Smiling into the camera like the iconic hooded figure from the Scottish Widows TV adverts, her appearance in the scene was one to savour. But, despite the striking similarities, the then actress Meghan Markle was not shooting a commercial.
She was in Malta researching her roots and the headdress she was wearing was an essential prop.
Her visit to the Mediterranean island was in 2015, a year before she met her future husband Prince Harry, and the trip has since become an essential waypoint in the narrative of the Duchess of Sussex’s life. She later wrote that its purpose was about ‘trying to understand where I came from, my identity’, adding: ‘There is something so lovely about fitting in a piece of the puzzle.’
The Royal Family are bracing for a new biography of Meghan Markle, written by Tom Bowyer, in which he talks to more than 80 people who have known the princess for many years
Smiling into the camera like the iconic hooded figure from the Scottish Widows TV adverts, her appearance in the scene was one to savour. But, despite the striking similarities, the then actress Meghan Markle was not shooting a commercial. She was in Malta researching her roots and the headdress she was wearing was an essential prop.
In a blog post at the time Meghan said: ‘Before I came people were telling me, “When you go to Malta, everyone will look like you”, and I started to say, “Oh, my gosh, I do sort of blend in” and it’s the loveliest of feelings.’
She recalled her Markle grandmother saying that her father’s great-great-great grandmother Mary lived in Malta with a British soldier called Thomas Bird. They married and had a child born in 1862. The story had the added piquant twist that Mary was said to have been employed as a cook at Windsor Castle. A remarkable tale, you might think, for someone who was to marry the Queen’s grandson. But is it true?
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According to the investigative writer Tom Bower, Meghan ‘had no “ancestry” in Malta’. The 19th-century soldier Thomas Bird did marry Mary but in Dublin in 1860 — ‘clearly excluding any employment in Windsor Castle’.
Bird, he says, ‘was posted with his wife to India and briefly to Malta. Soon after a son was born and they moved to Canada, where Thomas died.’
Bower, whose explosive book, Revenge: Meghan, Harry And The War Between The Windsors, is published this week, adds: ‘Thomas Markle would dispute that his mother ever conjured the story about the Markles’ connection to Malta.’
So why does this matter? After all, Meghan is hardly the first person to perhaps over-elaborate a family myth. But to Bower, who has written a string of exposés of famous names, the episode is characteristic of the woman whose marriage to Harry has plunged the monarchy into its greatest crisis since the death of Princess Diana.
Nothing illustrates that more clearly than the competing — and vastly different — family recollections he has uncovered relating to the Los Angeles race riots of 1992. Video emerged of four white policemen beating Rodney King, an African-American motorist, during his arrest for driving while intoxicated the year before.
After the officers were acquitted of assault, large swathes of the city erupted in protest with neighbourhoods torched.
Bower says that Meghan’s father, by then divorced from her mother Doria, took immediate action to protect his ten-year-old daughter. ‘During the afternoon that the riots started he drove with her to Palm Springs,’ he writes.
His ex-wife declined to join them. ‘I feel quite safe,’ she had told Thomas in a telephone conversation.
Bower continues: ‘There are serious doubts that Meghan saw any violence, not even the minor looting near the ABC studio (where Markle worked as a TV lighting engineer). After five days the curfew was lifted and they returned to Los Angeles.’
Thomas Markle, pictured with his daughter, is said to dispute the family’s connection with Malta
The new explosive book disputes whether Meghan Markle witnessed any of the violence following the Rodney King beating at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department
The new book disputes many of the claims made by the Duchess of Sussex, pictured, as author Tom Bowyer speaks with more than 80 people
Yet Meghan’s account, more than 20 years later, was of a different experience. ‘I remember the curfew,’ she said, ‘and I remember rushing back home and on that drive home, seeing ash fall from the sky and smelling the smoke and seeing people run out of buildings carrying bags and looting.’
She said she had seen men in the back of a van holding guns and rifles. ‘Those memories don’t go away,’ she insisted.
Later still, in an interview for Vanity Fair she recalled that as ‘the ash from street fires sifted down on suburban lawns . . . she exclaimed, “Oh my God, mommy, it’s snowing.” “No, Flower,” Doria answered. “It’s not snow. Get in the house.” ’
Bower says Markle was ‘incredulous when he read his daughter’s version of those events.’
Meghan, he claimed, didn’t see Doria for the duration of the riots.
Of all the stories Meghan has promoted about her childhood, few are more familiar than that of the boxed set of Barbie dolls. But even that, according to Tom Bower, is not without dispute.
She recalled ‘fawning over’ them as a seven-year-old. The set, known as the Heart Family, included ‘a mom doll, a dad doll and two children’, which she described as a ‘perfect nuclear family’ sold only in sets of white dolls or black dolls.
Bower claimed Meghan changed outfits between ‘poses’ and brought a fashion photographer on the charity trip to Rwanda
On Christmas morning ‘swathed in glitter-flecked wrapping paper, I found my Heart Family: a black mom doll, a white dad doll, and a child in each colour. My dad had taken the sets apart and customised my family.’
Thomas Markle’s recollection was different. ‘I gave her the dolls at her fourth birthday party in a park with her school friends,’ he said. Pointedly, Bower says that until she publicised the gift 30 years later to illustrate her problems with ‘race’, Markle ‘could not recall Meghan ever mentioning the issue’.
In an article for Elle magazine in 2015, Meghan described how she was asked ‘every week of her life, often every day’ what she was and where she came from. Her father tells Bower: ‘Race was never an issue throughout Meghan’s childhood or her years in Hollywood. I was surprised when she brought it up.’
Bower claims Meghan flew to Rwanda first class and was accompanied by fashion photographer Gabor Jurina
The book also focuses on another key moment that Meghan has made much of in interviews both before and after she met Harry. It is the saga about her protest over a Procter & Gamble (P&G) advert for washing-up liquid.
Aged 11 she wrote to P&G, as well as to the then First Lady Hillary Clinton, complaining about the way the sexist ad stereotyped women with its strapline ‘Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans’.
After weeks of protest the giant corporation changed the word ‘women’ to ‘people’. For years Meghan has used the story as her first success as an aspiring activist.
Bower claims that when the Duchess received no reply from Procter & Gamble or Clinton, her father wrote follow-up letters ‘demanding’ that they acknowledge his daughter but that ‘nothing happened’. Significantly, when it was unable to prove that Mrs Clinton had responded to her letter, Vanity Fair removed the reference from its 2018 interview.
According to her father, Bower says, both Mrs Clinton and Procter & Gamble ignored Meghan’s letters. To Bower, this embellishing of her background was an essential ingredient of the trajectory of Meghan’s life story and how she has controlled it.
Or is it, to borrow the Queen’s memorable phrase after Harry and Meghan used their Oprah Winfrey interview to claim there was a racist in the Royal Family, that ‘recollections may vary’?
Writing in his new book Revenge, Tom Bower detailed how the Duchess of Sussex was invited on the trip in January 2016 by World Vision Canada to be part of a film to promote the charity’s work building water wells in the African country
One part of the Meghan narrative is that as a schoolgirl she had to take a $4-an-hour job at a yoghurt shop in Beverly Hills and ‘grew up on the $4.99 salad bar at Sizzler’, a U.S. fast-food chain. Her father, says Bower, ‘is emphatic’. He quotes him saying: ‘She never worked when she was at school. I would not have allowed it. And she didn’t need to.’
As for her diet, she did not survive on Sizzler food. ‘She ate farm-fresh food and loved fish tacos,’ Bower writes. Over more than 400 pages, Bower ruthlessly pulls apart the carefully constructed image of a woman he labels ‘self-centred, manipulative and demanding’.
Many working on the advertising campaign she was hired to front as the face of Reitmans, Canada’s largest women’s clothing retailer, might be tempted to agree. They complained she was ‘a bully filled with a narcissist entitlement complex’
He likens her to Rachel Zane, the ambitious character she played in the cable TV series Suits that brought her fame, a ‘sexy’, ‘shallow’ ‘fashionista’.
Not that Harry comes out much better. He is, in Bower’s words, ‘spoiled, badly educated, simple-minded and demanding’. Together, the biographer says, they are ‘agents of destruction’.
But it is Meghan who is the scheming focus. Page after page drips with what he claims are examples of her diva behaviour. Some of it is familiar, of course, from newspaper accounts and other books.
A story first related by the Mail’s Rebecca English of seeing one royal aide with tears running down her face during the Sussexes’ overseas tour of Fiji, for example, is part of the misery endured by the Kensington Palace staff assigned to look after her as she adjusted to royal life.
They were not the only ones exasperated. According to the book, one of the Queen’s longest-serving aides warned that the Sussex marriage would ‘all end in tears’. Lady Susan Hussey, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen since 1960, is alleged to have made the comment at a lunch with a group of theatre executives a few months before the couple got married.
Bower writes: ‘While discussing the possibility that Meghan might become linked with the National Theatre after the wedding, Hussey became unexpectedly serious about the couple’s future. “That will all end in tears,” she is alleged to have warned. “Mark my words.”’
Lady Susan, 83, was said to have been part of a Palace team directed to help the duchess settle into life within the Royal Family. She was said to have visited the duchess at Nottingham Cottage, the home she shared with Harry in the grounds of Kensington Palace, to offer help and advice, the book claims.
In response, the American–born actress was said to be ‘insistent’ that she would not allow Buckingham Palace to shape her, dictate her thoughts or activities.
Bower, who is best known for his unauthorised biographies of Britain’s most controversial tycoons such as Robert Maxwell, Richard Branson and Mohamed Al-Fayed, has approached the Harry and Meghan story with the steady gaze of the investigator, interviewing more than 80 people in the U.S., Canada, Britain and Ireland. ‘All the revelations,’ he says, ‘are from eye-witnesses’.
Meghan Markle ‘used a charity trip to Rwanda as a backdrop for a fashion shoot’ after bringing ‘suitcases of clothes’ and ‘insisting’ she could bring a Canadian photographer with her, an explosive biography has claimed today
Some are tantalising. He claims that the Queen was relieved that the Duchess of Sussex did not attend Prince Philip’s funeral in April last year. ‘Thank goodness Meghan is not coming,’ he reports the monarch saying ‘in a clear voice to her trusted aides.’
Buckingham Palace has declined to comment on this or other claims Bower makes and there has been silence — so far — from the California-based Sussexes. Some are bound to be upset at his brutal assessment of Meghan’s character but there will be those who find his account of her berating Harry’s old friends during a shooting weekend convincing.
According to Bower, soon after the couple’s relationship was revealed Harry invited his then girlfriend to a Sandringham shoot. ‘Harry was looking forward to endless banter, jokes — and a lot of drinking,’ Bower writes. ‘He had not anticipated Meghan’s reaction.
He claims that as jokes involving sexism, feminism and transgender people ‘ricocheted around the living rooms and dining rooms . . . Meghan challenged every guest whose conversation contravened her values.’
According to the friends, says Bower, she ‘reprimanded them about the slightest inappropriate nuance’. They later exchanged texts saying: ‘OMG what about HER . . .’ And ‘Harry must be f****** nuts . . .’
As for her behaviour at the Jamaica wedding of Harry’s friend Tom Inskip, it is described as ‘princessy’. She quibbled about the food and refused to engage with Harry’s friends.
Bower’s forensic examination also homes in on the duchess’s role as a campaigner and humanitarian. And this, according to him, is also suspect. ‘Her apparent all-consuming passion for the empowerment of women was in reality focused on self-promotion and the empowerment of Meghan Markle,’ he concludes.
Her exacting style was not to everyone’s taste. London literary agent Adrian Sington, who met her to discuss a book proposal based on her lifestyle blog The Tig, was distraught by the behaviour he witnessed. He says he saw a young woman reduced to tears by what she called the duchess’s ‘passive aggressive tone’.
When the book project collapsed, Sington told Meghan’s then agent Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne: ‘She’s one of the most unpleasant people we’ve ever dealt with.’
Many working on the advertising campaign she was hired to front as the face of Reitmans, Canada’s largest women’s clothing retailer, might be tempted to agree. They complained she was ‘a bully filled with a narcissist entitlement complex’.
Unhappy with the suite hired for her in a Montreal hotel, she demanded a bigger one at a more expensive hotel. She also insisted that she be booked under an alias even though, as Bower writes, ‘no one in French-speaking Montreal really knew Meghan’.
Inside the hotel room, ‘ignoring the flower displays, bottles of her favourite wine and even a special calligraphy pen carefully laid out on the tables, she criticised the hotel’s Tempur-Pedic bathrobe and slippers,’ Bower says. ‘She wanted Dior. The tea was the wrong blend and the vegan juice was warm.’
To satisfy another demand, the advertising staff’s wardrobe team purchased a pair of expensive Aquazzura beige suede shoes. But from her dressing room Meghan was heard complaining about the production, the clothes, the style and the script.
Asked during filming to name Canadian women who inspired her, she laughed and asked for examples. ‘None of them inspires me,’ she replied. ‘You can’t make me say something I don’t want to or don’t believe in.’ One of the production team, Jean Malek posted on Facebook: ‘She is definitely the meanest person I’ve ever met. Just saying.’
When filming was over, Bower says Meghan ‘forgot to leave behind the Aquazzura shoes’.
In post-production of the commercials, Meghan ‘sent countless demands about changes to the colour of her lipstick and her waistline’. One request related to some open-toe sandals she was wearing was said to have generated particular mirth’.
‘Please fix my feet for me,’ she wrote. ‘I get slaughtered online for [sic] people picking apart my feet, sadly. There’s a scar on my left foot + my right foot isn’t the prettiest (long toe etc) . . .’
When the dust settled the ad was a success and Meghan spoke of her face being splashed on billboards across Canada as life-changing.
But she had only just begun. The real life-changing moment came when she married Prince Harry, ushering in the most polarising chapter in recent royal life.
- Revenge: Meghan, Harry And The War Between The Windsors by Tom Bower is published by Blink Publishing at £22.