Meghan’s R6m baby shower: The queen’s eyebrows must’ve gone into orbit
Can she have her cake and eat it? Or is this a great big 'let them eat cake' flung in the face of her royal charities?
Five days and an estimated R6m later, the Duchess of Sussex last week 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 candyfloss machine and R2,750 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 R1m-a-night (yes, you read that correctly, one million rand) penthouse suite; a two-floor set of rooms boasting five bedrooms, two bars, a conservatory, a library and a terrace so large that it hosts small weddings. The seven-time Wimbledon winner, worth a rumoured R2,5bn, 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 R280,000 a night in what was described as her “last hurrah” before joining the royal matriarchy.
More reserved Brits may well balk 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 Antoinette; not to mention the palace-versus-planet conundrum, in which royalty espouses the 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 an eco-royal and ardent philanthropist while zipping across the globe on hundreds-of-thousand-dollar trips?
Her Majesty’s subjects tend to prefer their royalty 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 princess 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 had originally appeared incognito 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 that Abigail Spencer, Meghan’s former Suits co-star, was conspicuously holding when she posted an Instagram selfie en route to the festivities, captioned: “On the road again.”
Amal Clooney, who arrived in a red jumpsuit as the snow started to fall, apparently covered the cost of Meghan’s private jet back to Blighty. Gayle King, Oprah Winfrey’s best friend, was also in attendance, along with Meghan’s make-up artist and hairstylist. 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 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, Jason Knauf, Kensington Palace’s communications chief, 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. 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 Thomas Markle to release excerpts from a handwritten letter Meghan wrote to him last August.
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.
Recently, 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.”
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 Celine Khavarani, the Jimmy Choo co-founder’s publicist, 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 announcing 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 in the US: “It was crazy outside The Mark – 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.
– © The Daily Telegraph