It doesn’t take much for Meghan Markle – an American divorcée who caught the eye of The People’s Prince – to be described as the new Wallis Simpson. Yet her profligate way with money means that the label is harder to shrug off than ever.
And just like Wallis, who refurbished royal homes from Primrose Hill and Windsor to Paris to her exacting tastes, Meghan has been hard at work with the decorator, too.
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It was revealed this week that Harry and Meghan have spent over €2.6 million renovating Frogmore Cottage, a once-humble abode that the Queen gifted to the couple. Among the property’s new features are an eco-heating system, a ‘floating’ kitchen floor and complete redecoration. What were once five separate houses has now become one large building. Still, officials have insisted that outdated infrastructure was replaced to guarantee the long-term future of the property.
Yet even before Prince Harry uttered the immortal words ‘what Meghan wants, Meghan gets’, tales of the Duchess of Sussex’s luxuriant tastes are legion. She famously wanted to spray fragrance in St George’s Chapel at Windsor to mask the ‘musty’ smell for her wedding (in the end, Dyptique revealed they ‘scented’ the wedding). There was also the $200,000 baby shower, held in a $75,000-a-night (€67,000) penthouse at the Mark Hotel in Manhattan. Reports have estimated that Meghan has worn around €670,000 worth of jewellery in the last 18 months – including her engagement ring, reportedly redesigned so as to invoke more ‘wow’ factor.
It went pretty well with Meghan’s €550,000 maternity wardrobe, and the alleged €440,000 that she spent on 1,661 new items of clothing in 2018 (compared to Kate Middleton’s €76,000 spend).
It was a wardrobe with no shortage of stylish high-points, including the €1,500 Roland Mouret Barwick dress that she wore in Dublin, her trusty Alexander McQueen Grain de Poudre Blazer (€1,390) and the pink dress from House of Nonie (over €700). In February, Meghan’s clothing apparently amounted to more than an estimated €122,000 during her three-day tour of Morocco with Harry alone.
Even royal watchers like the Beeb’s Jennie Bond, more than used to displays of monarchical ostentatiousness, have noted that Meghan needs to curb her fiscal enthusiasm.
Public interest in Meghan is at an all-time high, yet the good vibes are beginning to sour. Much of the backlash around Meghan’s spending has come from commentators that she’s enjoying too lavish a lifestyle at the wrong time. With homelessness a huge issue in the UK (it’s thought over 9,000 people are sleeping rough in the UK every night) a £2.4 million royal refurb bill, picked up by the taxpayer, is a bitter pill.
Similarly, others have made note of cuts to public spending in education and health; the former of which has reportedly been slashed in the UK by £7 billion (€7.8 billion) since 2011 alone.
It’s not entirely dissimilar to the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ spending of some of our own Irish politicians, who espouse austerity in one breath while defending their own enthusiastically flexed expense accounts in the next. Much of the chagrin around Meghan’s new life is that she is mixing too much of her erstwhile lifestyle as a movie star with her current role as what is essentially a public servant.
What’s more, her determination to make a difference to various social causes and issues (among them feminism) has taken a backseat. Working in a communal kitchen alongside Grenfell Tower survivors certainly doesn’t quite make the same impression once you start eyeing those figures. Nor does showing up to meetings with Smart Works, a charity that relies on donated clothes, in an outfit that costs around €6,000.
Glamour is certainly part of the package as a member of the British Royal family – Diana didn’t exactly lark about in Oxfam finds – but it hasn’t been quite as glossy as this. Even Kate Middleton has been careful to ‘recycle’ some of her favourite outfits down the years. And Meghan’s particularly luxe brand of fame and fortune – independently accrued in the US via acting and showbiz – is not an easy bedfellow of the age-old institution of the British monarchy.
“Being royal comes with duties and obligations quite different from those of Hollywood,” notes Prince Harry’s biographer, Angela Levin. “Yet I am not so sure this is something she accepts, unlike her husband.”
Is Meghan likely to let go of her celebrity A-list lifestyle? It’s doubtful, given that her megawatt star power shows little sign of abating. Yet if she and Harry want to be fully restored in the public’s good graces, they’d do well to start doing a little bit of number crunching. ‘Let them eat cake’ isn’t likely to cut it in today’s tempestuous climate.
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