EITHEROn the surface, Meghan Markle and Prince Andrew couldn’t have less in common. One married into the royal family and the other has never known life outside of it. Meghan spent decades forging her own way and her identity. Andrew, on the other hand, had his path laid out for him from birth, and as the second son of the Queen, a public identity established he always knew he would be required to fulfill. They do, however, have one major similarity: they are, according to a recent poll, the two least popular members of the House of Windsor. This lack of popularity in itself is enough for many to draw comparisons between the two. In reality, they couldn’t be more different.
During her tenure as a working royal, Meghan was most often directly compared with the Duchess of Cambridge. She even commented on how this stream of comparisons made her feel during her much-discussed interview with Oprah in 2021. The Duchess of Sussex said after being shown respective headlines about the two women doing essentially the same things, cradling their baby bumps and eating avocados : “I can see now what layers were at play there, and again, they really seem to want a narrative of a hero and a villain.” Since stepping back from life as a senior royal, this sense of Meghan being portrayed as a villain has only become more entrenched.
Harry and Meghan’s decision to publicly speak with Oprah about their experiences as senior royals is perhaps the only tangible thing they share with Prince Andrew, who undertook his own high-profile televised interview with Emily Maitlis of Newsnight in 2019. Meghan’s admission of severe mental health struggles and her claims of lack of support from the palace did create much discussion that still lives on now. From those who immediately sympathized with her de ella, to the other end of the spectrum who derived her for daring to be both rich and struggling mentally, it proved she is nothing if not a divisive figure.
That both Meghan and Andrew were determined to get their own side of the stories across is not enough, however, to cast them in the same role. Ella’s Meghan’s attempt to tell her truth seemed based on a kind of desperation to be understood, to reorient the narratives that swirled around her. Some of these were relatively benign things that had been misconstructed. For instance, two sisters-in-law having a minor spat in the build-up to a high-pressure wedding isn’t exactly unusual.
On the other hand, the accusations surrounding Andrew were the subject of a civil court case. Virginia Giuffre accused him of sexually assaulting her three times. The veracity of these claims has never been determined within a court of law, and Prince Andrew has vehemently and consistently denied them. He reached a multi-million pound out of court settlement with Giuffre in February, and with it, released a statement that read: “Prince Andrew has never intended to malign Ms. Giuffre’s character, and he accepts that she has suffered both as an established victim of abuse and as a result of unfair public attacks. It is known that Jeffrey Epstein trafficked countless young girls over the years. Prince Andrew regrets his association with Epstein and commends the bravery of Ms. Giuffre and other survivors.
However, many members of the public could not relate to his decision to pay Giuffre such a large settlement, when he had previously insisted on wanting his day in court. As royal commentator Omid Scobie wrote for The Independent: “Didn’t he want to use that moment to fight for his innocence? A final chance to prove he didn’t do the heinous things he had been accused of? I know if faced with the same predicament, I would.” That seems to be a sticking point for many people. Whatever Andrew’s reasons were, the settlement left a stench.
It felt to many like a hodgepodge attempt to avoid this already massive PR disaster for the royal family spinning further out of control. Despite the acknowledgments in his statement from him, it still solidified a more general sense that there was a lack of real accountability: with vast wealth, power and privilege at your fingertips, it seems easy to buy your way out of that.
Ahead of the jubilee, it was clear that the public mood is still firmly against Andrew. A song entitled, “Prince Andrew is a Sweaty N*nce” began to climb the charts, and there was an immediate backlash when the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that the public be more “open and forgiving” and “step back a bit. [Andrew] is seeking to make amends.” Both the Archbishop and Prince Andrew would have appeared at the Service of Thanksgiving had they not tested positive for coronavirus. This was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise for the royal family. In this context, Andrew’s appearance could have certainly marred what turned out to be a nice event.
Meghan’s appearance over the platinum jubilee weekend proved that she still certainly elicits strong opinions. There is a large portion of the public who seem determined to dislike her. However, those who feel favorably towards her are more than ready to leap to her defense of her in the face of the barrage of criticism she receives. Meghan seemed, like everyone else in attendance at the Service of Thanksgiving, to be delighted to be there and have the opportunity to celebrate the Queen. The Sussexes may have played a smaller role in the proceedings than they once would have, but they were still clearly shown to be important guests and in the thick of things.
That Meghan ranks second only to Andrew in the popularity polls is somewhat shocking. While Andrew certainly regrets his association with Epstein, it was at best ill-advised and shows a serious lack of judgment. Meghan, on the other hand, had only the audacity to be herself and to take the necessary steps to protect her mental health from her. She may have disrupted things, but the controversy that is levied at her seems unjustified. When directly compared to the severity of the accusations levied at Andrew, it is hard not to be cynical: the only real threat she posed was one to the assumptive tradition of whiteness.