The best biographies need meat on their bones, and preferably the gift of perspective. It’s hard to deliver either one on a subject like Meghan Markle, who hasn’t even been a household name for two years, and so right now mostly seems to inspire either slavish admiration or deep resentment in the few people who are willing to discuss her. You’re unlikely to get anyone with much to offer that isn’t at one of the extremes: either “I adore her,” or, “We no longer speak.”
And, given the newness of her fame and how quickly Meghan rocketed to it, it’s therefore a bit hard to trust these sources. Obviously, that’s always an issue in any story like this. But rushing to market, as Andrew Morton has with his new book Meghan, is going to draw out mostly the extremes. So it’s hard to parse. Are the gushing ones acting hyper-protectively, to try and offset the ones with Bitter Beer Face who are doing little but wail? Are the latter merely courting headlines for personal gain, because human nature means people are more likely to click on “Meghan Markle Is The Worst” than “Meghan Markle Is My Hero”? Usually the truth is somewhere in the middle, but we don’t have the volume of information nor the perspective to weigh that. In ten years, there will be a very well-researched volume on her that collects sources from a much wider walk of life and range of events. Those people just aren’t there now, and it’s likely because the people who truly know her and would have no ulterior motive either way are either not sensational enough to attract attention, or simply far too sensible to open their mouths during a high pressure time.
It’s a very light read, then. Not much protein. It’s like trying to scratch an itch by pouring water onto it. And in the end, I don’t think the book is going to change anyone’s mind about her — whatever your feelings were going in will probably be the same coming out — and nor does it offer anything that doesn’t seem like it was filled in fancifully from blanks in her Wikipedia page and a vigorous Googling. Let’s run it down, shall we?
Samantha Markle Grant Has Always Been A Freaking PIECE OF WORK, Y’all. Samantha is Meghan’s half-sister — Thomas Markle’s daughter from his first marriage — who is infamous for griping to the media about Meghan at almost every turn, pitching a book about their childhood called The Secret Diary of Princess Pushy and then loudly wondering why she isn’t invited to the wedding, and finally changing the title to A Tale of Two Sisters in the hopes of being included. She still is not. NO KIDDING.
Of the woman whose given name is Yvonne, we learn:
– When her brother Tom Junior got the room she’d wanted in their Woodland Hills house, Yvonne/Samantha was so jealous that she basically STABBED HIS NEW WATERBED until it died. Morton quotes Tom: “If she didn’t get what she wanted out of you, she was your worst nightmare.”
– Her own mother says Yvonne was “not a tolerant young woman” and a few people recall her referring to Meghan’s mother Doria as being their maid.
– She bought the Satanic Bible and put an altar in her bedroom and drew a pentagram in lipstick on a Bible belonging to one of Tom Junior’s colleagues.
– She resented Meghan’s arrival, and felt that the new baby impeded her father’s ability to milk acting work for her out of his friends. She also refused to babysit, which makes me laugh, but also totally flies in the face of her notion that she and Meghan were ever that close.
– She has been largely out of Meghan’s life until it suited her not to be: She immediately badmouthed Meghan to the press, and now is saying things like, “Whether near or far, sisters are still sisters.” RIGHT.
There’s Not Much New About Harry and Meghan’s Courtship. It’s all basically fleshed out imaginings based on news reports and their own comments. This is the kind of thing that a little patience might have delivered.
One of His Big Sources Is Meghan’s High-School Bestie. This seems like a good get, right? But after a while it starts to feel like there’s an agenda. For example, there are a lot of details thrown in from those years that don’t go anywhere, and are pointless except to paint her in a slightly shallow light. Most of those are stories involving her pal Nikki — he mentions Meghan and Nikki filming themselves driving around in WeHo and laughing that they could walk naked down the streets and no one would care, which Morton chides as dismissive of California’s entire gay population — and thus you can assume she was the source, and feel shoehorned in by the author. Morton nearly always refers to Nikki as “the women Meghan viewed as her sister,” over and over, even when it wasn’t necessary, and I started to wonder why that was until I realized it’s meant to pay off later as an insult to Meghan, in which he describes something he calls “The Meghan Chill”:
She no longer had the time for friends she had known for years, cancelling lunches at short notice or expecting them to rework their own schedules to accommodate the busy life of the rising star. A networker to her fingertips, she seemed to be carefully recalibrating her life, forging new friendships with those who could burnish and develop her career.
I could almost guarantee you Nikki was a source of that story, even though Morton does not cite her, and instead simply presents it as widespread fact. It also explains why he — and thus she — might have hit so hard the detail that they were close like sisters. And maybe it’s true, bu filming a TV show is enormously hard and consuming work, also, and Meghan is allowed to try and make friends in the city where she lives and labors. It’s absurd to think people are required to have maintained their childhood friendships, and even the book reads as if Meghan was closer with her Northwestern friends after college. So. Bitter Beer Face, y’all.
And when Nikki weighs in on the demise of the Trevor Engleson marriage, she’s quoted as saying how calculated she thinks Meghan is in relationships, and how cold she can be when she decides you’re not part of her life. All things that echo that unattributed statement above, which leads me to think she’s the single source of it even though it’s not presented as being from any one person’s point of view. Never mind that there might be another side to the story of why Nikki isn’t Meghan’s bosom friend anymore; Morton never seems to try and find it. He’d much rather go with this angle. Even if her take is true, it doesn’t feel like he turned over too many stones in trying to suss it out.
He does at least, at the end, dig at Nikki for selling their childhood photos, noting that Meghan could have counted on more loyalty. That’s actually one very weird thing about the book…
Morton Swings Back And Forth A Bit on Meghan: As you’ll read below, there are times he’s poking at her in almost a petty way, and then he’ll swing around and lavish praise on her. The final chapters are pretty complete in their praise of her poise and merits, even comparing her favorably to Diana, which is a tonally jarring switch from some of the other needling.
Meghan Overplayed It A Bit In Her Engagement Interview, Which We All Had Guessed. The most widely reported preview of this book is the bit in which Meghan is described as weeping openly at the TV coverage of Princess Diana’s funeral, growing fascinated with Diana’s style and humanitarian bona fides, and receiving Morton’s Diana, Her True Story, as a gift. And guess who chimes in with this? Childhood Sisterish Person Nikki: “She was always fascinated with the Royal Family. She wants to be Princess Diana 2.0.”
That runs slightly counter to the engagement interview, in which Meghan implied she knew absolutely nothing about Prince Harry at all. My theory is, Meghan obviously knew who Prince Harry was and about his mother, but hadn’t run into any of the salacious gossip, like the heinous Nazi costume or the naked Vegas partying or even the Ryan Lochte stuff. And knowing she was up against naysayers who’d think she was in it for the title, she wanted to make it clear that she wasn’t a Prince Harry stalker, and in doing so she inadvertently veered a little too far onto the other side of the road.
The Media Has Gone Nuts With The Rags-to-Riches Angle. The papers want so badly to make Meghan a girl from some quintessentially rough ‘hood of Los Angeles; the British media were so offensive about this, and the various stereotypes they chose to use to advance this narrative, that it prompted Harry to ask them to lay the hell off. In reality, Morton charts her life pretty well through some great areas. Her parents lived in Woodland Hills, a very nice Valley suburb, and she went to a) The Little Red Schoolhouse, which costs $18,000 now for nursery school and only goes up from there, and which is full of celebrity kids; and b) Immaculate Heart, a well-respected Catholic girls’ school in artsy Los Feliz, which now costs $15k a year. Her mother currently lives in what Wikipedia describes as “one of the wealthiest primarily African-American areas in the United States [and] part of a band of neighborhoods … that compose the single largest and one of the wealthiest, best-educated historically black communities in the western United States.” It shouldn’t matter where Meghan grew up in the first place, obviously — but Morton does a good job in puncturing that particular media angle, regardless.
Morton Has Some Nice Things To Say… There are a lot of glowing compliments from the women who worked at a shelter at which Meghan volunteered regularly during high school, and he is fairly glowing in his praise of The Tig. Once she meets Harry, his portrayal of her seems to be as a relaxed, relaxing good influence with a good head on her shoulders. He also seems to respect Doria Ragland a lot, which I like.
… but not about Americans… An “observer,” in discussing the clash of Meghan’s diet and Harry’s and how he’s come over to her side, says, “Americans like to change their men in many small ways.”
For the wedding, Heathrow is re-routing some planes so there won’t be flight-path noise. (Morton also says it’s Meghan who fretted that people wouldn’t be able to hear, and there’s no way Meghan pondered Heathrow’s proximity herself; this totally was something brought up in the event-planning dossier and which The Firm has kept in mind for ages.) Morton says, “As many an American tourist has wondered, why did they build Windsor Castle so close to Heathrow?” Har-har, because we’re too stupid to realize Windsor came first.
… And, Often Backhandedly, Not Always About Meghan Either. This is fine in theory; I would rather a complete portrait of a person, and I don’t require that she be a gilded lily. She can have flaws. She can even be a jerk, if that’s her choice. But the way Morton digs at her feels backhanded and sly, and based on little but his own gut.
He often describes her as driven and savvy, especially in matters of career and networking, but it isn’t always a compliment. For example, with regard to her relationships, he often seems to land on the side of, “She is a social climber.” He portrays her as someone who often has her eye on the next venture, or the next thing, as if that’s a negative quality — even though he also acts impressed with how she developed The Tig, and with the content she produced, he does also seem to think she did that to get attention. He notes that, upon returning to her high school after graduating from Northwestern, she told a beloved teacher that she didn’t want to return again until she’d really made it, and then he buttons the story — and a chapter — with, “The staff and pupils are still waiting.” A few times he dryly notes that for all the acclaim of her U.N. speech, she had “trodden water” with them and “had nothing in her diary” once nabbing the official label of U.N. advocate, and he describes her USO Tour at length before sliding in that she never did another one — both in ways that feel like he’s calling her out on something, but without him coming right out and saying it.
Morton Is Super Snide About Her Career. Morton seems to like that she studied International Relations at Northwestern, but when detailing her early career as a struggling performer, he’s less charmed.
“It was a cattle call for the position of briefcase girl in the popular TV game show, Deal or No Deal, but with nothing else lined up she agreed to go. […] As she picked out her shortest skirt she could have been excused for wondering: “Is this why I earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations?”
“Shove it, dude,” is my reaction to that. He’s already, at this point, covered an internship at the embassy in Argentina that led to her getting caught in a scary security incident, and then failing the Foreign Service Officers Test. She obviously did eyeball that area of work. But also, she’s allowed to be bright and still want to be an actress — ladybrains are capable of this, sir — and it’s not like being a Briefcase Girl is porn. It actually seems like a great way to make a buck, so that you can pay your bills and breathe a little between auditions.
He also cuts Meghan no slack when it comes to the things she’s done as an actress, or even in discussing the roles she hoped would go somewhere but didn’t (like on Fringe). For example, Meghan is in the 90210 pilot and I think the second episode, and her role was our introduction to the main character Ethan, boyfriend to AnnaLynne McCord and future love interest for the heroine Shenae Grimes. Basically, Shenae got an eyeful of the attached Ethan getting a blow job from Meghan in his car before school, a scene that is meant to depict him as a douche. Morton snarkily says her role disappeared after two episodes with no plot explanation, which I think is a calculated misrepresentation — I watched 90210, and like many nascent shows in the pantheon of TV, it fully changed direction on Ethan’s character shortly after the pilot because they decided that angle played too bawdy and that it didn’t suit the actor, which would be why Meghan didn’t stick around. In addition, Morton treats her taking the part as if it’s pathetic, and somehow a character flaw, when actually, it would be pretty dumb to turn down a role in that pilot on the offchance that you caught a producer, studio, or network’s eye. (I mean, Julianna Margulies wasn’t even supposed to survive the ER pilot, and look what happened.)
Then there’s this:
With roles where she had snorted coke, performed oral sex, and taught striptease to her name, what better credentials than to share an on-screen smooch with former junkie, funnyman, and now British movie star Russell Brand.
Maybe that’s meant to be cute, but it seems unnecessarily reductive of Meghan.
It’s extra problematic for me because…
I Side-Eye His Handling of Trevor Engelson. There is a distinct looking-down-one’s-nose at her work, yet Morton affords Engelson’s resume none of that skepticism:
– Meghan is ridiculed for the briefcase job and portrayed as a striver with a never-enough attitude toward fame; Engelson, however, gets to be called “a driven soul” and “personable and eager” and “a young man out to make his mark in an uncompromising industry.” How is that not the same thing she was doing?
– The film Zoom that Engelson produced does get called an unmitigated disaster, but in the context of them both struggling; later Trevor is described as “nurturing a growing stable” of writers because he’s a go-getter, all while producing All About Steve. There is ZERO MENTION of what a horrible movie All About Steve is. It had five Razzie noms and is noteworthy as the flick for which Sandra Bullock showed up to accept hers; she gave everyone there copies of the DVD, before winning an Oscar for The Blind Side the next day. Even if Morton did not recognize the name of that stinker, how did he not at least look it up? (He also tries to make it sound like Remember Me, with Robert Pattinson, was a super success for Trevor. It… was not, and was widely panned, but that gets no mention.)
– Morton praises Trevor’s place on the Top 35 Under 35 list, and says he could now toss Meghan “crumbs from his growing pile of scripts. At least it would stop her continuously nagging him to give her a part in one of his productions.” So it’s cute for him to hand out business cards to anyone with a laptop at Starbucks, but gross of her to hope for a breadcrumb? From her SPOUSE?
– If Trevor handed you a script during these years, I hope you washed your hands. Morton claims he kept a huge stack of them by the toilet, along with waterproof pens, so he could write notes while he… sat. Probably not unusual, but unfortunate to admit.
(It’s worth noting here that I have heard that Trevor is actually a nice guy, the fact that he sold a sitcom pitch based on “My ex is marrying a prince” notwithstanding. That same source told me they met them together, that Meghan was very nice, and that they seemed happy.)
Morton is In Fact, Team Trevor Engleson: This one really got to me. Despite their long-distance relationship and casual drops of tidbits like how Trevor was the only boyfriend never to visit the Deal or No Deal set, Morton acts like Meghan completely blind-sided her husband and liberally quotes Childhood Sisterly Friend Nikki in saying that she pulled the rug out from under Trevor and he had opened up a New York office and everything and that her entire crowd assumed that Brave, Good Trevor would keep her feet on the ground as she grew more and more conceited.
I would be astonished if that were true, or the entire truth anyway. I’m sure they were trying to salvage their marriage when he started showing up more in Toronto, and I’m equally sure that the heart of the issue may lie in a seemingly throwaway detail about how Trevor is slightly slovenly and glib and often tardy. When people live apart, they see each other in starker relief. And as Meghan became a successful and polished professional, she also certainly might have lost patience with a dude who presented himself as disheveled and disorganized. The sheen may have worn off his shtick.
When detailing how they grew apart, Morton actually writes that Meghan was really feeling herself for being “no longer dependent on her man’s money. Or his connections.” Ugh, and also, we JUST read a whole bunch of pages about how she hustled for all her own opportunities and he only ever tossed her two that amounted to nothing. This is a needlessly jerky statement.
Morton further manages to make it sound like it’s Meghan’s fault — she has an adventurous palate — for Trevor getting food poisoning on a potentially marriage-saving trip to Vietnam, then reveals Sainted Pseudo-Sister Nikki cut off all contact with Meghan once she heard Trevor’s side of the breakup. She won’t say the details, but she does say:
“All I can say now is that I think Meghan was calculated, very calculated, in the way she handled people and relationships. … Once she decides you’re not part of her life, she can be very cold. It’s this shutdown mechanism she has. There’s nothing to negotiate, she’s made her decision, and that’s it.”
That… doesn’t seem like a huge sin, honestly, and also makes specious assumptions that Trevor did nothing wrong at all. Maybe he cheated on her. Maybe he was a jerk to her. Maybe she’s arrogant and he did nothing wrong. But no effort is made to understand where she might be coming from, except for one friend who gets a quick “She took her power back. It wasn’t the right relationship for her, so she moved on,” and that’s that.
The Daily Mail (I KNOW) Gets An Appropriately Hideous Moment. This one is crazy. So, apparently, Meghan was in London doing press for Suits, though Morton all but accuses her of only trying to become more famous. She made a date for drinks with a Mail reporter, and you will be SO SHOCKED to learn that reporter tells an anecdote that I think she grossly misrepresents. Essentially, footballer Ashley Cole — who had already had multiple cheating scandals, and may still have been married to Cheryl — had started hitting on Meghan via Twitter, and she thought he was cute but wanted to know if he had a reputation. When she found out he did, she was like, “Forget it.” And how does this reporter frame that anecdote? By saying Meghan has “an interest in British men of a certain, well, standing.” That is in amazing bad faith. It was not men, and it was not about his standing. It was ONE man who is a hot soccer player and who was ACTIVELY TRYING TO GET WITH HER. Give me a break.
The Editorializing Is… A Choice. One chapter opens with Morton saying, “Feeling bloated and puffy skinned, her black leather pants a little too tight, Meghan was just a tad out of sorts” at TCAs. Oh, really, Andrew? Did she tell you that? Unless it’s a direct quote from something she said or wrote, then it’s a pretty shameful sentence. It’s not relevant to anything except MAYBE when, at the end of the page, he says the jaunt to London yielded nothing toward “exploiting her full potential.” So maaaaybe he’s trying to imply she’s jet-lagged and frustrated? But those dots don’t connect, besides which: It’s also super tacky, dude.
Seriously, Andrew Morton Must Think Actresses Are Super Shallow. There’s a bit later on about how Harry introduced Meghan to his mentor, Mark Dyer, who had a Texan wife “who was able to give Meghan recommendations for mundane but vital matters for an actress, such as hairdressers, nail bars, and beauty salons.” Look, lots of women need that stuff when they move to a new city, but it feels like he’s throwing dismissive shade on her profession and on the idea that any woman would otherwise care about that stuff. When in reality, we are allowed to want to play around with grooming AND have brains.
Meghan’s Ancestor Was a Maid at Windsor Castle. You can imagine how much this tickles Morton — that she’ll be married on the same site where someone in her lineage once worked. It’s a distant connection through her father’s grandmother, but it’s there. Maybe at the wedding we’ll make a weird sign about this, like we’re at a sports arena or something. “FLY, MARY BIRD, FLY.” “MAID FOR EACH OTHER.”
Wallis Simpson Isn’t The Only Parallel To Draw. Obviously, Meghan and Wallis are literally only alike because they are American divorcees and otherwise have nothing in common, given that Meghan seems like a nice person and Wallis WAS A NAZI. Diving into this family has to be a lot easier knowing that the very low bar you have to clear is, “Don’t be a Nazi.” But Morton reminds us that Andrew also dated Koo Stark, an American actress, before he married Fergie. Accounts differ on why Koo and Andrew ended things — the Queen reportedly really liked her — but Morton strongly implies that it was because the public latched onto an old movie called Emily that she’d made and branded her a “porn actress” even though that was off-base. He then draws a line from that to the things Meghan has done on-camera, less to denigrate her than to note that the uproar over Koo seems super quaint and silly by these standards. Still, as Morton notes, we might not have been that far off from having an American actress in the family already.
There Is At Least a Nice Trump Dig. Morton refers to him, in the context of his visits to Deal or No Deal, as “the frequently bankrupt real estate mogul,” and quotes one of the women as calling him super creepy. I have no doubt.