There is an old saying in Hollywood that you are only as good as your last hit.
So when Meghan Markle made a triumphant return to the red carpet last week at the prestigious Power Of Women gala, alongside stars such as Margot Robbie, Carey Mulligan and Leo DiCaprio, the significance was lost on no one.
It has been nearly a year since the Sussexes’ company, Archewell Productions, released the controversial six-part series, Harry & Meghan, on Netflix.
The show covered their relationship from courtship to quitting as senior Royals, and remains Netflix’s highest-rated documentary debut.
But a year is a lifetime in Hollywood.
Since that show, Archewell has struggled to find a follow-up hit. A series about world leaders, Live To Lead, was a ratings flop. A show about Harry’s ‘passion project’, the Invictus Games – named Heart Of Invictus – was deemed ‘worthy but dull’ by critics.
Meghan’s children’s cartoon series Pearl was cancelled and then the couple’s $20 million podcast deal with Spotify was canned ingloriously, with one executive branding the couple ‘grifters’.
This all made Meghan’s ‘surprise’ appearance at Thursday’s power-packed dinner the more meaningful. The Duchess, 42, beamed as she told how she was ‘thrilled’ to be back home in LA, adding: ‘We have so many exciting things on the slate. I can’t wait until we can announce them but I’m just really proud of what we’re creating. My husband is loving it too, which is really fun.’
In a town where image is everything, Meghan’s solo appearance – casually elegant in a £1,250 one-shouldered Proenza Schouler gown – is the start of what the MoS has been told is a ‘strategic effort’ to relaunch her as a power player in her own right.
It has been nearly a year since the Sussexes’ company, Archewell Productions, released the controversial six-part series, Harry & Meghan, on Netflix. But a year is a lifetime in Hollywood
When Meghan Markle made a triumphant return to the red carpet last week at the prestigious Power Of Women gala the significance was lost on no one
It is, some believe, a calculated attempt to mute persistent rumours that Netflix is planning to ‘quietly allow’ its $100 million deal with the Sussexes to lapse when their contract ends in 2025 – which could signal a death-knell to their Hollywood ambitions.
Eric Schiffer, who runs one of Hollywood’s leading crisis management firms, said: ‘It’s clearly time for a relaunch of Brand Sussex, and Meghan’s solo appearance speaks volumes about the direction they are headed.
‘The past year hasn’t been great for them. It doesn’t matter to studio executives if you are a duchess or a doorman, it’s about the bottom line, and Archewell needs a hit badly.
‘There was a lot of sympathy for the Sussexes when they first arrived in the States, but they have squandered that goodwill. Americans don’t like whingers. We like a can-do attitude, and that’s what Meghan demonstrated last week. She hit that red carpet like the pro she is and she worked the room.
‘I’m convinced that this is about positioning her as an independent, powerful woman who exists in her own right, not just as someone who is famous for marrying a Prince.’
Schiffer believes Meghan’s appearance was ‘stage-managed down to the smallest detail’, adding: ‘Professionally, she seems to be ditching Harry and going it alone.’
Indeed, from the moment Meghan arrived at the event at Mother Wolf in LA – a celebrity hangout favoured by stars such as Beyoncé and Madonna – her every move appeared to be carefully choreographed.
She was photographed with two of the most powerful women in Hollywood: Janet Yang, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the organisation behind the Oscars) and Pearlena Igbokwe, who runs Universal Studios.
Meghan was at a table in the centre of the room, near to Leo DiCaprio, and sat next to her ‘uber agent’ Brad Slater, who also handles the career of actor Ben Affleck.
Meghan apart, media coverage of the event, which kicks off Hollywood’s awards season, concentrated on Oscars favourites. The Duchess, who had nothing specific to promote apart from her brand, was not on the official guest list.
For Hollywood, though, the $64,000 question is: What will the Sussexes do next?
‘The truth is that a lot of people think the couple have blown it,’ an executive at a major Hollywood studio told me. ‘In Hollywood, Harry is viewed as someone stuck in the past and consumed by grudges. Meghan is still able to get a lot of attention but the challenge for her now is about translating that attention into cold, hard cash.
Meghan’s children’s cartoon series Pearl was cancelled and then the couple’s $20 million podcast deal with Spotify was canned ingloriously, with one executive branding the couple ‘grifters’
The Sussexes have been pilloried for their perceived hypocrisy in taking private jets while preaching eco-tourism
In a town where image is everything, Meghan’s solo appearance is the start of what the MoS has been told is a ‘strategic effort’ to relaunch her as a power player in her own right
‘It is very telling that the only big success they’ve had is when they trash Harry’s family, like they did in the Oprah interview, the Netflix series and Harry’s book. When they came to LA there was a lot of excitement, but now the feeling is, what do they have left to sell?’
Such a critical analysis may be fair but it ignores the fact that there is still a huge amount of dazzle that surrounds the couple. Though they are not spared the kind of bitchy comments that are part of the lifeblood in Hollywood.
It is very telling that their only big success is trashing Harry’s family
The Sussexes have been pilloried for their perceived hypocrisy in taking private jets while preaching eco-tourism, and for calling for privacy while seemingly invading their own – and that of the Royal Family – in interviews.
TV series South Park devoted an episode to poking fun at the Sussexes, depicting them heading on a ‘Worldwide Privacy Tour’.
Animated sitcom Family Guy mocked the couple’s $100 million Netflix deal, portraying Harry and Meghan sitting on sun-loungers outside their $14.5 million Montecito mansion. In the episode a butler presents the Prince with his mail, saying: ‘Sir, your millions from Netflix for… no one knows what.’
So it is no wonder that, on Thursday night, Meghan heralded what she called ‘upcoming projects’.
But what exactly are these ‘exciting things’? The world is no wiser than it was last year when she told The Cut, an online magazine, that she was returning to Instagram and was ‘ready for her next act’.
There have been leaks, some claim by ‘Team Sussex’, which suggest Meghan is on the brink of major endorsement deals with companies such as Dior and Chanel – but none have yet materialised.
Meanwhile, the Duchess has posted a five-star review on the website of the online coffee brand Clevr Blends, a company she invested in in 2020.
Under a photograph of Meghan with CEO Hannah Mendoza, the Duchess wrote of the powdered latte drinks: ‘One of my favourite ways to start and end each day.’ The endorsement appeared below a discount offer for Black Friday. Promoting a drink is a long distance from Meghan’s reported political aspirations, which appear to have stalled.
When she and Harry moved to LA in 2020, they had a meeting with California governor Gavin Newsom, a potential Democratic candidate in next year’s US presidential election, during which Meghan expressed her desire to become more politically involved.
The couple were also wooed by the Kennedy family, who gave them an award for their work on ‘combating institutionalised racism’ within the Royals.
Meghan’s friend, veteran feminist Gloria Steinem, has privately said the one-time Suits actress has a ‘brilliant’ understanding of politics and is encouraging her to hit the campaign trail in support of the Democratic Party next year. A major Democratic donor said: ‘I wouldn’t dismiss Meghan’s political aspirations, but she’s very much focused on her producing career right now.’
The Sussexes have been viewing properties in the LA area as they want to have a base closer to Hollywood’s studios
The Duchess has lost a reported 15 lb in the past few months and is loving life in Montecito, where she regularly drives son Archie to school
Others are more positive. For them, Meghan’s red carpet foray solidifies the fact she is thriving back in her home state of California, where she was raised
Meghan is currently producing Archewell Productions’ adaptation of Carley Fortune’s bestselling novel Meet Me At The Lake for Netflix. Though in its early stages, Meghan is said to be ‘actively involved’ in all aspects of the project, from budget to casting.
Kinsey Schofield, an LA-based royal podcaster, believes Meghan missed a golden opportunity last week to announce the next stepping stone in her career. ‘Meghan has always chased the spotlight that Harry resents. She wants to be a Hollywood power player.
‘It seemed odd that she didn’t use the gala to promote something significant. It made her appearance look like yet another frivolous photo op.’
Others are more positive. For them, Meghan’s red carpet foray solidifies the fact she is thriving back in her home state of California, where she was raised.
Her father, Thomas Markle, an Emmy award-winning lighting director, said: ‘It doesn’t surprise me that she’s come back to something she knows. She hasn’t been very successful at other endeavours, so she’s now banking on her knowledge of Hollywood to save her bacon.’
The Duchess has lost a reported 15 lb in the past few months and is loving life in Montecito, where she regularly drives son Archie to school and was photographed taking daughter Lilibet trick-or-treating for Halloween. Longtime friends, such as Suits co-star Abigail Spencer, are regular visitors, as is her mother Doria.
The Sussexes have been viewing properties in the LA area as they want to have a base closer to Hollywood’s studios. And there are rumours they would love to have a third child, even though Harry has previously said they would have no more than two children to save the planet from over-population.
Back in 2019, Meghan famously told ITV’s Tom Bradby: ‘It is not enough to just survive something, right? That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive. You’ve got to feel happy.’
Hollywood entrepreneur Mr Schiffer said: ‘Meghan has a plan. Whatever your opinion of her, you have to admit she does look terrific. She’s clearly thriving.
‘But maybe it’s time for someone to ask Harry if he’s OK, too.’