In the run-up to the wedding of the year, when the world will watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle walk down the aisle, controversial writer Andrew Morton is making waves with his unauthorized biography Meghan – A Hollywood Princess.
“Meghan Markle is not a rampant social climber … That’s what the main criticism of her is, but I don’t see that. I just see that she’s ambitious,” Morton told CBC News.
“The thing is, Meghan’s got charisma, she’s intriguing, she’s interesting … she’s a new plot point in a very vivid, literally colourful plot. She’s adding a new kind of dynamic to the royal family.”
Morton, a former tabloid journalist, has written books about a slew of celebrities, from Tom Cruise and David Beckham to Monica Lewinsky and Madonna. But his specialty is Britain’s royal family — Prince William’s relationship with Kate Middleton, a biography of Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson, the documentary The Queen: Behind The Mask.
He’s best known for 1992’s sensational Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words, based on interviews and tapes supplied by the princess herself.
Morton now lives half the year in London and the rest in Los Angeles, which he says was ideal when writing Meghan – A Hollywood Princess. He didn’t speak to Markle for the book – rather, it’s based on interviews with her family and friends, and on Morton’s connections to the royal family.
CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault caught up with Morton in New York City to talk about Meghan and Harry, and get his perspective on what Diana would likely have thought of the union of her royal son and the divorced North American actor. Here are excerpts from their conversation.
The real Meghan Markle
Adrienne Arsenault: When you went to Pasadena to spend time learning about Meghan Markle, you probably had a sense of her activism already, but what surprised you?
Andrew Morton: I was struck by the fact that she had a sense of right and wrong and a moral compass from a pretty early age, and she knew how to stand up for herself.
What’s the dishwashing liquid story?
At age 10, she’s organizing demonstrations. Age 11, she is notorious in school for writing letters to food corporations complaining about packets of chips or biscuits … and then she was complaining about sexist advertising in a Proctor and Gamble campaign for dishwashing liquid.
The campaign ad said something like, “Women all over America are cleaning their pots and pans using this liquid.” And she thought that was wrong, she thought that it should be “people.” Her dad said, “Well, write to them.”
So she wrote to Proctor and Gamble, she wrote to Gloria Allred who was then a campaigning female lawyer in L.A., to a couple of other people … within a month, that advertising campaign was changed from “women” to “people.”
That has to be intoxicating for a kid, to realize you can make change.
Yeah, she realized that she had a voice. But she couldn’t make the change [she wanted] with that small voice, and she found herself joining a feminist organization. I think she was the youngest member, aged 13.
So she’s always had that activist side to her. If she hadn’t been an actress, she could well have been a politician, she could well have been an activist lawyer.
Welcome to the family
In your book you talk about how Harry’s great-great-uncle will probably be spinning in his grave beneath where this wedding is happening. Walk me through why that is.
The Duke of Windsor … abdicated his throne in 1936 so that he could marry a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson.
And now what’s happening? A divorced American is walking down the aisle. She’s going to be made a royal highness, an appellation that the royal family steadfastly refused the Duchess of Windsor, much to the Duke of Windsor’s enduring bitterness.
It shows you the transformation inside the royal family, and also inside the nation, with regards to divorce.
Is there any protocol that says the Queen has to decide that that’s OK?
Oh yeah. I mean, Harry’s in the line of succession, he has to get permission from the Queen. He took Meghan along to Buckingham Palace in October last year to meet the Queen, have tea, meet the corgis and let his grandmother run the ruler over her.
But also the Queen was running the ruler over Harry, because remember, 10 years before … he was a wild child, he was a drunk. He was an angry young man.
So you think if he’d actually met Meghan Markle a decade earlier and introduced her to the Queen, the Queen would have said no?
Probably, because of Harry’s behaviour. But [at that time] I don’t think Meghan would have been that interested in the first place. She would have smiled, made some polite conversation, and moved on.
What changed Harry?
Well, he says himself that coming back from Afghanistan in 2008 with three British soldiers badly injured and a Danish soldier in a coffin was something that really gave him pause to think about his future, his future responsibilities. And that was the germ of the idea for the Invictus Games, which were held in Toronto.
But also the army is often the making of an angry young man. He is not the first one to be helped by the discipline and camaraderie there, and I think that helped him to get over some anger that he felt.
And going for therapy helped him as well. That’s an unusual development for a member of the royal family, to talk about the fact that they’ve been for psychological therapy. The normal royal motto is “Never complain, never explain, just get on with it.”
Meghan and Diana
People have been talking about the presence of Diana in this pairing, and the presence of her at the wedding. How would you characterize her place?
Her place is very much the ghost of Diana, really, or the aura of Diana.
I find it very curious … that Diana died aged 36, Meghan’s 36. Meghan is an independent humanitarian, eloquent, articulate, makes speeches. Diana at that time in her life was an independent humanitarian making speeches, and increasingly articulate about the causes she favoured.
It’s almost like the baton has been, as it were, psychically passed on.
How well did you know Diana?
I got to know Diana pretty well, having written her biography — she was in touch through an intermediary often three or four times a day … for a time, it was like being the member of the Shadow Court.
Harry said in an interview that Meghan and his mother, he thought, would have been as thick as thieves. Do you think so?
Well, there’s a huge age difference of course, and the fact that she’s Harry’s mother.
But she would have loved the fact that he has a spring in his step, he’s whistling a merry tune, he’s a man reborn. And the fact that Meghan’s making him happy is what most parents want for their children.
At the same time, I think that the fact that Meghan’s bringing a degree of experience of the world — not just of the movie world, but also of the world of philanthropy, charities, United Nations — adds an extra dimension to her involvement with the royal family, and that again would have impressed the late princess.
Did Harry and Meghan’s relationship grow in Toronto? I mean, is that where it was solidified?
Quite frankly, the fact that Meghan lived in Toronto helped to grow the relationship enormously.
There’s no paparazzi culture in Toronto, unlike New York, London and Paris. They were able to walk the dogs, go out and about. Nobody took much notice of the boy in the beanie cap and Meghan.
So in a way, Toronto is the perfect ground, very fertile ground for a royal romance to develop.
I wonder what the expectations are, on those shoulders of hers, beyond having a happy marriage.
Well, the expectations for her are to change things. It’s something that she and Harry agreed upon virtually at the first day, that they wanted to make a difference to the world.
Change the way, say, women are treated, the opportunities for women, the number of women in Parliament, the number of women in top jobs, to kick through the glass ceiling.
So there’s a political element to this, with a small “p” … The message that Meghan has been talking about since she was a youngster is now amplified 100,000-fold by her involvement inside the royal family.
There will also be expectations, probably, on the matter of diversity.
Absolutely. Her very existence as the first biracial member of the royal family will make people look again at the composition of the royal household.
There’s only something like six per cent of ethnic minorities in the 1,100 people who are employed by the palace … It’s a very skewed sample of the British demographic.
What do you think the monarchy needs from this couple right now?
Bit of glamour, bit of fun. A sense of being international and a sense of purpose.
Do you have any worries at all for her or for him?
The main concern for anybody entering the royal family is that it ain’t as glamorous as you might think. There’s a lot of mundane, rather dutiful tasks, meeting people that you’d rather not.
Do you think there is an element of giving something up, sacrificing a lot, that has registered with Meghan? I mean, you’re giving up a lot when you join this family.
Yeah, she had a gilded life. She went to, what, 12 countries in just a few months both on holiday and humanitarian work. She had a nice life. She was getting $50,000 an episode for Suits. She was getting a decent amount of change for appearance money … She’s given all that up for a title, and appellation, and for Prince Harry. It’s a big ask.
The wedding day and beyond
What’s your sense of what Diana would be saying to Harry on his wedding day?
I think that if Diana was there giving some last words of advice, it would be, “Be yourself.”
What questions would she have for both Meghan and Harry?
Are you happy? Are you right for each other? Are you kind?
I think that’s a question that every parent asks of a girlfriend or boyfriend of a son or a daughter. Are they kind? Are they considerate? Are they thoughtful? Are they going to be careful with the other person?
I think that’s what Diana missed as a married woman, that she found that her partner Prince Charles wasn’t as careful of her as she possibly wanted.
What will you be watching for on the wedding day?
For me, the enduring moment is going to be the Queen and her interaction with Doria Ragland [Meghan’s mother]. The longest-serving monarch in British history, standing next to the great-great-granddaughter of a slave — and from a family where, at one point, a member of that family worked as a maid at Windsor Castle.
This is kind of a true Cinderella story.
More from CBC
Watch Adrienne Arsenault’s interview from The National with royal biographer Andrew Morton: