Meghan’s ‘embarrassing’ royal blunder
Recently, a senior member of the British royal family took over a beloved British magazine and set to work. The goal: to champion the causes and people creating a brighter future. That, and to bang on about the majesty of red squirrels.
Late last year, the Prince of Wales took over the editorial reins of Country Life for the second time (the first was in 2013) and put together an issue of the rural bible stuffed full of riveting content like Dame Judi Dench talking about trees and HRH's favourite view (strangely enough it was Aberdeenshire, not the sight of Camilla making her way to the drinks trolley). Also included, a feature on his rural heroes, including gillies, hedge layers and cheesemakers.
Now, for the second time in a year, a member of the Windsor clan has turned their hand to publishing, in this case Meghan, Duchess of Sussex who has unbeknown to the world been toiling away on her own debut professional editorial project, in this case helming the September issue of British Vogue.
While her issue is sadly lacking in detailed features on the preservation of the red squirrel population, it is the cover that has really gotten Fleet Street and the Twittervese's Marks & Spencer knickers in a twist. Because, rather than slipping into a six-figure frock and posing up a storm, the Duchess instead (inadvertently imitating her father-in-law) opted to celebrate her heroes. In this instance, 15 women whom she and Vogue editor Edward Enniful have dubbed "Forces of Change".
And, they truly are an awe-inspiring group of game changing, rule-breaking, glass-ceiling smashing activists and leaders. Also, Salma Hayek Pinault, whose husband's family handily owns Kering, one of the biggest luxury conglomerates in the world and which is a key advertiser for Vogue. (Just saying.)
However, there seems to be one obvious candidate that Meghan overlooked during her seven-month assignment. One particular world leader who has met more US Presidents than anyone who still has a heartbeat, who actually commands an army, navy and air force and who goes by the sobriquet Gan-Gan.
Yet, disappointingly, Meghan chose not to celebrate the Queen's extraordinary contribution to public life and her smiling face is nowhere to be seen on the cover. (Maybe she should consider advertising in Vogue too?)
This is a faux pas, and an embarrassing one at that. Her Majesty might not be as vocal or photogenic or adept at social media (or even know her own Instagram login or really understand what Instagram is) as the other women being (rightfully) revered in the issue, however, her contribution to the 20th century has been monumental in her own way.
She has provided guidance through nine wars, coups, domestic conflicts, government sackings and endless political crises and provided wise counsel to 14 British prime ministers.
She presided over about 31 per cent of the world's population in the second half of the 20th century during an unprecedented, period of seismic social and cultural upheaval, and all the while showcased some truly lovely broaches. She is the longest reigning monarch in history and over the course of that time has waded through official government papers on about (seriously) 24,000 days.
Yet unfortunately this was not quite enough to garner her a coveted spot as a "Force for Change".
Sure, the very concept of change might initially seem anathema to a woman who runs an institution seemingly powered by ritual, tradition and Battenberg cake, but the monarchy is a constantly changing beast. Survival is bred into the Windsor DNA and survival, they know, means evolving to meet the demands of a capricious public.
For Meghan, including the Queen in her Vogue cover would have been a deft choice. It would have instantly recast the former actress as a vital member of the royal family, focused on reinvigorating the monarchy rather than as a renegade HRH intent on "private" jaunts to Wimbledon. And, it would have mitigated a huge portion of the criticism that her Vogue foray was a project driven by ego rather than steadfast commitment to royal duty.
Sure, she eschewed appearing on the cover because, in Enniful's words, she was worried it would look "boastful".
So … was it boastful when her sister-in-law Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge appeared on the cover of the very same magazine in 2016? (Which was released only a couple of months before Meghan jetted off to London, got set up on a blind date and next thing you know, was learning out to curtsy.)
That little b-word is going to make the next Windsor family board game'n'haggis night a little uncomfortable.
The release of the issue has also brought a few other niggling issues with Meghan's royal performance to the fore.
Let's start with how she chooses to use her time. She has been working on this issue since January, then well into her maternity leave and after their birth of wee baby Archie in May. While Meghan's dexterous ability to multi-task is impressive, let's also remember that in the first half of this year, the only person who undertook less official royal engagements was 98-year-old Prince Philip who has technically retired from royal life.
We are left with the awkward conclusion that she could find time to give famed photographer Peter Lindberg direction as to how to shoot but not to attend more dull, dutiful events.
(During the very period that Meghan was on maternity leave but working on her Vogue issue, she did not attend the 75th anniversary of D Day commemorations, the Commonwealth Youth Roundtable or the Diana Award National Youth Mentoring Summit, which Harry did.)
For a woman who is clearly highly intelligent and keenly perceptive, over the last few months Meghan has seemed spectacularly obtuse to she (and husband Harry's) deteriorating public image in the UK.
From the couple accepting $4.3 million in taxpayers' dosh to renovate their country home Frogmore Cottage, to churlishly refusing to name Archie's godparents to demanding privacy while sitting in a 12,000-person arena, there is a certain tone deaf quality to the couple's approach to royal life.
Meghan's highly selective approach to royal life ("DON'T LOOK AT ME, okay, now look at my Instagram account!") is starting to grate. While her intentions with her Vogue issue are commendable (yes! Celebrate smart women trying to make this wretched planet circa 2019 better!) the laboured worthiness and the execution here have instead left to her open to even more criticism.
More broadly, this entire episode has belied her questionable understanding of how being a member of a royal family differs from simply being an A-lister (neither of which she was prior to 2017).
It means putting the good of the collective, even if they are a bunch of tweed-loving toffs, ahead of your hunger to use your platform however you want.
The missing ingredient is patience. Meghan could have undertaken this, and so much more that is provocative and interesting, if she had spent a little bit more time learning how the royal family operates, and understanding the precarious position they occupy in the British psyche.
Also, would it hurt to throw a few red squirrel stories next time she edits a magazine?
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and freelance writer. Continue the conversation @DanielaElser