Well, I finally have the book, so let’s dig in. I made it through the first five chapters late last night, so in order to make this doable, I’m going to go ahead and just get posts up when I have a chance. Broadly speaking, what I will say is that there is new information in Tom Bower’s account that we haven’t received via other recent royal biographies, however as of Chapter 6 we are only in 2014, so there’s still ways to go before we’re in the well-trod Windsor territory.
Whether or not you put stock in Bower’s sources or the extent to which you think his bias has poisoned his objectivity is up to you, of course. I’m basically going to work that out for myself as I recap these chapters.
I will start by saying two things: First, it’s unclear to me when Bower started researching this book. He describes one interview with a friend of Meghan’s as taking place five years after an event in 2013, which means he either started working on this in 2018, well before the Sussexes’ departure from the Royal Family, or that interview was pulled from another source (and I haven’t check his citations).
Second, members of the Markle family are sources, particularly Thomas. I made a decision right around the wedding to stop writing about the Markle family because, fundamentally, it has nothing to do with the Royal Family. And frankly Meghan’s half-sister seemed disturbed, while her father seemed malicious. I viewed it as a private, toxic mess that didn’t need any more air.
In this instance, I will distill the relevant information that came from Thomas in this book that I think is possibly true, and which I think feeds into a narrative that forms Bower’s overarching thesis. Thomas claims that Doria, Meghan’s mother, changed abruptly after their marriage and that a big part of their divorce was her poor relationship with his daughter, Samantha (Meghan’s half-sister). There is also sizeable discussion of Doria’s use of marijuana in the home.
In Thomas’s version of events, Meghan had an idyllic childhood in which she wanted for nothing. Race was never a topic of discussion during her childhood. Nor was money ever an issue. He paid for Meghan’s university and used his professional contacts to help give her a leg up as she began her acting career. He also states that he and Doria were amicable after their divorce and occasionally vacationed together as a family. In other words, he believes that Meghan was provided with a safe, happy home life.
This becomes relevant because Thomas and many of Meghan’s childhood friends speak on-the-record that Meghan’s personality changed after she moved to Toronto and saw professional success via Suits. At Meghan’s 2011 wedding to producer Trevor Engelson, who had been dating since 2004, Thomas and – according to him – Doria were horrified when Trevor said in his toast that he was excited to provide Meghan with the family she had never had. A detail no doubt included in the book because Harry said something very similar in a radio interview during his engagement to Meghan several years later.
Later on, when Meghan began talking about her struggles with her racial identity, Thomas viewed this as fiction created by his daughter to get attention.
Here’s where I net out on this: Even if the worst possible narrative about Meghan is true – that she is a manipulative schemer, essentially – this divide between Thomas and Meghan’s versions of her childhood isn’t great evidence of that. I think there are plenty of parents who have a different sense of their children’s upbring than their children do. It’s not groundbreaking that a child’s memories are going to look and feel very different, nor is it impossible that Meghan had thoughts and feelings growing up that she shared with only one, or neither, of her parents.
Then there are facts – Thomas claimed that he put Meghan through university, while she has spoken about putting herself through. Thomas says that Meghan never worked while in school, while Meghan has said she worked at a yogurt shop….and the yogurt shop has weighed in on Twitter to say she worked at a yogurt shop.
My sense is that Thomas is very sensitive to the idea that Meghan grew up financially insecure and may be going a bit overboard. And I think it’s equally likely that Meghan, in light of how strained their relationship grew during her adulthood, may be failing to give him enough credit. Nowhere in the conflicting narratives do I feel confident saying that either one is inherently lying or objectively wrong.
Bower also writes that family friends played an important part of Meghan’s childhood, and that due to her parents’ work schedules and visitation, she spent a lot of time in her friends’ homes. (I would also flag that that fits more with Meghan’s version of events than Thomas’s). One friend, Ninaki Priddy, was particularly close to Meghan, so much so that she joined a Priddy family holiday to Europe in 1996 that took them to London and Paris.
According to Priddy, both girls watched Diana, Princess of Wales’s funeral on television the next year, which, of course, included seeing Princes William and Harry walking behind her casket. Priddy states that this sparked a “fascination” with the Royal Family in Meghan. She then watched Diana’s wedding multiple times and, after being gifted a copy of Andrew Morton’s book on Diana, read if often and kept it well into her 20s.
This is notable, of course, because Meghan has always maintained that she was wholly ignorant of how the Royal Family functioned and even who Harry was when they met in 2016. And I will say that while there are plenty of Americans who don’t know the details of the Royal Family or keep up with the latest and greatest news (or care to), it’s hard for me to wrap my head around a teenager in the late 90s/early 2000s being completely in the dark on the Windsor cast of characters. I was eight when Diana died and even I remember the wall-to-wall coverage and vaguely knowing she had two sons.
Now, according to Priddy, Meghan pulled back from their friendship around the time of her separation from Trevor in 2013. She feels that she kept reaching out and it became clear that Meghan was no longer interested in confiding in her, and that when Meghan came into town, she made little effort to see her, instead insisting that Priddy either meet her where she was or nothing. They eventually “drifted apart,” but the process left Priddy feeling ditched.
In other words, it’s not impossible that these details about Meghan are motivated by resentment over how the friendship ended. I also find that unlikely. It’s a very specific – and reasonable – account for how an American teenager would be introduced to the concept of the Windsors. Nor is there any accusation that Meghan was fan-girling over Prince Harry or scouring news articles about him, which would be more damaging. I’m inclined to believe Priddy’s version of events.
The last significant topic discussed is Meghan’s relationship with Trevor and their divorce. I don’t have much to say on it, quite frankly. The narrative is one we’ve heard before – their marriage quickly ended after Meghan found professional success in Toronto, it was Meghan’s decision, and people in her life were surprised by how business-like she was about it. Trevor didn’t speak to Bower, so all of the information we have is second-hand. My personal take is that breakups take many forms, and while I understand the insinuation that Meghan “used” Trevor and then dropped him when she didn’t need him anymore, life is often more complicated than that. That may be true. Or maybe she simply outgrew the relationship and realized that when they lived apart. I don’t think that makes her a monster and based on the evidence provided, I don’t think there’s anything particularly shocking about a short-lived marriage with a man she met in her early 20s.
As for Bower’s tone throughout, it’s clear that he found a pattern to her behavior that he’s keen to lay out from the jump. Even so, he frequently speaks positively of her ambition and work ethic. He also regularly points out that she was known throughout childhood and adolescence for her empathy. So far, he has not painted Meghan as a caricature of a person. We’ll see how that evolves…