media interest in royal life has actually resulted in death. (See: Princess Diana.)
But pity her poor family even more.
This much is clear in the run-up to Saturday’s wedding of His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales to Her Accomplished Actress Meghan Markle of Los Angeles.
Apart from the occasional tasteless Nazi costume, the current crop of royals just doesn’t seem to generate much in the way of juicy headlines. (At least not the kind that led Queen Elizabeth to dub 1992 her “annus horribilus.” The marriages of three of her four children were on the rocks. Princess Diana had published a memoir in which she revealed the long-standing infidelity of her husband, Prince Charles. A tabloid had run a photo of a man licking the toes of the queen’s estranged daughter-in-law, the Duchess of York. Oh, and Windsor Palace was extensively damaged by fire.)
These days, it’s all William and Kate and babies, babies, babies. So tame.
And so, with little dirt to report about the royal family, the British tabloid media have turned their rabid gaze on Markle’s family, most of whom have not been invited to the wedding and are understandably teed off. Some, including Markle’s much older half-siblings, have unwisely spoken out about the snub.
Well, who doesn’t love a public family feud? The British tabloids are treating Markle’s family like nutty relatives, squeezing them for every drop of crazy.
The media have been much kinder to Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, who has remained admirably under the radar, and will accompany her daughter to Windsor Castle on Saturday.
Her father, Thomas Markle, has been less fortunate. He has been subjected to intense negative coverage after it was revealed that he had posed for fake paparazzi photos that made him appear to be getting ready for the wedding. Some reports, noting he once filed for bankruptcy, said he did it for money. On Tuesday, however, the New York Post reported that he had been coerced into posing for the photos by a paparazzi agency that threatened to release unflattering photos of him if he did not agree to the shoot.
Who knows what really happened?
In any case, after he was widely derided for the ginned-up photos, the poor guy announced he’d had a heart attack and would not be able to walk his daughter down the aisle. Then he said he would. Then he said he wouldn’t because he had to have heart surgery.
Long-lensed paparazzi have followed him everywhere. They chronicled his trips to McDonald’s, KFC and 7-Eleven. (“Two days after his heart attack, Thomas was seen at a McDonald’s drive-thru where he purchased two Happy Meals and a milkshake,” reported the Daily Mail. Oh, wow. Stop the presses.)
After watching British media rip up Markle’s family for sport, and seeing American celebrity news outlets like TMZ pile on, it’s clear to me that one of the worst things that can befall a typical, dysfunctional American family is a royal engagement.
The Windsors, after all, live in a bubble of security dedicated, among other things, to foiling unscripted media access.
The Markles, on the other hand, are defenseless. They have had no experience dealing with the intense public interest in their lives, nor with aggressive photographers and talk show hosts.
They are not sophisticated enough to understand that when you take on a future princess (well, Markle is probably going to be a duchess), the world is not going to be in your corner. This disaster-racked world demands a fairy tale, and is in no mood to sympathize with the anger, envy and hard feelings displayed by the commoner family left behind.
That is not to say that the unwashed masses don’t enjoy watching a family melt down while the princess keeps her cool. People eat this stuff up, which is exactly the problem.
So, was it dumb of Markle’s father, Thomas, to agree to staged photos? Probably.
Was it stupid of Markle’s half-brother to give InTouch Weekly an open letter to Prince Harry in which he described his half-sister as “a jaded, shallow, conceited woman that will make a joke of you and the royal family heritage.” God, yes. He apologized to her, again via an open letter in InTouch Weekly, and practically begged for a wedding invitation.
And don’t get me started on the older half-sister, Samantha, who has waxed hot and cold on her little sister. In 2016, Samantha described Meghan as “studious” and “brilliant,” with “the eloquence of a Condoleezza Rice, and the grace of Princess Diana." Later, she knocked Meghan to Radar Online for not providing the Markles with emotional or financial support. She is on an emotional teeter-totter that is swinging up and down ever more wildly as Saturday approaches.
And, of course, she is egged on by some of the more shameless media figures.
The other day, the eternally annoying Piers Morgan invited Samantha onto his morning television show in order, basically, to savage her.
After Samantha described the media as “vultures,” Morgan grew vicious.
“There’s no bigger media vulture with this wedding than you,” he told her. “How do you have the gall to come on here and talk about media vultures? You’ve been trashing her for two years, you little vulture.” It was a tour de force of intellectual dishonesty.
Knowing that everyone connected with Meghan Markle would face scrutiny, why did palace officials not create a plan for them? Why weren’t media experts dispatched to help this family understand how they would be scrutinized, exploited and trashed?
“It does rather make you wonder whether there is a single grown-up in charge at Kensington Palace,” wrote Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine.