Culture

Why Meghan Markle Is So Problematic For The British Press

Her non-conformity once made for positive headlines, but – as Prince Harry tries to prevent history repeating itself – Meghan Markle's refusal to play the tabloid game has left the papers riled.

By Natalie Cornish

Culture

Her non-conformity once made for positive headlines, but – as Prince Harry tries to prevent history repeating itself – Meghan Markle's refusal to play the tabloid game has left the papers riled.

By Natalie Cornish

Many believed Meghan Markle signalled the dawning of a new age for the British royal family when she married Prince Harry 18 months ago. Not only was she mixed-race, but a successful actress in her own right who refused to conform to outdated ‘princess’ stereotypes.

The newly-anointed Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s relationship with the British tabloid press started well. In the midst of Brexit chaos, a fairytale wedding, followed in quick succession by a pregnancy announcement and successful royal tour of the Pacific, their relationship seemed to be the good news the tabloids thought we needed. Where Kate Middleton had dominated the news agenda, there was now also Meghan, and, as any editor will tell you, she was a much-needed boost to the metrics that really matter: newspaper sales and website clicks.

Yes, there were (seemingly unfounded) rumours that Meghan didn’t get on with Kate. After all, two women who come from completely different walks of life should instantly hit it off just because they’re now related by marriage, right? Also great for sales and clicks. But things took a real turn for the worse when the Sussexes decided to christen Archie privately. Therefore denying the tabloids the insider scoop they had come to expect – and, dare I say it, rely on to push up their circulation and viewing numbers. 

Headlines were vicious. Since then, every opportunity to jump on the slightest hypocrisy from the couple has become fair game. Supporting climate change while flying private? Terrible. Moving to the countryside to bring up Archie away from the media glare? Disgusting.

 

“I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”

 

In the last week, relations reached crisis point. The Sussexes began legal action against The Mail on Sunday for publishing a private letter, they claim was edited, from Meghan to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, back in February.

“Unfortunately, my wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences – a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son,” Harry’s statement read.

“There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behaviour, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn’t acceptable, at any level. We won’t and can’t believe in a world where there is no accountability for this.

Prince Harry, the Duchess and Duke of Sussex with baby Archie Mountbatten-Windsor on September 25. Princess Diana cuddling Prince Harry as a baby in 1985. Image credits: Toby Melville and Tim Graham/ Getty Images

“Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one. Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”

The newspaper responded with this statement: “The Mail on Sunday stands by the story it published and will be defending this case vigorously. Specifically, we categorically deny that the Duchess’s letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning.”

Since then, Harry has announced the couple are also taking legal action against two more tabloid publishers for alleged historic phone hacking. News Group, who own The Sun and the now-defunct News of the World, and The Mirror Group who publish The Daily Mirror.

There appears to be two issues at play here. Firstly, there’s a feeling in the UK amongst much of the tabloid press that we are owed a daily insight into the inner workings of the royal family because we, the taxpayer, foot the bill. Yes, this is a divisive issue, but, the truth is, most of us don’t actually care that much. 

Living in Australia for two years, the royals were brought up as soon as my British accent was noted. Back at home though, they are not a daily topic of conversation for us Brits. Most of us have a soft spot for William and Harry having watched them, very publicly, deal with the death of their mother so young. But, staunch royalists aside, we don’t feel the need to know what they had for breakfast, or that the Sussexes reportedly shipped Land Rovers to Africa on their recent tour.

 

“Meghan does not want, seek, or need the blessing of the British tabloid press. Nothing riles them more.”

 

We are supportive, but also see them as people who are entitled to the privacy that the rest of us are afforded. That’s no doubt why Harry signed off the statement: “We thank you, the public, for your continued support. It is hugely appreciated. Although it may not seem like it, we really need it”.

A YouGov survey of 2241 British adults which took place the morning after the news of the first lawsuit broke backs this sentiment. Fifty-four percent of those asked about the Sussexes taking legal action said they “strongly support” or “tend to support” them doing so. Just 14 percent said they “tend to oppose” or “strongly oppose” the couple’s privacy case. Twenty-one percent had no view either way.

Secondly, Meghan refuses to play the tabloid game. Unlike Kate, she has long been in control of her own narrative due to her TV career. She’s a strong woman who is unapologetically progressive in her beliefs; a disrupter who’s comfortable in her own skin and brought her own money and fame to her marriage. She does not want, seek, or need the blessing of the British tabloid press. Nothing riles them more.

Perhaps the biggest sign of the tabloids’ contempt for Meghan is this: more column inches are dedicated to her being “difficult” than the furore surrounding Prince Andrew, who is currently embroiled in the Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal (any involvement in which he denies).

Main image credit: Chris Jackson /Getty Images