Happy Monday, everyone! We’re due to see Meghan for the first time in 2020 tomorrow, so today we’re going to take a look back on her 2019. Before I write these posts, I like to look back on what I wrote the previous year and I was semi-surprised to see that I concluded my 2018 recap for Meghan with a warning that the hardest bit was still to come. I think we’ve seen that play out over the last 12 months, and it’s been at times frustrating and difficult to watch.
I say this a lot when I’m writing about Harry and Meghan, and I’m going to say it again: I’m really rooting for them, and I think they do an excellent job on behalf of the Royal Family. Harry and Meghan offer something very different from what the Cambridges do and I think that’s valuable, and indeed highlights the benefits of having a “royal family” to buttress the monarch. Royal women – particularly those who marry into royalty – tend to endure greater scrutiny and criticism from the public and media than their male counterparts. We saw this in the 80s and 90s with Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York, and we saw it again over the last two decades with the Countess of Wessex and the Duchess of Cambridge. What we’ve seen over the last 18 months with Meghan, however, is a slightly different animal.
I reject the notion that what Meghan’s been dealt by the press is akin to what Sophie and Kate saw. It’s not; it’s worse, in large part because of how sustained it’s been, but we also cannot discount factors like race, nationality, and Meghan’s army of celebrity friends, all of which paint a very nontraditional royal picture. The current lawsuit the Sussexes are pursuing against the Mail on Sunday makes me very nervous, but based purely on the question of whether they have the right to address the numerous lies that have been published about them, I do think they are on solid ground.
And yet, all of that said, I also think the Sussexes have made some missteps this year. Or rather, they haven’t made things easier for themselves. So much so, that I do think there’s a significant question mark as to whether they will continue charging down the royal path anticipated as of their wedding. As of right now, all signs point to them continuing their royal work as planned, but their newfound separation from Kensington Palace and Meghan’s comparatively light patronage plate, mean that we’ll get a better sense for what the Sussex brand will look like over the next year.
Last year I raised the question of Meghan burnout and whether their high visibility over 2018 would lead the press to flip-flop. I think there was an element of that, which runs counter to Meghan’s relatively low profile over the spring and summer while on maternity leave. What we ended up seeing was the convergence of these dynamics – we were given a lot all at once, and then when the couple retreated in the months after Archie’s birth, there was a vacuum filled with an onslaught of negativity.
There’s an element of naivete on the Sussexes’ part – they want to grant access and offer candor on their terms, and they want the concurrent ability to pull up the drawbridge when it suits them. And while that’s actually quite fair in the celebrity world, it’s also not how the tabloid culture is ever going to work with the Royal Family – hence, the Cambridges’ stricter divide on public and private during their newlywed years. The press will not patiently wait for the Sussexes to descend from Frogmore Cottage to write them glowing reviews, and what actually constitutes news is not the couple’s intentions, but rather their impact and reactions to it. Harry and Meghan need to get the memo on that, and I’m genuinely surprised this isn’t a pattern Harry figured out years ago.
So, let’s begin wading through and pick back up with what’s on the horizon for 2020.
When the year kicked off, Meghan was roughly six months pregnant, living at Nottingham Cottage, and she and Harry were still very much under the umbrella of Kensington Palace with William and Kate. KP announced Meghan’s first four patronages: SmartWorks, Mayhew, the National Theatre, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities. All spoke to Meghan’s interests and reflected the work she had done for nearly a year in visiting and meeting with various charitable organizations.
The announcement coincided with Meghan’s first solo engagement of the year: a visit to SmartWorks. Over the course of the month, she carried out an engagement with the three other organizations in quick succession and I very much appreciated the way this was handled – each patronage had its moment and it all happened relatively quickly.
The other notable engagement came when she and Harry did an “away day” in Birkenhead. Meghan wore a new purple dress by Aritzia Babaton under a bright red Sentaler coat that seemingly addressed criticism that she tends to favor black and navy too heavily.
The couple carried out another away day in Bristol on Feb. 1 that is making my highlights reel for two reasons: 1) this was the site of the infamous banana writing and 2) I really disliked this Oscar de la Renta dress. To refresh your memory, the couple visited a women’s charity that supports transitioning sex workers off the streets and helped make care packages. Within them were bananas, and Meghan wrote messages of encouragement on them that some viewed as patronizing (i.e. these women don’t need platitudes, they need resources). I remember thinking it was a tad odd, but I certainly didn’t criticize it at the time so I won’t now.
The end of the month took the couple on a three-day tour of Morocco that feels ages ago now. The visit highlighted work on women’s literacy and children’s charities, among others, and included a slew of sartorial wins from Meghan, including a Valentino arrival dress and a gold Dior gown.
This month also saw the couple approve a few of Meghan’s celebrity friends to speak to an American tabloid on the record. The idea appears to have been to address the mounting criticism and speculation over the Duchess’s rift with her father, who was still speaking with the press on a regular basis. The result was surprise that the couple “went rogue” from their comms staff and Meghan’s father responding by sharing a private letter she sent to him in the summer of 2018 with the Mail on Sunday. At the time I thought this was a risky move and an interesting precedent, but with hindsight I think we can safely say it was a mistake – albeit, a fair effort made by the couple to stop the flood of falsehoods.
Unfortunately, this also coincided with Meghan’s baby shower in NYC, which included flying private to meet up with her American and Canadian girlfriends for a girls’ trip. Paparazzi caught arrivals and departures from the high-end hotel and a good bit of reporting went in to calculating the estimated cost of everything (read: expensive). I didn’t think this was a big deal – baby showers are much of a “thing” in the U.S. and it had been months since Meghan had been back in the States and with her friends. Still, the optics alongside Meghan working with an American publication, even if indirectly, left a bad taste in the British press’s mouth.
March marked Meghan’s last month in public before maternity leave. One highlight included a surprise appearance she made when Harry delivered a speech for WE Day, a youth-focused organization. She joined him on stage dressed casually and delighting royal watchers.
Two days later, she joined a panel discussion for International Women’s Day, which coincided with the Palace’s announcement that she was named VP of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust. At one point she stated, ““I don’t read anything, it’s much safer that way, but equally that’s just my own personal preference because I think positive or negative it can all sort of just feel like noise to a certain extent these days, as opposed to getting muddled with that to focus on the real cause.” It was her last solo engagement before Archie’s birth and a solid note to end this first chapter of her royal life.
Commonwealth Day saw Meghan’s last formal appearances. First, she and Harry visited Canada House and the Duchess wore a very traditional coat and dress by Erdem.
Second, they joined the Royal Family for a ceremony at Westminster Abbey where Meghan made a costume change into a Victoria Beckham ensemble that didn’t quite work for me.
Meghan was completely out of view in April, while speculation mounted that William and Harry were on the outs, and the Sussexes officially moved from Nottingham Cottage to Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor estate. Finally, on May 6, news broke that Meghan was in labor, and then that she had delivered a healthy baby boy. Two days later, the couple showed Archie off in St George’s Hall in Windsor Castle. Their joy and emotion were palpable, while Meghan told reporters, ““It’s magic, it’s pretty amazing. He’s just been the dream so it’s been a special couple of days. I have the two best guys in the world so I’m really happy. He has the sweetest temperament, he’s really calm.”
The media was still in a snit over how news of Archie’s birth was handled, while fuel was added to the fire when the American broadcast company, CBS, was allowed in with the British titles to see the baby’s introduction. As I noted last week, I do think the Palace could have handled this better, and I do think this was the straw that broke the camel’s back – a new season of slamming the Sussexes was upon us. I do want to stress, however, that at this point, I don’t think Harry and Meghan had done anything wrong, and they don’t owe the public access to their child – particularly when they’re taking great pains to raise him as a private citizen. If Archie’s birth was bungled, then that’s between Harry and the Palace, and the Palace and the media. I don’t know where communication broke down, but I consider that a very forgivable sin.
At the end of the month, news broke (without confirmation) that Harry and Meghan were spinning off from The Royal Foundation (and thus, William and Kate).
Meghan remained out of view for the rest of May on maternity leave, only reappearing on June 8 for Trooping the Colour. Drama was still swirling over news of the foundation split, with much of the blame laid at Meghan’s feet – she was pushy, too American, rude to staff, had made Kate cry, etc. Much of it was ridiculous and for whatever strand of those stories may have been true, I think it beggars belief to think Meghan single-handedly disrupted a strong working relationship between the brothers. Kate and Meghan drive headlines, but far more responsibility lies with William and Harry.
As of TTC, Meghan was also in the doghouse for not attending any of the events associated with the U.S. state visit, with many accusing her of bowing out due to her political beliefs. This is b******t. She was on mat leave and never expected to appear. Any expectation that she would because she is American is silly, and the fact that Harry did attend points to how much scrutiny Meghan has been under, and how very much of it is unfair and sexist.
She made a surprise appearance at the end of the month for Europe’s first ever MLB game. The couple met with each team and appeared in public on the field before taking their seats. Meghan looked radiant in a black Stella McCartney dress, and she and Harry were in strong form courtesy of some light PDA.
By now, news had broken that Archie’s christening would be a private event and everyone lost their damn minds.
By early July a narrative that Harry and Meghan were dead set on forging a “global brand” for themselves, and that such a path was improper, was cemented. I responded to that here, and will reiterate again that I think a lot of the criticism is ridiculous. While William and Harry may be – or were – on the outs, the idea that the Sussexes are intent on building themselves up at the Cambridges’ expense is grossly unfair and unfounded based on actual evidence and a solid understanding of how this institution works.
Next came Meghan’s unofficial appearance at Wimbledon where she was criticized as being rude to staff and for her POs blocking members of the public from taking pictures of her. Conflicting reports hit the media, with some saying that said members of the public weren’t actually taking photos, and others saying that the POs stepped in without direction from Meghan. It’s all still muddled, but it fed into a narrative that the Sussexes were suddenly being bizarrely strict about publicity and access.
Thus, Archie’s christening was a mess of bad press, with the media arguing they had a constitutional right to know who the baby’s godparents were. Never mind that photos were released within hours of the event, we apparently couldn’t handle the fact we didn’t get candids of people arriving and leaving the chapel. Le sigh.
Four days later Meghan and Kate, with all four kids in tow, watched William and Harry play in a charity polo game. It was all a bit awkward in retrospect, and Kate and Meghan didn’t interact much, but luckily the children stole the show. At the very least, it did show both Duchesses being friendly, and I have to imagine that some of the stiffness came down to knowing how much they were being photographed and scrutinized.
Next up Meghan joined Kate and Pippa Matthews at Wimbledon, establishing that this is likely an event we’ll see the two HRHs join forces at going forward. (I do love my calendar anchors!)
The next night, Harry and Meghan attended the London premier of The Lion King and Meghan met Beyonce, a moment that oddly didn’t cause the atmosphere to split. Wearing a new Jason Wu dress, Meghan was overheard acknowledging that the negative press was difficult to manage and she was “trying” to keep her chin up.
August was right around the time that the couple started to lose me. The first mistake, in my opinion, was the British Vogue edition. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of it and its very ingenuity is very Meghan (in a good way), but the execution proved problematic. It was a lot. And it ended up feeling a tad too political, particularly given that Michelle Obama was included on the heels of Meghan’s absence from the U.S. state visit in June. I understand everyone feels very passionately about the state of American politics right now, but that’s kind of the point – the Royal Family is not meant to stir any of that up. So, no matter how you feel about the Sussexes’ clear preference…their preference simply shouldn’t be known.
The next folly, in my opinion, was skipping Balmoral. Given that so many were opining that Harry and Meghan were keen to break away from the traditional royal path, a glimpse of or knowledge that the family made a point of visiting the Queen alongside the rest of the family would have been a smart move. They didn’t – instead, they holidayed internationally via private planes. I frankly don’t care that they did, but the level of criticism was so easily avoided and wasn’t thanks to their absence and Harry’s comments in Vogue about climate change.
Not so incidentally, there was nary an official glimpse of Meghan this whole month, but she dominated headlines nearly every day.
Then came Meghan’s appearance at the U.S. Open to support her friend, Serena Williams. By itself, not a big deal, but in the context of the public narrative: Meghan was again flying internationally and hanging out with celebrity friends. These aren’t fair criticisms, let’s be clear, but to me it showed that the Sussexes were refusing to curtail their actions to mitigate bad press. That’s not necessarily the wrong approach, but it’s certainly not the easy one.
Five days later, Meghan officially returned to work by way of launching a new capsule collection for SmartWorks. I loved this engagement and it was a great example of everything Meghan does best: fast, efficient, and powerful results. It made me hopeful we had opened a new chapter after the messy summer, but alas.
The couple embarked on their Africa tour on the 23rd, kicking things off with a speech by Meghan in which she told the assembled crowd that she was there as a “women of color,” among other things. The first few days in South Africa were a strong reminder of how good the Sussexes are at this – their itinerary highlighted important causes and the couple were clearly passionate about their work.
Meghan received some flak from the press about her fashion – a few too many misses according to some – but I think a lot of that has to do with her opting to recycle out of deference to the location and adjusting to the baby weight by using some maternity wear from her first trimester. She was kind of damned if she did and damned if she didn’t, and while I didn’t love everything she wore this tour, I also found this a very forgivable wobble.
All of that said, the couple were receiving glowing reviews from all corners. By all appearances, the golden couple was back.
…Except we well know that’s not how things panned out. Before the tour was over, the Sussexes announced a lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday for publishing lie after lie about them, but particularly Meghan, with the crux of the issue being an edited version of the Duchess’s 2018 letter to her father. I think there’s merit to the Sussexes’ suit – literally and figuratively – but as I said at the time, choosing to fight back in this manner is risky and this story has barely begun. Harry’s emotional public statement on the manner, I think, will eventually become regrettable.
Where the couple really lost me was the release of their tour documentary in the middle of the Cambridges’ visit to Pakistan. I like the idea itself just fine, but the interviews themselves – in which the couple essentially complained about public life while standing in the midst of extreme poverty and human rights abuses – rubbed many, including me, the wrong way. It was neither the time nor the place, if ever there is one. They also doubled down on the idea that they are somehow victims of life within the Royal Family, doing an incredible disservice to the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and yes, William. That’s never going to win my praise.
News came out soon after that the couple would be taking an elongated break from royal life before the New Year. Based on Harry’s admission that he’s been actively navigating his mental health and Meghan’s level of emotion, that was probably a necessary move.
Meghan carried out a handful of engagements early in the month, concluding her appearances for the year on Remembrance Day. The couple joined the rest of the Royal Family at the festival in St Albert’s Hall and took their places for the ceremony on the day of. Despite all the drama going on in the background, it was business as usual.
We didn’t know where the Sussexes were planning to hide out, but the general consensus was that it would be LA so that Meghan could spend time at home with her mother. As it turns out, they were in Canada, though it remains unclear whether they made additional stops along the way. The carpeting visible from their holiday card was matched to that of Soho House in Toronto, and I think it’s possible they included a trip there at some point in the last six weeks.
God forbid the year end on a happy note, the couple were criticized yet again just before Christmas Day for photoshopping their holiday card. In fact, the image was edited by a fan account and then that version was picked up by the tabloids. If nothing else, it was a good reminder that if the Sussexes are waging war against the media, it’s certainly not one-sided.
This was a difficult year for Meghan, and on a human level, I feel bad for her. Her first months of motherhood, her first year of marriage, and moving into her first real home with her husband were marred by such extremes. Some of what’s happened comes with a territory and some of it was the result of unfortunate choices, but quite a bit of it was just petty and unfair. I can understand the couple’s anger, but I also think they need to help themselves a bit. Perhaps they needed some space, in which case I’m glad they took it. Perhaps they need to get rid of the PR firm advising them…(they do). And perhaps they need to level-set with the Queen and Charles on what comes next. No matter what, they’re going to need the support of the Royal Family, so for whatever part of this stems from frayed relationships, I hope more than anything that’s addressed.
I think 2020 will provide clarity, for better or worse. At some point we’ll learn what’s in store for the couple’s new foundation, which will reveal their future plans and how they see themselves building the next chapter(s) of their royal careers. If I were to offer them advice, I would argue they should balance their international goals and presence with some work closer to home, if for no other reason than it plays well.
I also think we’ll get another pregnancy announcement before the end of 2020. We know thanks to Harry that they want two children, and given that Meghan will turn 39 in August, I don’t think they’ll wait long. For some more unsolicited advice, I hope they take more concrete parental leave. While I find Meghan’s work ethic incredibly admirable, I also think they ended the year burnt out. They heave the means and ability to take real time to focus on their young children – a luxury many don’t possess – and I think they should take advantage of it. The work will be there.
Perhaps more than anything what I want for Meghan doesn’t really have anything to do with her, which is for William and Harry to get their issues sorted and resume a relationship more akin to what they – and we – enjoyed for years. That, more than anything, will I think mitigate so much of the scrutiny of Meghan, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Yoko Ono breaking up The Beatles. We shall see.
Best Debut Ensemble (non-maternity)
Part of what’s fun about the addition of Meghan to royal watching is that she has her own unique sense of style, and we get to see looks from her that we would never see from Kate or other royal women. I’m thinking of her tuxedos in 2018, but this past year, I’m thinking of this black Everlane jumpsuit that we first saw in stills when she was promoting the Vogue issue, and then again when she was in Cape Town in September.
Best Maternity Ensemble
I’m giving this to the ballerina-esque look Meghan showcased for an engagement with The National Theatre in January. The blazer and dress were Brandon Maxwell, while the heels were Aquazzura. Love, love, love.
I love it when we get a better look a pieces we only saw in part on their debut. Such was the case when Meghan recycled her black Givenchy coat from Remembrance Day 2018 for her first engagement as ACU patron. She wore it over a pleated skirt and black top that weren’t identified as of when I wrote my post on the day, sooo…TBD. Still, she looked great and I liked the coat much better after seeing its full length.
I’m giving this to a look Meghan wore to an engagement I never actually covered (whoops). She wore this to New Zealand House after the Christchurch tragedy in March. It’s believed to be Gucci.
We actually didn’t get too many gowns from Meghan this year (blame Archie), but this navy sequined number by Roland Mouret really stands out in my mind. She looked amazing – from its fit to her red lipstick, it was a solid, solid win.
No surprises here – the patterned Oscar de la Renta from the away day in Bristol. Non.
With that, let’s start anew in 2020 🙂