As famed author and editor Tina Brown recounts in her new book about the British royal family, Meghan Markle saw marrying Prince Harry as a way to realize her ambition to become the next Angelina Jolie — a glamorous star whose side gig as a UN goodwill ambassador allows her to travel the world “in her halo, talking about hunger and refugees.”
In hindsight, it’s easy to see why Meghan’s royal experiment failed so spectacularly. As Brown explains in “The Palace Papers” and in interviews to promote the book, there is plenty of blame to go around. Brown also writes that Meghan and Harry’s part in their vexatious exit from royal life in 2020 has left both, but Meghan especially, in a precarious position.
The former TV star-turned aspiring global influencer doesn’t have a clear or authentic “brand,” or identity, of her own, Brown said in a Washington Post Live podcast about the couple’s move to California. That’s because she and Harry, who a palace aide once said shared “an addiction to drama,” have cut themselves off from one of the most powerful brands on Earth, “the royal brand.”
“I think they both completely underestimated what it was going to be like to be without the — you know — the palace platform,” Brown told podcast host Joanna Coles.
“Meghan doesn’t really have a brand,” Brown continued, and “you get a sense that there’s a certain amount of flailing there.”
As the former editor of The Tatler, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and the Daily Beast, and the author of a previous best-selling book about Harry’s late mother, Princess Diana, Brown has established herself as a prominent expert of the business and culture of fame, celebrity and royalty.
The Washington Post review of “The Palace Papers” calls it “the most essential book of the Markle interregnum.” The Los Angeles Times said Brown “is a deft and wily royal chronicler,” including about why Meghan and Harry felt they couldn’t stay.
In the podcast, Brown said that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex very much came to “hate” the constraints of palace life, following their May 2018 wedding. They had to accept a status lower than Prince William and Kate Middleton in the hierarchy, even if everyone knew they were more popular. Harry was just sixth in line to the throne. Similarly, Meghan’s career her on the basic cable show “Suits” never made her a star but “sixth on the call sheet,” Brown added.
Meghan, however, was understandably frustrated that she, a 37-year-old woman who had scrambled to support herself as an actress since age 21, had become financially dependent “on a husband who was as reliant as a teenager on the Bank of Dad ,” Brown wrote in her book.
Meghan saw all sorts of opportunities to monetize her and Harry’s newfound fame, but they couldn’t. Brown wondered to Coles how much Harry prepared Meghan for fact that she wasn’t going to become fabulously rich as a lower-ranked royal.
In addition to everything else, Meghan had to put up with a “crusty” institution full of “viperish people,” Brown said. In Meghan ‘s telling her, that institution also was full of elitists and racists who did n’t value her very modern perspective her as a biracial American who had made something of herself.
That said, for someone with Meghan’s global ambitions, there was no better stage than the British monarchy, Brown said.
“Because what the palace does, of course, it (has) amazing convening power,” Brown explained to the Post. “There’s no one who won’t take a phone call if they see Buckingham Palace on the phone, Kensington Palace on the phone. Every major invitation in the world comes through that conduit.”
“All of that’s now gone,” Brown said. “They’re suddenly without this leverage.”
With that loss, Meghan seems to be “grasping at … whatever is the kind of Twitter caring of the moment,” Brown said. “You know, it’s, you know, vaccinations, it’s Ukraine, it’s women’s rights, it’s hey, my 40th birthday, let’s have a mentoring scheme. Nothing is really going anywhere for Meghan.”
Meanwhile, Harry at least has the Invictus Games, which is ideal for him because it stems from his 10-year experience of being a really “impressive” soldier, Brown said. “Vets are, you know, in his bloodstream his in terms of authentic caring about them,” Brown continued.
Cast off from the royal brand, the couple has had to scramble to monetize fame by signing multimillion-dollar entertainment deals with Netflix and Spotify, but those deals present challenges, Brown said.
“I think that more savvy advisors … could tell them the whole problem with entertainment deals is that you have to deliver hits,” Brown said. “Anyone can — if they’re lucky — can sign a major entertainment deal. But where’s the product?”
While Harry’s upcoming Netflix documentary on the Invictus Games is in the works, the streaming service is “not doing so well,” Brown said. She wonders if the service will renew the couple’s contract if they don’t deliver hits. Others have suggested that Netflix only cares about the Sussexes because of their royal connections.
Meanwhile, Meghan and Harry’s reported $25 million deal with Spotify to produce podcasts “seems to have gone nowhere,” Brown told Coles. She also was dismissive of Meghan’s announced podcast about “archetypes or something.”
At least if Meghan and Harry had stayed in the royal family, they wouldn’t have to try so hard to stay relevant. “If you’re royal, there’s no timestamp on it,” Brown explained to the Post. “You know, you can be as boring as you want for years and years and still you’re gonna have big things coming your way.”
As the Los Angeles Times’ review of Brown’s book said, Brown is not “Team Meghan,” which puts her views at odds with younger social media fans who venerate her the duchess as a savior who was cruelly wronged by the monarchy and a racist UK media In Brown’s telling, Harry is mentally fragile, still traumatized by the death of his mother, and prone to angry, childlike outbursts, while Meghan is “ruthless social climber” who forged alliances with “strategic besties,” the Times said.
The “ultimate ace-in-the-hole” was Oprah Winfrey, whom she and Harry barely knew before they invited her to their wedding, Brown wrote in her book. Indeed, the wedding guest list was “a portrait not of Meghan’s intimate circle but of the friends she most wanted to recruit,” Brown added. That apparently included George and Amal Clooney. When asked by another guest how they knew Harry or Meghan, the Clooneys said, “We don’t,” Brown reported.
Aside from Winfrey, Brown doesn’t go into how these friendships have benefited the couple in their post-royal life. The Winfrey connection of course led to their 2021 tell-all interview. They may have been able to tell “their truth” but they further alienated themselves from Harry’s family.
While Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and other family members were initially supportive of the couple leaving royal life, they wanted it done “properly,” Brown said. However, the family and the Sussexes came to blows over what “properly” meant. “Like any divorce,” the conflict came down to money, “hot temperaments and cold misunderstandings,” Brown wrote.
The result of the Sussexes’ angry departure has been “a disaster all around,” Brown told Kara Swisher for her New York Times “Sway” podcast.
“I actually think there is a Harry-shaped hole in the royal family now,” Brown told Swisher, saying that the British public once loved Harry and initially adored Meghan, although they “hate” her now.
“So it was actually very, very sad for everybody that it went so wrong because they actually need Harry and Meghan now,” Brown said about the family preparing for an era after the queen dies. And, if the Sussexes have to keep scrambling to stay relevant, it may turn out that they’ll need the royal family, too, Brown says.