Real reason Meghan Markle left royal family revealed in Tom Quinn’s Gilded Youth

If you want to understand the roots of Megxit, how the perfect 21st century fairytale of Harry and Meghan took such a turbulent turn, leading to a shock exit from royal life, then look no further than events that took place by the side of a grim, grey Welsh field yesterday.

It looks like the sort of backdrop that would be perfect for the BBC’s next gritty, depressing drama about something gritty and depressing (quick, line up the BAFTAs it’s sure to get –someone call Oliva Colman) but instead this week temporarily played host to the UK’s next king and queen.

William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales, were in Aberavon, one of the most deprived areas in Wales, where they visited local leisure centres and opened a community mental health garden. This was like the Stilnox of royal outings, so boring and so worthy it’s a wonder some poor cameraman didn’t drop off out of pathological boredom.

If anyone ever needed hard proof that being a working HRH can be, at times, a supremely dull gig indeed, then voila. The interesting thing is that Kate’s Big Day Out accidentally perfectly proves one of the arguments made by a new book, Gilded Youth, about why Meghan found royal life such a bummer. (That’s the technical term.)

As we all know, in children’s books and anything involving a singing cartoon bird, becoming royal not only comes with lots of lovely money but acquiring a title means power and control over your destiny. No more sweeping out of fireplaces or putting up with an evil stepmother’s dastardly demands! Oh, wave a hand and you can watch forelock-tugging courtiers plunge to bended knees and trays of finger sandwiches appear as if by magic.

Disney lied.

In Gilded Youth, written by longtime royal biographer Tom Quinn, he instead argues that one of the nasty surprises that awaited Meghan after getting that huge diamond ring on her left hand was the ego-deflating tedium of life inside a deeply hierarchical, dyed-in-the-wool institution.

A “Kensington Palace staffer who remembered Meghan well” told Quinn: “I don’t think in the whole of history there was ever a greater divide between what someone expected when they became a member of the royal family and what they discovered it was really like. She was hugely disappointed. She was a Global superstar but was being told what she could and could not do, what she could and could not say. She hated it.”

What Meghan found out once she had achieved duchess-dom, in Gilded Youth’s telling, was that having the final say over her work life was about as likely as those singing birds turning up.

The same staffer also said the former Suits actress “was dazzled by the worldwide fame that being a princess would bring, but she was shocked by the palace protocol and by the fact that she was not and never could be first in the pecking order”.

It was not just Meghan’s treatment behind palace walls, all that being told to be a good girl and go off and open a bridge, which came as a rude shock to the LA native.

For Youth, Quinn also interviewed “a friend of Harry from his clubbing days” – a person who I’m guessing has drunk an unfathomable number of vodka Red Bulls while slopping peach liqueur and rum on the trousers of the former party boy prince as Met Officers look discreetly away.

According to Harry’s friend (should we just assume their nickname is something like Bunter or Binkie?): “When you are an American celebrity and you mix with celebrities in the US, you just get used to everyone around you saying how marvellous you are. Meghan hated the UK because as a member of the royal family she realised she was going to be treated not as a celebrity but as a servant of the people. That was unbearable for her.”

And that’s the bit that generally gets overlooked when it comes to actually being a workaday HRH. When we think of the British monarchy, the images that flash into our minds are of the late Queen (sniffle) and her family waving from the Buckingham Palace balcony or some majestic ceremonial affair that involves digging out enough questionably acquired diamonds to get Interpol involved. It’s all so very grand and more than a bit magical.

What is lost from that is while those moments of pomp and ceremony are a key piece of Monarchy Inc, they are not the meat and potatoes of day-to-day work.

In 2022, the royal family as a whole undertook more than 1200 engagements that included Princess Anne officially visiting a recycling centre, Prince Edward taking the official inaugural ride on a new London tube line and the Duke of Gloucester presenting the National Railway Heritage Awards.

Glamourous stuff, this ain’t.

As that Kensington Palace staffer told Quinn: “Most of all [Meghan] hated the fact that she had to do what she was told and go where she was told in the endless and to a large extent pointless royal round.”

There is nothing attractive or alluring about ending up in a job that requires making small talk with thousands if not tens of thousands of people every year and having to feign interest, day in and day out, when you are presented with hordes of iPhone-snapping strangers, nervous small children, Lord Mayors, Lord Lieutenants, the fawning elderly, hospital administrators and charity organisers, all while being relentlessly photographed and filmed. Show boredom or irritation or just for a moment let your mind drift wistfully back to that bottle of gin waiting on your Kensington Palace sideboard and the ensuing pictures will set off a minor monarchical crisis and national media feeding frenzy.

To wit: Being a working HRH sounds like stultifying, boring stuff.

And none of this was a closely guarded secret.

Yet, what seems clear now is that Meghan went into this lifelong endeavour ignorant of what really lay in store work-wise when she said ‘yes’ to Harry’s shockingly pedestrian proposal. (Aitch popped the question surrounded by what looks like cheapo Amazon battery-powered candles in the garden of his then grace-and-favour Kensington Palace home – here’s hoping he skipped the Tesco’s home-brand sparkling and had at least sprung for Pol Roger, his GanGan’s favourite bubbles.)

If the Duchess of Sussex in those early days thought she would get to be the new Diana in a trice, hailed as a Global saviour as she swanned about doing good in Dior, a sort of Mother Teresa meets Gloria Steinem meets Grace Kelly mash-up, then she was in for a cold dose of reality.

When, only about a month after the Sussex wedding, Queen Elizabeth took the highly unusual move of asking the new Duchess to join her for an overnight engagement via the Royal Train, it was not for some big state outing or diplomatic jaunt.

It was to open a bridge. In Liverpool.

What Meghan should have done at some point before the College of Arms started working on her royal cypher is to have spent all of 10 minutes googling at some of the outings that Diana logged in her first 18 months as a princess. Take a wander through the archives from 1981 and 1982 and you will find Diana repeatedly being trotted out to meet crowds in Wales, at times in the rain, visiting such thrilling places as a London radio station and a maternity ward, attending a formal lunch with the London Lord Mayor, having to ‘enjoy’ the Isles of Scilly, wandering around Liverpool Cathedral, and getting sent off to such exclusive locales as Huddersfield in Yorkshire and a social services centre in Wandsworth, South London. (Look, she also got to go to the ET premiere and a Barry Manilow concert too, but you take my point.)

It would take the better part of a decade of tedious graft on Diana’s part for her to carve out the royal career she wanted and to begin to acquire her saintly halo.

If only Meghan, who has a degree from an elite US university and ran a successful blog pre-marriage, had done her homework. If only she had googled. If only she figured out that she could not skip the boring ribbon-cutting, handshaking part. That it would not be possible to get to the bit where the UN Secretary-General is WhatsApping her in less time than it took for the Sussexes’ wedding guests to get all fair-trade confetti out of their hair.

That same palace staffer told Quinn: “The thing to remember is that there is no limit to Meghan’s ambition, and like most fiercely ambitious people, she never thinks, ‘Have I got this wrong? Am I overreacting?’”

(They also said: “She is a lovely person so long as she is never crossed.” Yikes.)

These days, Meghan is the mistress of her own fate and she can breathe safely in the knowledge that no one can force her to open a new cardboard compactor or a ring road or therapeutic paddling pool.

And when Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis get around to finding their significant others? Here’s hoping that Buckingham Palace has long since established some sort of P-plate, learner royal program so the next generation of HRH partners are fully aware of just how many visits to rural Wales and outings to new off-ramps await them.

Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles

Originally published at

Recent Articles

Leave A Reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here