When Prince Harry and his fiancée, actress Meghan Markle, met the press to formally announce their engagement, they weren’t just making a statement of hopeful love and dreams for nuptial bliss. No, they were unleashing a tabloid frenzy that will go into hyperdrive as May 2018 looms closer and closer. On both sides of the Atlantic, the press and royal watchers will be devouring so much of this courtship because Harry has been famous before birth and Ms. Markle is an American actress who has been striving for fame for at least 15 years.
Markle needs to buckle in for a ride through marketing madness. No one ever demanded a doll of her “Suits” or “Fringe” TV characters, but you know there will be vinyl and porcelain likenesses made of her engagement trench coat, wedding gown, and any future ball gowns that she will wear to charity functions.
All members of the royal family have been subject to this doll transformation. Her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Kate, hubby Prince William, and their children have all been made into dolls. It’s just what happens to the British royal family. Their images pop up on the most unlikely places: toaster cozies, teacups, coffeepots, ashtrays, and even bars of soap!
While traveling in America a few years back, Harry came “face to face” with his supposed doll likeness. At a British celebration of commerce, held in Manhattan, Prince Harry and Prime Minister David Cameron were both presented with MAKIE doll replicas of themselves. Harry’s facial reaction was priceless! It was a combo of disbelief, embarrassment, disdain, and hilarity. The one remark he made was that his doll’s beret was positioned incorrectly, making him look “too French”!
The upcoming wedding ceremony will strengthen the bonds between the United Kingdom and the United States. England and America have always had a deep-seated, complicated relationship—they were our Mother Country, after all—and the proposed tying of the knot between Harry and Meghan means a closer proximity than we’ve had since 1936. It was then that an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson of Baltimore, married the onetime King Edward VIII. The twice-married/twice-divorced Mrs. Simpson was such a scandalous socialite that her love affair with the king set off a constitutional crisis. In order to marry her, and attain his happy ending, King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne. In his famous radio broadcast, delivered on December 11, 1936, King Edward said: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.”
Edward stepped down, became a “private citizen,” with a title and a yearly income courtesy of the monarchy, and wed Wallis on June 3, 1937, at the Chateau de Candé, a palatial estate loaned to them for the occasion. Amidst the beautiful acreage and within the sumptuous castle walls, no member of the former king’s family attended. The newly named Duke of Windsor exchanged his “I Do’s” with his duchess in front of a small smattering of friends.
Harry and his American bride will not be marrying in a borrowed mansion. No, they will be getting hitched in front of the world in May at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Interestingly, Markle has a prior marriage, but divorce is no longer a deal breaker for royal unions. (After all, Prince Charles and Princess Diana severed their connection, and Princess Di’s popularity ascended after that decision. Even in death, she remains the most beloved royal of all time.)
Meghan Markle represents a brand-new brand of bride: independent, older than her groom (she’s 36; he’s 33), a working model and actress, an activist and a woman who has spoken her mind candidly and unapologetically. Oh, and she’s also biracial. Born to an African-American mother and a Caucasian father, Meghan grew up in Hollywood in the behind-the-scenes world of TV production. Her father, Thomas Markle, has won Emmy Awards for his lighting designs. As a young girl, she would visit the sets of the programs he was working on. (She was a frequent guest on the set of “Married . . . with Children”!)
She has always attended private schools, and graduated from Northwestern University in 2003 with a degree in theater and international studies. It seems that Ms. Markle is one college graduate who has put her double major to good use! Having worked as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, she has learned how to be diplomatic, polished when spoken to, and can handle the clicking sounds of a thousand press photographers who will chronicle her every move and mood. Nearly 40 years old, she’s not a blushing bride. Rather, she’s a contemporary woman who has decided to jump heart-first into a so-called fairy-tale marriage.
Because of her biracial heritage, many bloggers and reporters are wondering if she will be allowed to be a “black princess.” I am not making that up. It is almost as if Markle has been assigned a demographic role in the Disney pantheon of ethnic royalty: Mulan is the Asian princess; Moana, the Pacific Islander; Tiana, the black; every other princess is white, but defined by hair color, not skin color. (Snow White, brunette; Cinderella, blonde; Merida, redhead; Ariel, half human/half fish!) I think she will be “allowed” to be whoever she is, once her identity is placed under the Buckingham Palace PR lens for approval. Skin tone won’t matter; how thin- or thick-skinned she is will be crucial.
When I think about Meghan Markle ascending into this rarified stratosphere of royal customs and expectations, I imagine she’s a more refined and likable hybrid of Wallis Simpson and American 1950s movie idol Grace Kelly. Kelly had a much more glamorous career than Markle ever had—Kelly was an Oscar winner, a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock, a movie star who was courted onscreen and off by legendary leading men. Interestingly, Grace was a full decade younger than Meghan when she hung up her Edith Head costumes to assume her full-time duties as the Serene Highness of Monaco.
Grace Kelly came from a well-to-do Philadelphia background when she entered the world of stage acting. Her good looks and aristocratic bearing made her an instant favorite, and it is astounding that she rose to such world prominence in only six years. She did her first screen test for director/producer John Ford in 1950, and by 1956 she was a major movie star who had won awards, earned huge paychecks, and was the subject of gossip columnists on a weekly basis. (It is said that Grace Kelly never met a co-star that she didn’t fall madly in love with, mirroring their on-screen chemistry during their off-hours, too.)
So, even though she was only 26 years old, and at her most beautiful, she chose to bid adieu to Tinsel Town and said hello to the more conservative and restrictive duties of a real-life princess. She married Prince Rainier of Monaco, went on to have three children, and died a tragic death in 1982, sustaining life-crushing injuries from a car crash.
As we know from both Grace Kelly’s exit, and Princess Di’s as well, not all monarchs have fairy-tale endings. Some do meet unhappy denouements, but that is not something to ponder on this occasion. Instead, it is a time to envision which doll company will be first to announce a Meghan Markle mass-produced character? Or which enterprising artist will unveil the first repaint or one-of-a-kind original?
Markle is gorgeous; she is shapely; she is the ideal blueprint for a fashion doll. Having appeared in health magazines, showing off her yoga poses, she is absolutely flexible. So, doll makers out there, please make sure she has flexi legs, arms, and waist!