It has been quite the 2021 for Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. When she wasn’t publishing children’s books or giving birth to her second child, the trollingly named Lilibet, she was winning court cases and dropping in at the United Nations. Little wonder that some have speculated that, in the not too distant future, she might even consider running for the highest office in the land.
But more than anything else, this year has been dominated by interviews for Meghan. The conversation that she and her husband-cum-comic relief sidekick Prince Harry had with Oprah Winfrey in March certainly enlivened lockdown with endless conversations about whether the Duchess’s much-vaunted “truth” was anything of the kind, and launched a thousand opinion pieces.
But Brand Sussex is not all about seriousness and outrage. There is a lighter side too. So a few days ago, Meghan agreed to be interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres for The Ellen Show, with the intent of presenting herself not as the wronged and victimized figure that she usually paints herself as, but as a fun-loving, accessible gal. She’s the multimillionaire member of the Royal Family whom you could imagine having an organic soy latte with, as you gossip about Netflix residuals and the cost of private security in Californian gated compounds.
Her Ellen appearance did not meet with universal joy and gratitude. Her father, Thomas, that Garbo-like recluse, denounced it as “a stupid stunt” and called it “embarrassing for the Royal Family, and embarrassing for her, as well.” For good measure, he denounced her book The Bench (“No child would read or understand that book… it’s for her husband… the only thing interesting for a kid in that book is the picture of the dog on the cover”) and remarked that her participation in one of DeGeneres’s signature hidden-camera skits had reminded him of his daughter’s teething toddler years, “when she cried and cried.”
But Markle Sr’s interventions are now more or less priced into Meghan’s brand. Her appearance on the show was not intended as another episode in that dynastic soap opera, but instead to present her as fun and accessible. So with DeGeneres’s soft-focus interviewing style making Oprah’s questioning look like Mike Wallace, audiences learned that her children had enjoyed their Halloween (“Lilibet was a skunk and she was so cute”), that Harry was now a fully paid-up Californian (“he loves it…we’re just happy”) and that she used to climb in and out of the trunk of her Ford Explorer Sport when a young aspiring actress. Not, you understand, to avoid the paparazzi, but because the doors didn’t work.
She also revealed that her entrepreneurial side began when she was young, by selling scrunchies at elementary school. It is but a hop and a skip from that to her current well-paid eminence.
And, of course, she had to show that she was A Good Sport; hence the hidden-camera skit in which she roamed a food market at DeGeneres’s behest. After some bizarre instructions (“Touch your nose! Do a squat!”), Ellen made the Duchess impersonate a cat, suggest that she had healing powers, and refer to herself, disconcertingly, as “Mummy.” Meghan then revealed more about her relationship with Prince Harry than people might have cared to know when she announced that “her boo loves hot sauce” and that “Mummy wants some heat.” A thousand memes were launched; host and guest trended on social media. Mission accomplished, yet again.
One online description of the video said “Meghan surprises unsuspecting viewers.” Readers, I read that as “unsuspecting voters.” Underneath the folksy anecdotes and bizarre celebrity-ordained interactions with “normal people,” the latest iteration of the Duchess is no less single-minded than any of her other personae. Today, the hot sauce and cutesy anecdotes about motherhood, interspersed with soft-focus political interventions, namely a request to introduce paid parental leave. Tomorrow, the White House, or even greater fame.
Love her, loathe her or fear her, Meghan Markle is as much of a force of nature as climate change — and probably as unstoppable, too.