‘What Meghan wants, Meghan gets’ – so what does she want now?

Review: Vivien Horler

Revenge – Meghan, Harry and the war between the Windsors, by Tom Bower (Blink/ Jonathan Ball)

For anyone exasperated by the saccharinity of British TV’s response to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, I have an antidote: Revenge. But beware: it’s sour. You might need a Rennie.

Meghan Markle – sorry, the Duchess of Sussex – is a celebrity, although much more now than when she starred in the US TV series Suits. (Few people in the UK had heard of Suits before MM arrived on the scene, including Prince Harry.)

She’s a celebrity thanks to the prince. What it seems MM failed to understand is that the queen was much more than a celebrity. Or, as Tom Bower puts it: “She represented Britain’s national identity and charitable values. The constitutional monarchy was the reason for Britain’s historical liberties and stability while many neighbouring European states had succumbed to dictatorships. Through every crisis the Queen symbolised continuity to Britons.”

And that was why MM decamped to California after only three years in Britain. But she took her prince with her.

First, who is Tom Bower, the author of this book? There is so much distrust, suspicion and obfuscation swirling around the Sussexes that one wants to know the author’s credentials.

Well, according to Google, he’s pretty straight. He’s a former reporter and then producer on the respected BBC news programme Panorama. He’s known for his investigative journalism and for writing unauthorised biographies of people like Robert Maxwell, Richard Branson and Boris Johnson.

In 2000, according to Wikipedia, Branson sued Bower for libel over an article he had written for the London Evening Standard. Branson lost. The even better story is about his biography of disgraced British newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell (father of convicted criminal Ghislaine Maxwell of  Jeffrey Epstein fame).

Bower’s Maxwell, the The Outsider, sold out in hardback but Maxwell prevented the paperback edition appearing, partly by buying the publishing company. Maxwell sued Bower over the book, but eventually allowed the action to lapse.

From a timely point of view, Bower’s biography of MM couldn’t have been better. Published in 2022, in good time for the surge in publicity over the queen’s platinum jubilee, death and funeral, it takes a cold look at MM and her steely determination to make something of herself despite a dysfunctional background.

Her father, Thomas Markle, recipient of the famously litigious letter from his daughter, was a Hollywood lighting engineer, and his second daughter spent years of after-school afternoons on film sets. Markle had two children from a previous marriage, and the relationships were not always smooth. (MM’s step-sister, Samantha, later wrote a book titled The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister. You get an idea of the tone.)

Much of the information about MM’s early years comes from Thomas Markle, but in adulthood MM has come to dispute a fair bit of it, including who paid her college fees (he says he did, she says she did and had to work to earn the money, he says she never worked until she left college) and so forth. Childhood friends were also interviewed.

Thomas was white, MM’s mother Doria black, but Thomas and some friends say race was never an issue during MM’s childhood and adolescence. We all know it is now a major part of her narrative.

After the break-up of her marriage to the film producer Trevor Engelson (they spent most of their marriage apart as she was in Toronto filming Suits while he was in California; he discovered the marriage was over when she couriered his ring back to him without a note), MM realised her future was uncertain.

Her father was about to file for bankruptcy for the second time, Suits had a limited audience and had not made her widely famous, she was in her 30s, and she needed money. In London to promote Suits (and herself) she told her British agent (in fact a London-based South African called Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne) that she was looking for an Englishman to marry.

During Wimbledon fortnight in 2016, MM had been hired to wear Ralph Lauren outfits. Lauren’s publicist was Violet von Westenholz, a childhood friend of Prince Harry’s. Never backward in coming forward, MM asked Von Westenholz if she could arrange a blind date with the prince.

She did. On the day of the date, MM had lunch with Nelthorpe-Cowne and told her who she was meeting that night. In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Nelthorpe-Cowne said: “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but she could barely believe it either. We were both extremely excited.”

Nelthorpe-Cowne asked if MM knew anything about the prince, and she said she had googled him, and “gone deeply” into his life.

Bower writes: “Nelthorpe-Cowne was left in no doubt that Meghan had carefully researched every aspect of Harry and his past life. She understood precisely the man she was meeting: needy, volatile, unhappy and seeking a soulmate.”

Nelthorpe-Cowne eyed her client and thought: “I looked at how stunning she was and I just thought: ‘There’s no way he’s going to be able to resist her’.”

Part of the reason for MM’s bad press today is reportedly the disdain with which she treats people who have helped her on her way: including her father (whom Harry never met), her first husband, her childhood friend, and Nelthorpe-Cowne. Then they tell journalists about their resentment.

In 2017 MM and the prince were in Edinburgh to attend a reception. Nelthorpe-Cowne hoped to see MM there, but was physically body-blocked from her by an “embarrassed” Palace official.

“I realised I was of no value to her anymore…” Nelthorpe-Cowne told the Daily Telegraph. “I realised she only surrounds herself with people who can elevate her. Meghan has a way of closing the door on the past.”

So obvious was MM’s approach that the Urban Dictionary produced a definition of “Being Meghan Markled”: a “verb for ghosting or disposing of people once you have no use or benefit from them anymore, without regard to genuine human relationship”.

Certainly the woman who emerges from this biography is not a very pleasant person. But she faces a dilemma. “Until now the Sussexes’ only guaranteed income is trading off the family they have betrayed,” writes Bower.

The royal family is the Sussexes’ currency to attract further fame – and, crucially, fortune.

And then again maybe not. Bower suggests she has further ambitions. Democrats in California “might well be prepared to select the Duchess of Sussex as a candidate for Congress”.

And as we’ve read endlessly: “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.”

It’s certainly worked so far.

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