How Meghan showed the world (and the Royal family…) who’s really boss
Five days and an estimated £325,000 later, the Duchess of Sussex has returned from what can only be described the mother of all baby showers. Occupying the most expensive and largest hotel suite in America on New York’s swanky Upper East side, the celebrations included a performance by Kanye West’s favourite harpist, a candy floss machine and £150 steaks. What had been billed as a “private, low key” affair appeared to take on a life of its own after “sources close to the duchess” tipped off American magazines that they would be descending on The Mark – which unashamedly describes itself as “NYC’s most boldly lavish hotel”. Tennis star Serena Williams was already in situ ahead of Wednesday’s afternoon soirée in the £57,000 a night penthouse suite; a two-floor set of rooms boasting five bedrooms, two bars, a conservatory, a library and a terrace so large it hosts small weddings. The seven-time Wimbledon winner, worth a rumoured £140 million, is thought to have footed the bill (no word yet on whether she wangled any freebies or a discount in return for the global publicity). Designed by Valentino’s favourite interiors man Jacques Grange, with ebony fittings and fine Italian linens, Meghan spent six nights in a more modest, two-bedroom suite on the 10th floor at a cost of £15,312 a night in what was described as her “last hurrah” before joining the royal matriarchy. Us more reserved Brits may well baulk at such lavish fare, not least the ‘tupperware Queen,’ who has always taken a distinctly understated approach to wealth. Indeed, the glitzy bash has drawn unfavourable comparisons to the heady days of Marie Antionette; not to mention the palace versus planet conundrum, in which royals espouse our need to preserve the environment while enlarging our carbon footprint by taking regular flights by private jet around the world that have previously hampered Prince Charles’s conservationist credentials. Can Meghan really claim to be a eco-royal and ardent philanthropist while zipping across the globe on hundreds-of-thousand dollar trips? HM’s subjects tend to prefer their royals to be a cut above showbusiness, which could prove tricky for Meghan, who had carved out a successful career in the glare of flashing paparazzi bulbs. Having so far proved to be a model royal on official engagements, genuinely engaging with people in a thoughtful way, the duchess will not want the trappings of her celebrity to overshadow her commendable charitable commitments. The 37-year-old royal had originally appeared incognito – wearing a flap gap pulled over her head and her hair covering her face – when she was first photographed in the city on Monday, having flown in on a private jet three days earlier. But it was not long before press pens were erected outside the five-star hotel on Madison Avenue as guests started arriving as thick and fast as the gifts – with luxury luggage turning up in the foyer along with pink roses and a Babyletto crib. Eagle-eyed royal watchers were swift to point out that the suitcases from Away appeared to be the same brand as the silver bag Meghan’s former Suits co-star Abigail Spencer was conspicuously holding when she posted an Instagram selfie en route to the festivities, captioned: “On the road again”. A special Clooney arrived in a red jumpsuit as the snow started to fall, along with Meghan’s stylist friends Misha Nonoo and Jessica Mulroney – thought to have been the mastermind behind the out-of-this world affair until it was suddenly briefed that Serena was in fact picking up the tab (Amal apparently covered the cost of Meghan’s private jet back to Blighty). Oprah Winfrey’s best friend Gayle King was also in attendance, along with Meghan’s make-up artist Daniel Martin and her hairstylist Serge Normant. Taking centre stage in oversized sunglasses and an ever growing bump was seven and a half months pregnant Meghan, accompanied only by her royal bodyguards and seemingly no members of the Kensington Palace household staff in tow. So was this the former actress’s way of the reminding the world that she is still very much in control of her own media image? The absence of any palace press officers at what was one of the biggest royal media spectacles of the year has naturally raised eyebrows – not least following reports that William and Harry are to split their households before their move to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor and the birth of baby Sussex in the spring. Last week, Kensington Palace’s communications chief Jason Knauf was forced to deny rumours he will now concentrate only on William and Kate, leaving his deputy Christian Jones to focus on Harry and Meghan amid talk of “tensions” within the household. It comes after five of Meghan’s closest friends – some of whom are thought to have been present at the baby shower – gave intimate interviews with People magazine in the US to “set the record straight” over her troubled relationship with her father Thomas Markle. The cover story, understood to have been tacitly approved by the Duchess without Kensington Palace’s prior knowledge, was considered by some a PR own goal in prompting Mr Markle to release excerpts from a handwritten letter Meghan wrote to him last August. Mr Markle described the letter from his daughter as being not the ‘olive branch’ he hoped for but a ‘dagger to the heart’. Comparisons have inevitably been made to the way Princess Diana kept her closest aides in the dark over her incendiary Panorama interview in 1995, which led to the resignation of her principal adviser. Last week, George Clooney waded into the debate, claiming that Meghan was being “chased, pursued and vilified” like Diana, warning: “We’ve seen how that ends”. While some have questioned the wisdom of Meghan having such a public baby shower amid criticism that her privacy is being invaded by the press, others insist that she is perfectly entitled to celebrate however she wants, especially on home turf. As one royal observer described it: “Here was the old Meg, doing the kind of things she used to do, but just on steroids. It could have only happened in America. There’s no way we would have seen anything like that here in the UK.” It is perhaps worth remembering that when the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister Pippa threw her a baby shower before Prince George was born in 2013, it was held in the confines of the Middleton family home in Bucklebury. While it is understood a party planner was involved, with guests given goodies bags packed with White Company and Jo Malone fare, there was certainly no press pack waiting outside. But unlike Kate’s closest friends, many in Meghan’s inner circle have public profiles to promote – which could go some way to explaining why some of the high-profile guests could not resist a bit of product placement. Even Meghan was at it, wearing a baseball cap to promote Spencer’s new show, Rectify. Her Tamara Mellon boots were perhaps a nod to the presence of the Jimmy Choo co-founder’s publicist Celine Khavarani, who was also at the party. Meanwhile Serena was busy posting images of herself wearing her own clothing range from the bathroom of The Mark and seizing the moment to announce that she is joining online retailer Poshmark’s board of directors. What’s certain is that Meghan appears keen to maintain her own profile in the States. As Sara Nathan, Page Six Features Editor explained, there was no escaping the coverage across the pond: “It was crazy outside the Mark hotel – they had to erect crash barriers for all the fans and photographers – people truly adore her here. She’s their American Duchess. The Americans truly love the royals – and they love that one of their own has joined the family.” That her global appeal is flourishing is no bad thing. But perhaps Meghan might like to make her travel plans a little less Hollywood, and a little more humble, in future.