There was one burning ambition that Meghan appeared to have when she left the royal family – now Kate seems to have gazumped her. What do you get a woman for a birthday who pretty much has everything? We’re not talking about a run-of-the-mill big day here, but a landmark one, a birthday that will demand more than a tin of Quality Street and the latest Liane Moriarty. What do you get for a future Queen who is about to hit the big 4-0?
In only a few weeks, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge will hit this milestone, an event which will likely see the various royal social media accounts trawl out some old shots and Prince William hit Bond Street in a sweat. (Just don’t buy her binoculars like he recently admitted he did once …)
In the US, supermarket weekly People magazine has gotten a jump on the occasion, slapping the mum-of-three on the cover of this week’s issue with the headline, putting out a story so sickly a more suspicious mind might have thought Carole Middleton herself penned it.
Just in case anyone’s counting, this is the Duchess’ fourth star turn on the front of the glossy entertainment magazine in the last 12 months, including her second solo outing. Here’s the kicker: Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex? During one of the biggest years of her life including one in which she accused the royal house of institutional racism and ignoring her pleas for help when her mental health suffered, when she welcomed her second child and when she launched her post-Megxit career?
Not a single cover of just her. (Meghan has appeared twice on covers with Harry, while he has notched up a further two covers without his wife.) While the cover of People is hardly the most precise of barometers of public standing and approval, what Kate’s continued appearance, and Meghan’s lack of star billing, casts a less-than-sparkling picture of the Sussexes’ Stateside campaign to establish themselves as dazzling public figures. In fact, nearly two years since they touched down in the United States, they still seem to be struggling to gain traction as the leaders they seem so keen to be.
January 8, which is only three weeks away (and just happens to be the day before Kate’s 40th birthday) will mark two years since Harry and Meghan managed to (allegedly) shock the world, the Queen and the dorgis by abruptly announcing they were done with the whole crowd-waving and plaque-unveiling racket and were oorrrfff. A new financially independent life awaited them, one where they wouldn’t be expected to (as Meghan once did) spend their working days opening new bridges, and could supposedly get away from the intrusive lenses and beaks of the British press.
Off they flew, in January 2020, to Canada where they were holed up in a borrowed (and hideous) mansion to plot their takeover. The likely territorial division seemed clear. The peppy Sussexes would join the most upper echelons of the US glitterati, hello Sunday brunches with the Carter-Knowles’ and Boggle night with the Obamas, all the while earning squillions and charming the pants of all 350-million adoring Americans while William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (and the rest of the stuff) royal family would left to enjoy the parochial affections of their little grey island.
Funny that. Like pretty much every assumption that the world held during those first few febrile months of 2020, nothing has quite panned out the way that anyone thought, including the Sussexes’ post-palace careers. As we are poised to begin 2022, Harry and especially Meghan are increasingly polarising figures who have failed to build the sort of broad support base that many, including myself, expected them to.
Polling done in the US after their Oprah Winfrey interview in March found that while 71 per cent of Americans had either watched it, clips of it, heard or read it, they were hardly that sympathetic towards their self-described plight with only 40 per cent saying they had “a lot or a fair amount of sympathy.” Meanwhile, 31 per cent said that they had no sympathy for the couple.
When news broke in July this year that Harry was putting bitten-Bic to paper and was penning a memoir, for which he is rumoured to have received a stonking $27 million advance, the reception in the US was lukewarm. If his publishers Penguin Random House are hoping to recoup their eight-figure outlay by schilling copies of the book in the flyover states, then let’s hope they have a backup plan given only one in four Americans surveyed at the time reported that they were “very or fairly interested” in reading the memoir. (Meanwhile, only 14 per cent of Brits reported the same.) Similarly less than half of the stars’n’stripes waving masses polled said they thought it was appropriate for Harry to be putting out an autobiography.
More recently, attempts by the Duchess of Sussex to insert herself into the political bloodstream, all the while brandishing her gifted title (so much for her conversation with Gloria Steinem when she said that she thought women should be “linked not ranked”) have met with middling success at best with conservative voices seemingly delighting in recounting how indifferent they were to her lobbying.
Having spent the last couple of months trying to push for paid parental leave, there does not appear to be anything even vaguely resembling a groundswell of support behind the Duchess. Their excruciatingly cringey Time cover and their faux-royal tour of New York would seem to have failed to truly establish the duo as the power players they seem to achingly hungry to be, (though the magazine outing did spawn a tranche of less-than-flattering memes).
Running concurrently to this is the fact that those members of the royal family left behind, you know, the Queen’s relatives who don’t boast their own Netflix deals or vegan latte brands, would seem to enjoy a surprising degree of popularity given the presence of not only Kate but William and the Queen, all over magazine covers. In fact, next year could see a renewed Windsor assault on the US with news that the next outing of the Duke of Cambridge’s Earthshot Prize will be held in the States raising the possibility of a royal tour there also.
A source close to the couple told Vanity Fair in September that, “Team Cambridge is very focused on America and making sure they have a high profile over there. The possibility of them making a high profile visit is very much on the cards for next year.”
Beyond that, the sustained public interest in the Windsors Stateside would seem to suggest that the American people have not wholesale bought the Sussexes’ version of events. The fact that People has slapped Kate on the cover, something they would not do if she would not sell well, points to the Duchess still occupying a relatively positive place in American hearts and minds.
None of this augurs particularly well for Harry and Meghan. Fundamental to the Sussexes’ continued enjoyment stonking great commercial contracts is them being able to bring with them tens if not hundreds of millions of viewers, like streaming Pied Pipers. But what remains to be seen is, can they deliver on this?
The pressure on the couple’s Netflix and Spotify offerings, when the world finally gets to see and hear them, to perform will be immense – but given their shaky public standing, will their famous names translate to the huge streaming figures many might have once assumed? (So far they have announced they are making a children’s cartoon and a documentary about Harry’s Invictus Games, two projects that are notable only for their lack of creative verve.)
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