It seems like barely a week can pass by without the Duchess of Sussex being ripped apart for her latest break with tradition. So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that when Meghan Markle went to Wimbledon to watch her good friend Serena Williams play, she caused a media storm for being a total ‘nightmare’. Her crime? Turning up in jeans and asking not to be photographed.
Even though she looked undeniably Wimbledon chic in her cream blazer and hat with jeans, the Duchess was criticised by members who stated that she was breaking an unofficial members’ rule to not wear jeans. An All England official also expressed irritation as her jeans meant she was not allowed to sit in the Royal Box on Centre Court - even though a Palace source stressed that Meghan never had any intention of going to Centre Court, and was specifically there to watch her friend’s match.
The underlying message behind all this unnecessary fuss seems to be that Meghan is a princess, so why can’t she just dress act like one? And of course, all of us, including the Duchess, know that she can’t turn up to Royal duties in a tracksuit and crop top. But she didn’t. She turned up off-duty to Wimbledon looking impeccable. The angry response to it seems to come from the same types of people who were once appalled by her previous sins of going bare-legged and – oh the horror – once opening a car door for herself.
But it isn’t just about the jeans. The other drama happening off-court at Wimbledon was that the Duchess’s security team asked photographers and members of the public to not take pictures of her, because she was there “in a private capacity.” This demand has since been widely criticised and mocked, with people pointing out that there’s nothing private about attending a public event that is broadcast on the TV to audiences of millions, and that it’s just another impossible demand from the ‘diva Duchess.’
In some ways, they do have a point. As a Royal, Meghan doesn’t have the same expectations of privacy as the rest of us mortals, and Wimbledon is not exactly an intimate, private affair. But the extremely negative reaction to this has been blown out of proportion, and it completely ignores the fact that Meghan is new to her Royal role, and is still trying to find the balance between privacy and duty. In this case, it seems that she - or at least, her security team - have taken it a step too far. But the same can’t be said for her other recent requests to try to have a more private pregnancy and baptism. As a new mum, why can’t Meghan try to enjoy this special time with her family in her own way?
Unlike the Duchess of Cambridge, who she is constantly compared to, Meghan was a celebrity before marrying into the Royals. This means that she had her own ways of dealing with the demands of fame, and she was used to having independence and full agency. The new demands and restrictions of her Royal role are completely different to what she experienced as an actress, and it makes sense that she’s now in the complicated process of trying to figure out this balancing act.
But with her every move immediately labelled ‘nightmarish’ and ‘tacky’ by tabloids, it’s becoming harder and harder for the new mum to work out her privacy boundaries. The negativity surrounding her - and her husband, because apparently Meghan is also responsible for Prince Harry’s interest in climate change and his diet choices - is so intense that it feels like the Duchess is often damned before she’s even started. There’s been speculation as to whether this negativity comes from racism, or disapproval of being an American divorcée. But really it doesn’t matter, because the result is the same: no matter what Meghan does, the focus is always on what she did wrong.
The truth is that Meghan has also done a huge amount of good. She very quietly spent months with the victims of Grenfell, and then released a cookbook filled with recipes she learned from them to raise money for the cause. For her wedding, she asked for donations to small charities working with social change, women's empowerment, conservation, the environment, homelessness and HIV. Before she officially became the patron of four charities, she spent months privately working with all of them. And now, she’s in talks with Vogue to have a monthly column to promote her charitable work.
On top of this, she has inspired a whole generation of girls and women by not following every Royal tradition. By doing things her own way and pushing boundaries - even if she doesn’t always get it right - Meghan is proving that women don’t have to quietly accept the rules of long-standing, white, patriarchal establishments - even when it is the Royal Family.