In the world of branding and marketing, the Royal Family’s best sellers are the young princes, William and Harry, and their families. The Queen remains the Firm’s staple, eternally popular and utterly reliable, but the stardust in 2019 comes from the Cambridges and the Sussexes. New jobs, new houses, new children: marriages, christenings, premieres. They seem to have it all, and in Meghan Markle’s union with Prince Harry, the Royals have introduced a new, glamorous and disruptive element into the mix. A lot of seasoned royal watchers predicted that Miss Markle would give the Royal Family a new edge, a modern, feminist twist and a dose of Hollywood fame into the bargain. It isn’t quite working out that way.
If you asked a lot of young PR executives what their dream job, or dream client, would be, I imagine a lot of them would say “Meghan and Harry”. Intellectually, I understand that. For the first time since Diana’s heyday there is an offshoot of the Royal Family which is genuinely cool and relevant. William and Kate never quite were; he was the slightly staid elder brother, the heir presumptive, cautious in thought and deed, while she was just a little bit… safe. Too Home Counties, too upper middle-class, too Establishment (Marlborough and St Andrews). Meghan has changed the game: a TV star in her own right, a self-confessed feminist, biracial, smart, self-aware. The possibilities are endless, aren’t they?
Well, they should be. But the guiding force behind their image and branding is making serious missteps. The caricature is that Meghan – older, more experienced, more comfortable with considerable fame – would try to be mistress of her own destiny in a way that loyal, demure, obedient Kate (sorry, Catherine) would not. To an extent, this has turned out to be true. If Meghan is steering the ship, with Harry no more than a first mate, they’re both undoubtedly heading for disaster.
The christening of their son, Archie, was a case in point. After the near-perfection of their wedding (beautifully choreographed and perfectly on-brand), the christening was expected to be another triumph of pomp and celebration. But the couple decided it should be a private event: the godparents were not named, there were only HRH-approved photographs and around 25 guests. Not the approach which William and Catherine had taken.
Then came Wimbledon. Meghan was at Court One when another spectator stood close to her to take a selfie with the court in the background. A Royal protection officer thought he was photographing the Duchess and approached him, telling him to “give them some privacy”. The whole impression was one of keeping the public at bay. She was there in a private capacity, her ‘people’ said. Well, okay, but it’s a public setting, and she’s a public figure. That’s how it works.
And that’s the crux of the whole matter. Meghan hasn’t just married into a family and a lifestyle, she’s married into a brand and an institution. Her every movement will be scrutinised and analysed for the rest of her life. If she and her press advisors seem to think they can control that, they’re making a huge mistake.