As a team of professionals at Kensington Palace oversees the metamorphosis of Meghan Markle from American actor to British princess, they may have squandered one useful gift: her dowry.
“As I understand it, there have been an extra 1m hits on the royal Kensington Palace website as a result of Meghan,” said Andrew Morton, the biographer of Diana, Princess of Wales; of Wallis Simpson – the last US divorcee to marry into the family; and now of Markle.
Once her romance with Prince Harry was confirmed, the former star of legal drama Suits shut down The Tig, her lifestyle website, and bid farewell to 1.9 million Instagram followers. “Talk about frittering away a constituency,” said Morton, whose book Meghan: The Hollywood Princess is published this week. “In the old days, a bride brought a dowry. She brought 1.9 million Instagram followers, all of whom have been cast aside.”
Palace aides might look at another American princess, Sarah Butler, who, like Markle, studied international relations and married into royalty. Now HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, she advocates on mother and child rights, harnessing her social media power to disseminate her message, Morton said.
What causes Markle will adopt once she becomes Her Royal Highness on her 19 May wedding is the focus for “Team Meghan” at Kensington Palace, where the 36-year-old bride-to-be is at the vortex of planning for the nuptials as well as her work diary and the couple’s new home.
At her side is right-hand woman Amy Pickerill, 32, a Nottingham University history graduate, who worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland press office before joining the Kensington Palace press team dedicated to promoting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
Now assistant private secretary, working solely for Markle, Pickerill can often be seen relieving her new mistress of the bouquets, cards and gifts bestowed during public walkabouts. She looks after Markle’s official programme and diary, briefs about events and individuals and helps ease her into her role as the fourth patron of the Royal Foundation set up by William, Kate and Harry.
Markle’s appointments with wedding planners and dress fitters are being juggled around secret meetings with charities and organisations eager for a sprinkling of her Hollywood stardust. She has, for example, met with some involved in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Pickerill’s job is to scope out organisations. “She is obviously considered to be a very safe, capable pair of hands, given that she is carving out a new role for the latest member of the royal family,” said Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty magazine.
The smart money is on Markle’s eventual portfolio including women’s issues, and having an international – perhaps Commonwealth – element.
Pickerill answers to Edward Lane Fox, Prince Harry’s private secretary. A former army officer who served in Bosnia and Iraq, Lane Fox, 41, met Harry in the Blues and Royals, a regiment of the Household Cavalry. After a master’s degree in documentary photography and photojournalism, he worked in communications before being appointed Harry’s first private secretary in 2013.
Overseeing the Kensington Palace operations will be Simon Case, 39, a Cambridge-educated civil servant, who rose rapidly through the Ministry of Defence, Northern Ireland Office and Cabinet Office before serving as principal private secretary to the prime minister, Theresa May. Case begins his new role as private secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in July. Both William and Harry can also call on the services of Sir David Manning, a former ambassador to the US, who is now a Kensington Palace adviser.
All will have input and influence in moulding Markle. “Though quite frankly, it seems to me that it’s not they moulding her, but she moulding them,” said Morton. He cited a number of precedents, including Markle’s pre-engagement interview with Vanity Fair, when she spoke of her love for Harry. “As I say in my book, for previous royal girlfriends who have said anything, it’s been ‘good night and goodbye’,” said Morton. Diana’s sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, who spoke to a tabloid journalist when briefly dating Prince Charles, was “quickly consigned to the arc of darkness”, Morton added.
In addition to Harry’s official staff of private secretary, two assistant private secretaries, a programme organiser and two personal assistants, Markle also has the backing of a five-strong Kensington Palace press team. It is headed by the communications secretary, Jason Knauf, the Royal Foundation staff and employees from William and Kate’s office. Two extra people have been brought in to help with wedding preparations, and the couple also have private staff.
Markle can draw on support from friends during this seismic change in her life. On her journey to international fame, she has amassed a powerful legion of female confidants. These are said to include Violet von Westenholz, a fashion PR believed to have set up her date with Harry; Jessica Mulroney, a Canadian stylist; Misha Nonoo, a New York fashion designer; and the former Made in Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh.
“I think Harry will be very sensitive in making sure Meghan doesn’t have to completely bid farewell to her old life,” said Katie Nicholl, the author of the biography Harry: Life, Loss and Love. Markle had already “edited her friendship circle down to the few trusted friends she can really confide in”, she added.
Markle is getting to know “Harry’s world” – particularly his official and public commitments – and “aides will be drawing up a template of what the couple’s working life is going to look like”, Nicholl said. “Courtiers have already played a big part in readying her for the role ahead, but it will be an ongoing process and one that will, I suspect, involve patience and compromise on both sides.”
One of Markle’s advantages as a full-time royal, is that she comes with a good philanthropic grounding, said Little, who envisaged charities beating a path to her door. “Harry and Meghan are seen as the touchy-feely, approachable royals. The bankable royals. The royals to get to draw attention to your cause.”
Her humanitarian work with the UN and World Vision Canada means Markle is “very savvy about all that, and also very savvy about the media and how it works. Given her former career, she will know all the perils and pitfalls of handling the media”, said Little. “Nevertheless, she will be on a steep learning curve at the moment, learning as she goes along. That was evident at Christmas Day morning service at Sandringham when Harry whispered in her ear as the Queen’s car drove off, and you would imagine he was prompting her to curtsy, and curtsy she did. So, there’s all that sort of stuff to get to grips with.”
Mistakes made during Diana’s induction to royalty would not be repeated, said Morton, who is well placed to compare. His explosive book, Diana: Her True Story, rocked the royal family when it eventually emerged that Diana herself was his source.
But the two women are “chalk and cheese”, Morton said. “Meghan is a very confident, very eloquent, very poised young woman. She is always camera-ready, not camera-shy. She has done the red carpet. She knows about public appearances. Her father was a lighting director and he taught her all that. She is the consummate professional.
“And, quite frankly, being royal is a bit like acting. You’re on stage for a period of time, and then you take the makeup off, and off you go home’”.