Among the innumerable fascinating traits I uncovered when researching Meghan Markle‘s life story was her fondness for homespun mottos.
She seemed to have an aphorism to suit almost every eventuality. One was recited to her friends whenever she embarked on some landmark venture, such as a career move or a new relationship.
‘Never give it five minutes if you’re not prepared to give it five years,’ she would declare (omitting to say this mantra was originally coined by her first husband, Trevor Engelson).
That it has taken Meghan considerably less time — just 20 months — to decide she cannot adjust to the rigours of royal duty may have shocked the British public.
This week, however, I have canvassed many of my sources for the biography of the Duchess that I wrote for the Mail, including her oldest friends, maternal grandmother and relatives of the now happily remarried Mr Engelson.
None of these people — who know how Meghan conducts herself and the strategies she employs — is surprised that this free-spirited and untameably headstrong woman has so prematurely jumped the royal ship, and ‘cut and run’ (as one friend put it) for a new life in Canada.
Of course, she has not taken this momentous decision, which amounts to abdication, unilaterally. Prince Harry, who spoke so enthusiastically of the work he and Meghan would do together when their engagement was announced, has since become so disillusioned that his mental health is said to have been affected.
Yet friends feel sure Meghan will have been the prime instigator of their hasty escape.
Indeed, their official resignation statement drips with the laidback phraseology of surfside California — they are not resigning but ‘stepping back’ to ‘transition’ into a ‘progressive new role’ — and friends believe it was penned by Meghan herself.
‘I saw this coming — it was just a matter of time,’ one of Meghan’s oldest confidantes told me yesterday. ‘With Meghan, it has always been her way or the highway. She is always the centre of the relationship, regardless of Harry’s title. She wants to be in the limelight, but under her own terms.
‘Now she will get to make her own rules. It’s perfect for her. Meghan likes to flee when things get heavy, and observe from afar what she has done. I’m sure she wanted to get back to her inner circle (in Canada); her new creative team who are behind these plans.
‘She has been able to move fast because this has been planned for months. She is running a campaign. This is not just an exit. It is a long-game strategy that has been set in motion for some time.’
The friends’ revealing comments came as:
- Sources said Prince Charles fears Harry is at ‘tipping point’ and vowed to rally round him
- A poll found 71 per cent of the public believe Harry and Meghan were wrong not to tell The Queen of their decision to quit in advance;
- The Queen gave an ultimatum of 72 hours to heal the Royal rift engulfing the Family;
- Fears were raised that Harry may never return to live in the UK as he plans to fly to Canada to join Meghan and baby Archie;
- It was revealed the Obamas have help the couple prepare for post-royal life;
- Prominent black Britons including comedian Gina Yashere claimed Meghan was ‘driven out’ of the UK by racism;
- Harry’s biographer Penny Junor expressed her fears that the Prince was on a trajectory of self-destruction;
- It is believed Meghan caught a BA flight to Vancouver and returned to the Island mansion where she was thought to have left eight-month-old Archie;
- The Duke and Duchess of Sussex hope talks around their future will be concluded swiftly;
- The Palace strongly denied ITV presenter Tom Bradby’s claim that Harry and Meghan were being ‘driven out’ of the monarchy;
- It emerged Meghan signed a voice-over deal with Disney in exchange for a donation to an elephant charity.
Yesterday the Mail revealed how Meghan had left her eight-month old baby Archie in Canada, in the care of his nanny and reportedly her close friend Jessica Mulroney, when she flew briefly back to Britain a few days ago, after she and Harry enjoyed a seven-week break, including Christmas and the New Year, on Vancouver Island.
The Duchess has not been spotted at the sprawling Vancouver Island home where they spent their break, but the Telegraph report that after her BA flight Meghan was whisked back to the mansion where she was thought to have left her eight-month-old.
‘It’s easier for her to go to London and play this game without [Archie] there,’ the friend continued. ‘She has an ability to compartmentalise so she can succeed.’
According to the friend this behaviour may be rooted in the early years of her life which, as for any child of divorced parents, were not always straightforward and her experiences may have taught her something about the intricacies of family diplomacy.
‘I don’t think [Meghan] is fully aware of how much backlash she will receive [but] I honestly don’t think she cares at the moment,’ adds the friend.
‘What’s one country when she’s got the whole world at her feet? She won’t set foot in the UK again, let alone live there, unless she gets what she feels she’s worth.’
Like other friends and family members I spoke to, my source recalled, with irony, how Meghan had formed a fancifully romantic impression of British royalty as a Los Angeles schoolgirl.
She developed a particular infatuation for Princess Diana, devouring books and videos about her life and humanitarian work then setting out to emulate her by serving the homeless in skid-row soup kitchens.
Her obsession gathered pace when she visited London in 1996, making a beeline for Buckingham Palace and having her photo taken outside the gates.
According to her school friend Ninaki Priddy, who posed beside her in that portentous snapshot, her avowed ambition was to become ‘Princess Diana 2.0’.
When Meghan became entwined with Diana’s son, in 2016, her fantasy appeared to have been fulfilled. It was only after they were married, and Meghan awoke to the constraints and frequent monotony of her role that this girlish dream evaporated.
She may have envisaged becoming a freewheeling global ambassador championing her causes — which range from women’s rights to improving Third World sanitation — but the reality all too often entailed glad-handing crowds in some rainy Midlands town.
So, as her old friend surmised: ‘Her ideal princess fairytale didn’t work out like she wanted. She thought she would be able to control her own narrative and she felt limited by the royal rules.
‘She was cut off from her usual channels — her Twitter account or Instagram — which meant she couldn’t speak out on causes the way she wanted. In that silence, I’m sure she convinced Harry to pick a “side” (either her chosen path or that which the Palace establishment had laid out for them). For her it was never about modernising the Royal Family.
‘She made it look like she was on board and willing to play the game of “duty”, but Meghan is not one to bite her tongue or take to the British stiff upper-lip.’
Then there was the public criticism of her. Though the majority of British people have taken Meghan to their hearts, friends say she sees matters very differently.
Behind the steely veneer she developed when climbing the greasy pole in Hollywood, she is highly sensitive to disapproval and needs adoration. That became evident when, speaking to ITN’s Tom Bradby last year, she bemoaned the fact that nobody had bothered to ask how she was faring as a new wife and mother.
Friends feel this was another major factor in the decision to cut ties with the Palace and limit her time in Britain.
Raised in America, where standards are very different, they say she will be unable to countenance why she is attacked for spending lavishly on home refurbishments, for example; or using her social media platform to publicise the fashion designs and fitness workouts of friends in her social circle.
‘I think, when she started to receive limitations from the Royal Family, and all of a sudden she couldn’t control things any more, she no longer wanted to participate in the grand scheme of royalty,’ the friend surmises.
Meghan and Harry have, of course, blamed an over-intrusive, hyper-critical media for many of their problems, but she added: ‘Meghan has been playing the narrative of “woe is me”, but she knew what she was getting into.
It was clear from the [ITN] documentary that she was already spinning the Press issue in a certain way.’
Another woman who knows how Meghan’s mind works is Sonia Ardakani, the mother of her closest school friend, Suzy Ardakani.
During her teens, when her father Thomas worked long hours as a Hollywood lighting director and her mother, Doria, frequently worked away from LA, Meghan often stayed at Mrs Ardakani’s house and her friend’s mother became almost a surrogate aunt.
Last year, she told me how Meghan’s determination to use her royal role as a force for good, and her deep-seated respect for the institution of royalty, would make her a huge asset to the family.
Digesting the news in LA yesterday, however, she revised that opinion. ‘Yes, Meghan wanted to be a princess, but I guess a princess in her way,’ she told me. (In LA, duchesses and princesses are interchangeable.)
‘In a way I am surprised she has chosen to do this, but we know how independent Meghan is. She deals with business in her own way, and I guess the Queen didn’t allow her to do that.
‘Then there is all the attention she is getting. She might have been an actress, but nothing can have prepared her for that. Life seems to have become miserable for her and Harry, and they will remember what happened to Diana.
‘Something must have gone very wrong for her to give all this up. But this is what they have decided, and we have to respect it.’
Perhaps so. Others will take a different view. But Ava Burrows, who was married to Meghan’s late maternal grandfather, Alvin Ragland, broadly agrees.
Two years ago, when I visited her home in the Californian desert to break the news that Meghan and Harry were to be married, Mrs Burrows, a retired teacher, whooped with delight, slapped her thigh, and declared: ‘Meggie marrying a prince? Who’d have thunk!’
Yet her joy was tempered with the reality that Meghan, with her mixed-race heritage and dysfunctional family background, had been raised in a milieu light-years removed from that of her future husband, and, in her jocular manner, sounded a note of caution.
‘I guess it’s like your Downton Abbey, and we are the folks downstairs,’ was how she put it. ‘I’m kind of expecting the men in black suits (she meant either the FBI or Buckingham Palace officials) to check us out.’
Her inference was that it would take a gargantuan leap for Meghan to adjust to her new life. As Mrs Burrows is too busy caring for her ailing mother to follow the news closely, it fell to me yesterday to inform her that her misgivings had proved prescient. ‘No! Really? I hadn’t heard!’ she exclaimed, when I told her Meghan and Harry would be spending considerably more time on her side of the pond.
After a pause, she offered a more considered response. ‘I don’t know if ‘surprised’ is the right word. I guess it’s been just too hard for her (to adjust). I guess pressure is pressure, and you only know how much you can take when you’re in the middle of it. Speaking as a grandmother, I think that when you have a baby you want to be near your own mother, and now Meghan will be able to see much more of Doria. I’m sure she will be delighted to see more of Meghan and her grandson.
‘But I don’t imagine Meggie will have made the decision by herself. Maybe with Harry’s history — with the situation with his mother —maybe he’s tired, too, and had been for a long time. I guess this is their exit strategy.’
Whatever the fall-out from this bombshell break for freedom, declared without even the courtesy of a discussion with senior royals, we can be sure there will be no turning back.
For as I discovered, Meghan has made a promise to herself to live her life in the manner of her own choosing, almost regardless of the consequences — and when she decides on something there is never a backward glance.
In many ways, this outlook was shaped by her experiences as an obscure actress struggling to make her name. In her 20s, she swung between periods of ecstasy and abject despair.
When she landed a film or TV role the champagne corks would pop; when she was rejected she would wallow in bed for days, swallowing her misery with glasses of wine and junk food.
Then, on August 1, 2014, her 33rd birthday, her outlook was transformed by a moment she calls her epiphany. ‘I always dreamed, but I guess it’s safe to say I never dreamed big,’ she wrote in The Tig, the candid lifestyle blog she posted before meeting Harry.
‘And then I made a choice to live my life less stifled. To try not to just live, but to live so fully that my life was bursting at the seams, my days felt purpose-driven and heart felt full. To stop living my life complacently and start taking risks, and to dream bigger than I ever imagined.’
Though she admitted it sounded ‘dramatic and cheesy’, she called this her ‘re-birthday’. The ‘reborn’ Meghan was as good as her word. Soon after, she divorced Engelson (returning his wedding and engagement rings by post) and began a relationship with Cory Vitiello, a celebrity chef she met in Toronto, where she was filming Suits, the TV soap that brought her the fame she craved.
She also ditched her old friends in Los Angeles to join a more elevated circle in her ‘adopted city’, as she calls it, among them her baby-minder in absentia this week, Jessica Mulroney, the high-end stylist married to former Canadian Prime Minister’s son Ben Mulroney.
Those she ‘ghosted’ say they were so ruthlessly expunged from Meghan’s new life that it was as though they had ceased to exist.
Now, although she and Harry have deigned to pledge their support for the Queen, she has effectively dismissed the Royal Family in a similar manner.
The news was greeted with a knowing sigh by Engelson’s uncle, Mickey-Miles Felton. ‘Meghan is very opinionated and doesn’t like being told what to do,’ he told me, adding: ‘She knew what she was getting into when she married Harry. But we won’t be gloating over this. That’s not our style.’
Mr Felton, 75, a top U.S. lacrosse coach, uses a sporting analogy to describe Meghan’s ‘desertion’. ‘It’s like me signing up to coach a team knowing it’ll be a big challenge, then quitting as soon as the going gets tough,’ he said.
Meghan and Harry say they will live between Britain and North America. So, where might they settle across the Atlantic?
A lover of the great outdoors since her childhood, when she fished and hiked on camping trips with her father, Meghan has a long-standing affection for Vancouver Island, where she and Harry spent their extended winter break, and where their momentous decision appears to have been finalised.
Intriguingly, I am told that, in the dying days of her marriage to Engelson, he and Meghan retreated to the island, with its magnificent forests and wild coastline, in a last-ditch attempt to reconcile their differences.
They stayed in a house belonging to the family of her fellow Suits cast member Patrick Adams.
However, it is probably too remote for Meghan and Harry to make their home there. The betting among those I spoke to is that they will base themselves in Toronto, where, almost four years ago, their romance began. Leaving aside the harsh winter weather (the temperature sank to -17C two nights ago) there are many reasons they might return there.
For one thing it is a city where privacy is sacrosanct and even the most famous celebrity could walk the streets without being troubled. For another, it is a short hop from New York and only five hours flying time from Los Angeles, where Doria lives.
Then there are the many influential friends Meghan made there, the free-and-easy ambience and liberal attitudes, not to mention some of her favourite shops, restaurants, parks and yoga studios.
Former next-door neighbour, Bill Kapetanos, 77, is confident she and Harry will choose to raise baby Archie in Toronto. ‘Everything they need as a family is here, and the Canadians will leave them in peace, which seems to be what they want,’ said Mr Kapetanos.
He was among the first to see Harry secretly visiting Meghan at the house she rented in Seaton Village and often chatted to her over the garden fence. They will probably choose a more exclusive suburb, such as Rosedale or Deer Park where their friends the Mulroneys have their mansion.
But settling there could present one drawback. They would almost certainly find themselves in the same circle as old flame Vitiello.
Should that happen, the redoubtable Meghan will doubtless draw on another of her favourite mottos: ‘Women are like teabags — they don’t realise how strong they are until they get into hot water.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, David Jones