Is Meghan fed up with royal life?
AS the Duchess of Sussex travelled around New Zealand this week shaking hundreds of hands and having every dress, word and mannerism scrutinised, I wonder if she reminisced about the last time she was in the country.
Back in 2014 the actress and a friend took a campervan around New Zealand staying in campsites, swimming with dolphins and traipsing round in ugg boots. Recounting the trip to Conde Nast Traveler, she noted the campsites were impeccable - "there were even fresh flowers in the bathrooms" - and on the last night she dug up clams on the beach and cooked them with linguine, wine and parsley.
I can't speak for Her Royal Highness but I imagine there's times when she's fed up with the entourage, her security peeps are getting tetchy, she's in her third outfit of the day, the $950 heels are pinching even though they're $950, and she wishes she could just be an ordinary girl who can sink her bare feet into the sand.
Likewise, I wonder if Victoria Beckham, incongruous in sky-high red heels at Sydney's Manly Beach last weekend, momentarily hankered to be Vicky Nobody so she could cavort in the ocean with her kids rather than feed her Instagram account with freshly snapped selfies.
There's a lot to be said for the simple but little is. Instead, we revere everything shiny, noisy and celebrated: new bars, flash cars, glamour, fame, notoriety, absurd food, crowded travel destinations, huge houses, fancy phones and endless other acquisitions in our debilitating pursuit of material wealth. Even hitherto heartfelt days such as Valentines, Mother's Day and Christmas have been so grossly commodified they're now stripped of simplicity and sentiment.
So, here's a test. Think back to the last time you felt not just happy but whole. As if whatever you were doing was enough? For me, it was a camping trip with an open fire, early nights, soft dawns and a small Esky with basic supplies. Sitting on the beach eating muesli and blueberries out of a mug after an early morning swim seemed like the most sublime thing in the world.
Many of us hanker for a simpler life but few pursue it. We work harder because we think we need the money yet we spend it on "relaxing" treats such as massages, takeaway food and luxury holidays to mitigate our exhaustion. We circle in this pattern until something awful happens or, as a friend recently pointed out: "We only have about 1768 Saturdays left before we die."
Nostalgia, I've come to realise, is largely a yearning for the simple. There was nothing particularly fabulous about knitted cossies or fondue or mix tapes or corned beef but we fondly recall those and other elements of our past because everything that came with it seemed sweeter and easier.
The Beatles sang songs about blackbirds, strawberry fields and holding hands while comic books depicted simple plots between goodies and baddies. Neighbours could be relied upon for a cup of sugar, radio stations broadcast the shipping forecast in quiet, modulated tones and a plot twist on The Sullivans might last an entire season unlike today's reality offerings which have made confected conflict their stock-in-trade.
Forrest Gump, first screened nearly quarter of a century ago, has enduring appeal not because it's groundbreaking but because it celebrates simple themes: love and loyalty; the triumph of kindness over cynicism; the cementing effect of a wise parent; the joy of remaining unjaded.
These days, the more we have the less settled we feel. Technology, while improving our lives, has made us more jittery. We no longer gaze from a bus window or walk without listening to a podcast or go anywhere without a screen. Books, once a source of magic and escapism, feel too long and too hard for a generation who eschew depth and breadth for the bite-sized. And yet it's hurting us. Our heads are jangled, our bodies are cumbersome and our relationships are suffering.
And yet slowly, surely, I can detect a return to the simple. Friends made redundant are rethinking how much money they actually need, wilderness destinations seem more alluring than cities and busyness is less a badge than a burden. Gardening, once the hobby of the retired, is burgeoning even among apartment dwellers, and cooking is pared back and flavourful. Chef Yotam Ottolenghi, previously celebrated for his complex recipes, has published a cookbook called Simple. I'm cooking my way through it, delighted that ease has no impact on taste. Even the names of the dishes are uncomplicated: Two bean and two lime salad; potatoes with peas and coriander.
Likewise, after years of conflicting advice, parenting experts are advocating a return to the simple: listen attentively, say "no", and foster independence seems to be the unanimous message. Your job is to raise a person who can operate in the world. Nothing more, nothing less.
As for the famous, they can keep their $10,000 dresses and uncomfortable high heels. But just occasionally, I hope they still find a chance to be as happy as clams on a beach.