Oddly enough, this is not the first Royal book to feature the word ‘Finding’ in its title.
Back in 2011, the Duchess of York published Finding Sarah: A Duchess’s Journey to Find Herself. Dedicated both to ‘Oprah who pulled me out of the darkness’ and to ‘my dearest Andrew who holds on to the Real Sarah’, Finding Sarah came sprinkled with words of ‘Wisdom from the Duchess’. Each chapter was prefaced with a breezy truism, generally based on the sky, or flying, or both. ‘The clouds pass but the sky stays’; ‘We have the power to choose where we fly, and how high’; ‘The lighter you travel, the farther and higher you can go’.
Did Meghan Markle read Finding Sarah? I only ask because when she launched her own website two years later, she went in for the same sort of airy philosophizing, sandwiched between plugs for moisturizers and scented candles: ‘Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself’; ‘Being yourself is the prettiest thing a person can be.’
Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family kicks off with a quote in the same vein, from Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’ Along with much else in the book, this choice of quote from the 19th Century guru of the self-trust, self-love movement has Meghan’s fingerprints all over it.
Though the authors deny taking dictation from Meghan, they keep dropping giant hints that this is indeed the case. ‘As a rule, no member of the British Royal Family is officially allowed to authorise a biography…’ reads their coy introduction. But why say ‘as a rule’ or ‘officially’ if you are not signaling an exception? Naturally, the next sentence begins, ‘However…’ Similarly, in their authors’ note at the end, they boast of having spoken with ‘close friends of Harry and Meghan… and, when appropriate, the couple themselves.’ ‘When appropriate’ looks like a get-out clause to me. After all, if you are writing a biography of a couple, when would speaking to them be inappropriate? I may be wrong, but my guess is that whenever they ascribe a quote to ‘a source close to Meghan’, that source is really Meghan herself.
On the very last page, they tell us that: ‘Above all, the couple want to continue with what they have always set out to do: empowering others.’ ‘To accentuate, celebrate, and get people to recognise their place in both the world and in the communities around them,’ a source close to Meghan said. As it happens, a source close to this reviewer says that this is all gobbledegook.
Did Meghan Markle read Finding Sarah? I only ask because when she launched her own website, she went in for the same sort of airy philosophizing.
As a whole, Finding Freedom focuses largely on Meghan; Harry remains a shadowy figure, by turns malleable and prickly, and increasingly ‘furious’ at perceived snubs to Meghan. But no detail about Meghan is considered too irrelevant for inclusion. We hear, for instance, that she is ‘the type of girl to grab a smoothie after a hot yoga or Pilates session’ and that ‘her morning ritual’ starts ‘with a cup of hot water and a slice of lemon, followed by her favourite breakfast of steel-cut oats (usually made with almond or soy milk) with bananas and agave syrup for sweetness.’ Hold the front page!
Clothes and makeup are given due prominence, not least on the day of the wedding, when her makeup artist, Daniel, wants ‘the right look: natural but effervescent, almost ‘lit from within’.’ Working with none other than ‘Julia Roberts’s long-time hairstylist, Serge Normant,’ Daniel ‘gave Meghan a dewy glow with a mix of toner, moisturiser, a sunscreen primer, and just a spot treatment of foundation on her T-Zone’, whatever that may be. He then ‘finished up by smudging chestnut, cocoa and rust shadows on to her lids, lining her eyes, and applying lashes to the corners’.
In many ways, this is an old-fashioned Royal book, full of fluff and gush, in which nothing is so banal that it cannot be glorified by the Royal touch. Gooey descriptions of dresses are followed by even gooier descriptions of food. At the wedding reception, Harry and Meghan and their guests tuck into ‘exquisitely presented canapes of Scottish langoustines wrapped in smoked salmon with citrus creme fraiche, grilled English asparagus wrapped in Cumbrian ham, garden pea panna cotta with quail eggs and lemon verbena, and poached free-range chicken bound with a lightly spiced yogurt with roasted apricot’.
In their joint ITV interview on the announcement of their engagement, Meghan employed the touchy-feely language of Californian mindfulness. She spoke of ‘a learning curve’, ‘investing time and energy to make it happen’, ‘nurturing our relationship’ and ‘focusing on who we are as a couple’.
The language Harry used was quite different. Still fresh from the Army, he spoke of Meghan’s entrance into the Royal Family as though it were a military maneuver; she would be a useful addition to the team. ‘For me, it’s an added member of the family. It’s another team player as part of the bigger team, and you know for all of us, what we want to do is be able to carry out the right engagements, carry out our work and try and encourage others in the younger generation to be able to see the world in the correct sense.’
There is none of this old-fashioned stiff-upper-lip, steady-as-she-goes stuff in Finding Freedom. Nowadays, Harry talks like Meghan. Without meaning to, the authors make it clear that Windsor has been colonized by California. ‘The couple were both fans of self-help books, with Harry counting Eight Steps To Happiness as a favourite, while Meghan read The Motivation Manifesto.’ Furthermore, ‘Meghan expanded Harry’s spiritual world, introducing him to yoga through her own practice and buying him a book on mindfulness that, like all her gifts, came with a handwritten note.’
Theirs is a world populated by celebrities, public relations maestros, skin-care gurus, energy healers and ‘brand ambassadors’. Incidentally, Meghan herself was once a ‘brand ambassador’ for Ralph Lauren. Idris Elba agrees to DJ at the wedding; the Clooneys fly the happy couple to Lake Como in their private jet; Serena Williams hosts ‘a star-studded baby shower’, at which ‘approximately 20 of Meghan’s closest friends’, including ‘NBC cable entertainment chief Bonnie Hammer’… dine on a menu prepared by the ‘Michelin-starred’ chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten while an equally renowned harpist plays in the background. When Archie is born, ‘Ellen DeGeneres and wife Portia de Rossi… stopped by’. Inevitably, Fergie’s old mentor Oprah Winfrey ‘reaches out’ to Meghan’s mom.
Would Oprah have ‘reached out’ to Doria Ragland if she wasn’t Meghan’s mom? It seems doubtful.
“Julia Roberts’s long-time hairstylist … gave Meghan a dewy glow with … a spot treatment of foundation on her T-Zone,” whatever that may be.
In this fluffy, fuzzy world, the boundaries are blurred between virtue and fame, between commerce and philanthropy, between friendship and networking, between the authentic and the artificial.
We are informed that as a sexy young actress in the Toronto-based TV series Suits, Meghan entered ‘an exciting, fizzy social scene filled with high-profile charity events, the openings of new hotspots, fabulous restaurants and fancy friends like Michael Bublé. Developing her shopping-and-gushing lifestyle website Tig – ‘a place to curate all her passions (food, fashion and travel as well as social issues such as gender equality) filtered through an ‘aspirational girl-next-door vibe’ – she would ‘reach out’ to useful strangers, assisted by ‘London-based PR firm Kruger Cowne’. Meanwhile, ‘she began commanding cash – upward of $10,000 an appearance – to turn up at red carpets’. In a speedy aside, the authors sheepishly admit that ‘Meghan, before she met Harry, had occasionally set up a paparazzi photo here and there or let info slip out to the press’.
In time, some of her sparkly new friends, acquired through social media, had to be let go. In his largely adoring 2018 biography of Meghan, Andrew Morton revealed that after launching Tig in 2013, Meghan got in touch with Ivanka Trump, who was ‘one of her female idols’. Meghan was ‘thrilled when she accepted her invitation to meet for drinks and dinner the next time Meghan was in New York’. And so began a bout of vigorous back-scratching. ‘Don’t get me started on her jewellery collection: the late-night ‘window shopping’ I have done on my computer, snuggled up in bed with a glass of wine, staring longingly at her beautiful designs,’ wrote Meghan of Ivanka. ‘When we have drinks, I will make sure I order whatever she does – because this woman seems to have the formula for success and happiness down pat.’
The authors of Finding Freedom conveniently airbrush Ivanka from the record, perhaps fearful that the Trump formula for success and happiness might jar against Harry and Meghan’s new mission to ‘build a humanitarian legacy that will make a profound difference in the world’.
The first two-thirds of Finding Freedom cover the Cinderella-ish tale of the hometown girl, remembered for ‘her willingness to help others and her drive to excel’. She rises to become one of 26 briefcase models in 34 episodes of the American version of Deal or No Deal before popping up in an episode of the TV series 90210 in which ‘her character, Wendy… was caught giving oral sex to playboy student Ethan Ward in a school parking lot’.
Happily, Cinderella escapes this life of drudgery when she lands a starring role in Suits, her springboard into a world in which celebrities share their ‘visions’, which tend to involve a heavenly mix of social issues and luxury goods. On a self-promotional trip to London, she tweets Piers Morgan, whom she has never met. ‘I’m in London for a week of meetings and Wimbledon. Would love to say hi!’
Later that evening, she meets Prince Harry for the first time, before returning to her hotel. Though ‘she had been offered a heavily discounted stay at the five-star Dorchester Hotel’, she plumps for a ‘luxurious room’ secured by her ‘pal’ Markus Anderson, Soho House’s global membership director. Harry and Meghan fall in love. ‘She was smart, independent, adventurous, optimistic and beautiful. But perhaps most important to Harry, Meghan came across as authentic.’
The authors sheepishly admit that “Meghan, before she met Harry, had occasionally set up a paparazzi photo here and there.”
But for Harry and Meghan, every silver lining has an authentic cloud. The last third of the book makes way for an ever-expanding series of disappointments. First, ‘according to sources’, William advises Harry: ‘Don’t feel you need to rush this. Take as much time as you need to get to know this girl.’ Harry, thin-skinned at the best of times, is duly infuriated. ‘In those last two words, ‘this girl’, Harry heard the tone of snobbishness that was anathema to his approach to the world.’ In the months that follow, the brothers barely speak, and Kate does ‘little to bridge the divide’. From then on, the world always proves unequal to the high standards set for it by Harry and Meghan. Hooked on social media, they take speedy offense at any disapproving comment.
When no offense is available, the authors of Finding Freedom duly invent it: for instance, they say Meghan was ‘lambasted’ by the press for wearing trousers to the Endeavour Fund Awards, when the records show she was applauded; equally, they say the couple were ‘pummelled with criticism’ on their first trip to Wales, when in fact they were praised.
Yet Harry and Meghan got into a spiral of hurt and fury about even the tiniest of misunderstandings. ‘One story had her demanding spray-bottle air fresheners for her wedding day to spritz around ‘musty’ St George’s Chapel… The truth was that the discreet Baies scented air diffusers for the chapel provided by Diptyque… had been okayed by all parties involved.’ They then became even more hurt and furious when corrections were not issued, sensing a Palace conspiracy to downgrade them. To adapt Enoch Powell’s old aphorism about politicians: ‘For a Royal to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea.’
Instead, as we all know, their solution was to stomp off to pursue their ‘vision’ abroad, full of fresh fury at having to relinquish their Royal patronages. ‘Harry didn’t want to be in his brother’s shadow,’ argue the authors. But, like it or not, being in your brother’s shadow is the job description for the second son born into a hereditary monarchy. And Harry’s life is fated to become even more shadowy: having been born third in line to the throne, he is now sixth, behind little Prince Louis, and he is likely to end up in the low twenties.
Will Harry and Meghan really Find Freedom in California? Or will they end up like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, toy-town Royals, living in ghostly exile, dreaming of the way things might have been?